Following the news on Sunday that horror maestro George A. Romero had passed a group of BGH staff felt compelled to share some thoughts and experiences with the filmmaker’s work. As expected we remember his iconoclastic and prescient approach to the genre while also contemplating how his films function like a scrapbook clocking our horror education.
For me the first time I watched Dawn of the Dead was in a dorm common area with the person who introduced me to BGH, former writer Angelo. Once I started writing for the site, I chose to review my favorite film of Romero’s Martin as my first contribution. For those of us steeped in the genre his work pops up like a familiar signpost in unexpected places such as Joe Hill’s "Bobby Conroy Comes Back From the Dead" published in "20th Century Ghosts". For others, his name or the titles of his films are cultural shorthand for those things that scare us but also make us think.
Sophie: I was late to the horror genre. As a founding member of the BGH New Class, I am one of the younger contributor's to the site, and I didn't start devouring horror until I was in college. As such, I have had a lot of catching up to do and, regrettably, the work of George A. Romero was a blind spot for me for a long time. I just watched Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead for the first time in the past month. Before that only my exposure to his work had been a chance viewing of Land of the Dead maybe a year or two ago.
It cannot be overstated what an influential and important voice Romero was within the genre. Horror often challenges the status quo, but Romero was telling stories of marginalized people (people of color, women) at a time when those voices were largely ignored in society in general let alone within film. Not every film he made was a masterpiece but I would argue he always had something important to say and his vision will be sorely missed.
Schnaars: For me, the seminal Romero film will always be Knightriders. Arriving just after the conclusion of the original Dead trilogy, Knightriders is also distinct for being the 'least-horror' of any Romero film resulting in a special ball of weirdness. Featuring Ed Harris as a leader struggling to hold onto power in his traveling band of bikers-meet-Ren-Faire performers, Knightriders is such a unique film that it almost has to be the most pure crystallization of Romero's worldview and aesthetic in a single film. (For better or worse!) It will never be as well remembered as his other works, but for those who want to truly understand and celebrate the man, spend some time with Knightriders and revel in all its strangeness.
Andrew: I've loved George A. Romero since my very first viewing of Dawn of The Dead. He had an extremely good eye for the satirical and manages to seamlessly weave a larger message within a narrative. The core Dead trilogy is outstanding, each film taking different snapshots of a society in the midst of collapse. They were led by what felt like real people not movie stars. Any fan of modern horror owes him a debt.
Mark: Romero's best days had come and gone by the time my horror fandom took off, but I've always regarded him as the first obvious include on the Mt. Rushmore of horror. There were influential "horror" directors before him, but in my mind, he was the transcendent horror director of the modern era. "Influential" or "iconic" don't necessarily do the man justice when you consider that his movies were often playing on TVs and movie screens in the background of other horror movies, representing the universal standard of late night horror viewing.
No matter how many horror movies I see for the site and podcast, nothing seems to bump The Dead Trilogy and Creepshow from my seasonal viewing, and the fact that his work holds such a similar place in virtually every genre fan's heart is a fitting tribute to the man.
Evan: The first Romero work I saw was Creepshow and it couldn’t have come at a more pivotal time of my life. Back in 1997 when I was 7, I was exposed to an abnormal amount of horror for a young child, and despite both Halloween and Creepshow terrifying me to the core I revisited them both later in life to examine what affected me so greatly. There’s something so pure about both of those films but specifically Creepshow’s ability to parallel EC Comics, which at the time were completely children-centric, while delivering an experience that works for all ages. Creepy, funny, and filled with gore effects, I’ll never forget Romero for his ability to step outside the box.
Casey: My first exposure to George Romero came in the midst of the early 80’s, a clandestine viewing of Dawn of the Dead on late night cable. I was posted up in the 2nd hotel bed, pretending to sleep as my parents slept in the bed next to mine. My step-father had the TV on, watching a random zombie movie. I tried to ignore it. The story I heard coming from the low volume speakers sucked me in.
At the time, I was still new to horror, I was also kind of a wimp when it came to the genre. As I peaked through the protective pillow that lay atop my head, Romero’s green skinned zombies slowly over took the Monroeville Mall. Their slow death march as they overran the mall and our survivors was terrifying. It left a mark on a young Casey in the far flung past. Over the years, my attention was continuously grabbed by Romero, even outside the zombie genre. Things like Knightriders captured my fascination and fueled motorcycle mounted day dreams for weeks to come. Creepshow made me afraid of meteorites, yet taught me it was okay to get a laugh out of horror. Romero himself taught me that being scared was fun. For that, I’ll always be thankful!
