ROMERO LIVES: Remembering a Horror Legend
Article by Anthony Cleveland
I’m not anywhere coming close to accepting that we lost one of the most important American horror directors of all time. I feel like I lost a mentor that I’ve never met. His D.I.Y. style to filmmaking helped launch my imagination when it came to writing film. It showed me that I could shoot a whole short film in my house or my bedroom and make it terrifying by adding that claustrophobia element that he does so well. Hands down, Romero helped shape and direct so much of my attitude toward film. He showed me at a young age that spatterfests can have meaning and that you can critique the hell out of your world through film. As a young pissed-off teenage movie fan, that completely changed my world.
Around that time I learned that Night of the Living was considered a “midnight movie.” I dug into some documentaries to find out more about these types of movies. From there, I discovered Alejandro Jodorowsky, David Lynch, John Waters, and tons more. It was a weird branching out, that I wouldn’t have done as fast (or as young) without Romero.
I thought about all this yesterday and I broke down. I cried when I thought about showing my grandpa my Night of the Living Dead-styled screenplay and him giving me honest feedback on it. I cried when I thought about watching Dawn of the Dead on repeat with friends that are no longer with me. I cried when I thought of the Dawn of the Dead t-shirt my wife (then girlfriend) surprised me with when she came to see me in college. So many close memories and they all revolve around this man’s work.
One thing that does give me comfort is that even though he is gone...ROMERO LIVES. His style and the zombie genre that he created is so influential and popular that he’s not going anywhere. The films will continue to inspire and frighten for a long time. His sharp social critiques eerily still ring true today.
When I was in college, I wrote several essays on Romero and his work. One essay that stands out the most is on the redneck montage in Dawn of the Dead. Just some Good Ol’ Boys listening to country, chugging beers, and shooting zombies. They were having a ball in the chaos, as long as they got to use their guns on a person. Even though I love the scene, it seemed so silly and a bit of stretch. For the essay, I read about Hurricane Katrina and the vigilantes there. They posted signs with “U Loot. We Shoot” There were posed pictures of them with their rifles and Budweiser. They even took trophy photos of dead looters. It proved we can sink that low and that it doesn’t take much to get us there.
Even now, we’re inching closer to the world of Day of the Dead. Where there is a complete distrust for the government and we don’t know for certain who’s in control anymore. This film is by far the most ominous of the original Dead trilogy.
The last thing Romero left us with is our nightmares. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t had a zombie nightmare before. It's almost bizarre to think that all of these panicked nights of tossing and turning are because of Romero’s genre that he created. Even if you haven’t seen one of his films, the idea of being surrounded by walking corpses is a dark fear that most of the public has thanks to pop culture. And that’s just the way he would want it.
He never took complete credit for creating the genre. “Nah- I stole the idea from I Am Legend,” he would humbly admit in interviews. He would always sign his autographs “Stay Scared - George Romero.” That’s what he wanted. No credit for creating the phenomenon, just to tell some stories to scare the shit out of us. Though his films may age poorly years from now, the idea of a cannibalistic walking undead ghoul will continue to frighten generations. It's a feat that not many horror directors will achieve.
I can promise you we will always “stay scared,” George.
What do you think? Were you deeply affected by Romero's passing? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and, as always, remember to viddy well!