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5 Movies That Will Keep George A. Romero Alive Long After Death

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If ever a filmmaker was unafraid to deal with death, it was George A. Romero—and the 77-year-old zombie pioneer’s own life came to an end in Toronto (where he lived for over a decade) on Sunday. 49 years earlier, Romero made his directorial debut with Night of the Living Dead, the landmark horror classic that established the rules of the modern zombie, paving the way for a seemingly infinite number of movies, TV shows, books, comics, and video games.

When Night underwent a last-minute title change (it was originally known as Night of the Flesh Eaters) and no copyright information was included with the new title, it entered the public domain, preventing the director from reaping the rewards of his most iconic and influential film. Bad luck was a running theme in Romero’s career. While he enjoyed plenty of success and managed to direct 15 feature films, he had some lengthy dry spells, earning respectable paycheques to work on projects (including adaptations of Resident Evil and Stephen King’s The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon) that never got made.

Romero was known almost exclusively as a horror director, but he was always anxious to venture outside his signature genre. However, Hollywood was never quite comfortable with his jaded, irreverent perspective. But even if Romero never got to direct the movies he really wanted to make, he managed to build an incredible body of work, becoming one of the giants of modern horror filmmaking, right up there with Carpenter, Craven, and Cronenberg. Nearly all of his films are well worth another look (okay, maybe not Bruiser… or Survival of the Dead), but these five are the most essential.

5. Creepshow (1982)

Like most anthology movies, Creepshow is somewhat inconsistent, but this tribute to the horror comics that Romero and screenwriter Stephen King grew up with delivers a vivid horror experience—thanks in no small part to an inventive score and those playful animated interludes—that is almost impossible to resist. When it comes to picking a favourite segment, there are many good candidates, but you can’t go wrong with the cuckolded husband revenge saga, Something to Tide You Over.

 

4. Knightriders (1981)

In a perfect world, Romero would have spent his whole career making movies like Knightriders—an unclassifiable oddity that no one else could have dreamt up—but he always struggled to find funding for his more unusual and eccentric projects. A rare Romero film with no real horror elements, this story about a medieval reenactment troupe that stages motorcycle jousts deserves a much larger audience, particularly among those with an interest in the King Arthur mythology.

 

3. Martin (1978)

After the success of his debut, Romero floundered for several years, making flawed films (There’s Always Vanilla, Season of the Witch, The Crazies) that caused some to lose faith in his abilities. However, this 1978 micro-budget classic—about a young man who thinks he’s a vampire—restored the public’s faith in Romero as a horror filmmaker with a uniquely unsettling and cerebral approach.

 

2. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Heavily inspired by Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend (which was adapted as The Last Man on Earth four years earlier), this zombie masterpiece was a modest undertaking that Romero created with some fellow industrial filmmakers from Pittsburgh. In spite of its rip-off origins, Night of the Living Dead broke all kinds of new ground, inadvertently launching a massive horror subgenre in the process. The film’s enduring popularity and influence may also owe something to its public domain status, which made Night a ubiquitous presence on TV and in VHS bargain bins, allowing it to haunt the dreams of just about every horror fan of the last 49 years.

 

1. Dawn of the Dead (1978)

In a world with The Walking Dead, World War Z, Shaun of the Dead, the Dawn of the Dead remake, and all kinds of other Romero-influenced culture, it’s easy to lose sight of just how mind-blowing the original Dawn was for those who discovered it with little or no advance knowledge. Executing many of the ideas from Night on a much larger scale, Dawn ups the ante in every conceivable way. The film’s outrageous gore effects are simultaneously horrifying and hilarious, while Romero’s cynical perspective on consumer culture gives real world resonance to a story that could become frivolous escapism in the hands of a lesser director (ie. Zack Snyder). More than just Romero’s greatest triumph, Dawn of the Dead is a completely viable candidate for best horror movie of all time.

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