Chris: My introduction to - and love of - George A. Romero is maybe a little different than the millions of horror fans who hold the director’s Dead series so dear. In the summer between my seventh and eighth grade years, I hadn’t yet seen any of those movies and probably didn’t know who Romero was. But a friend introduced me to a film that would stay burned into my memory forever. It combined three of my favorite things: anthology stories (I was obsessed with shows like The Twilight Zone, Amazing Stories, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents), Stephen King (my favorite author at the time), and monsters.
My friend had fired up the VCR to play this mysterious movie he’d recorded from HBO. The moment I saw a corpse serving a ‘cake’ made from a woman’s head, I knew this was the one for me. Throw in an undead Ted Danson getting revenge on the murderous Leslie Nielsen, Hal Halbrook feeding his wife, Adrienne Barbeau to a crate monster, and a wraparound story featuring the great Tom Atkins and an animated ghoul, and I was hooked. Though I would later go on to repeatedly consume and enjoy the classic Night of the Living Dead on late night TV and have varying degrees of appreciation for Romero’s other work, it’s Creepshow that still sticks with me thirty years later.
Craig: Like many Night of the Living Dead was my first introduction to Romero. It had come in this collection of 100 cult horror movies (really cheap at the time because Borders was closing), and I watched it with my aunt who hates horror. She sweated through her socks during the matricide scene and had to change them! To this day, I’ve only been able to get her to watch two horror films with me: Night, and Zombieland — which I made her watch in the middle of the night on a camping trip and I’ve still never heard the end of that story
Jayson: To me, Mr. Romero has always been the horror director of the people. His sense of yearning to examine the human condition flourished even in his lesser works. With a film like The Crazies or Martin, or even his work on Creepshow, the focal point had always been what makes us tick. While other filmmakers have run with the zombie genre in his waning years one thing that seems to have been lost is the humanity of it all. In Romero’s films the zombies were simply a force of nature, in some ways more natural than we, driving either the monster within us or conjuring a greater sense of humanity. This is where the conflict resided. Mr. Romero did as much if not more than any filmmaker in history to drive the heart into horror, to grasp at the inexplicable nature of the human condition. And, with his passing a little more of that good-natured humanity has leaked out of this world.
Eric: In the early years of the podcast, I had a lot of negative things to say about late-period George Romero films. As I've gotten older and (hopefully) a little more mature, I've been able to take a step back from that critical approach. The fact that George Romero was still passionate about making horror movies right up until the end says more about his vision as an artist than maybe anything else. Even if the output wasn't amazing, he seemed happy, and that's more than most people get in this life.
As for me, my George Romero memory will always be the once or twice a year that Creepshow would play as an afternoon feature on my local TV station as a kid. I would relish in every color and blood soaked frame, committing the incredible score to a wrinkle in my brain that still gives me pleasure to this day. Eventually I taped it off of TV, and had my Mom write the label for me because my handwriting has always been terrible. I still have that tape, and I still watch Creepshow at least once a year. It's about as 'pure' an entertainment experience as I'm capable of having as an adult. And for that I'll always be thankful for George Romero's presence in my life.
Shelton: One thing I’ve only recently realized is how many cinephiles find their love of movies via horror fandom. Your average movie-goer might balk at watching an oblique art film or a subtitled foreign film or an ultralow-budget indie, but those are all essential vitamins in the horror fan diet. More importantly, they’re no big deal. They’re just movies a little different from the mass-consumption blockbusters everybody watches, but still, just movies.
I could talk about how Martin blew my mind by simultaneously being a movie about vampires or mental illness depending on how you squinted, or how Creepshow nailed the always tricky horror anthology genre, or how Knightriders is just so weird and wonderful that it makes the world a better place just by existing. But Romero will always be part of my movie-watcher origin story due to the simple, not exactly earth-shattering fact that Night of the Living Dead was the first black and white movie I watched by choice. With one pre-teen Friday night movie rental I learned that something old enough to be in black and white can still be exciting, scary, provocative and most importantly, entertaining. Without that early exposure, I might have grown into one of those sad, awful people who won’t watch movies that are old or subtitled or don’t star Matt Damon.
Colin: While Dawn of the Dead is the better film, there's no overstating the impact Night of the Living Dead had on this horror fan's formative years. Of all the iconic moments in George A. Romero's zombie masterpiece, none hits harder than its conclusion. Even to a seasoned horror fan, Romero's finale is a stiff shot directly to the guts. To a young and naive newbie, one unaccustomed to the "horror twist," it elicits an emotional reaction so strong it can help forge a lifelong fandom.’