Monday 17 July 2017

Vale George A Romero - Ben Cho pays tribute to a master of horror

George A Romero
Perhaps most widely known as the godfather of the zombie genre, George A. Romero may have died of lung cancer at age 77 but a legacy of cinematic horror will walk on indefinitely. Sure there were zombie films before his 1968 low budget landmark Night of the Living Dead but none had quite the impact on our popular cultural conception of the zombie today like Night, a raw, unrelenting and claustrophobic thriller with a devastating final punch which given the racially-charged atmosphere of today’s America, still remains powerfully relevant.

Night of the Living Dead
In Night it was impossible to ignore the socio-political dimensions of the film and in the next few zombie sequels Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead Romero would continue to inject horror with a political bite, taking aim at western consumerism and militarism. Dawn is considered his masterpiece (before or after Night depending on who you talk to), a gory ride into the hell of the shopping mall where our lust for consumer junk may not be that far removed from undead’s lust for flesh.

Romero would return to the Dead cycle with mixed results in the mid-2000s with Land of the Dead and later Diary of the Dead and Survival of the Dead.

By this period the zombie genre was flooded with remakes (Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead), tributes (Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead) and countless cheap straight-to-cable zombie flicks. Later we would see the pop culture behemoth comic series The Walking Dead unleashed on TV screens and video games such as Dying Light and Left 4 Dead tackle the survival zombie genre; films like 28 Days Later (and its sequels), World War Z, Zombieland, Fido, [REC] have all kept zombies at the forefront of the horror genre. All owe heavily to Romero and his pioneering work in the sixties and seventies. 

It wasn’t all zombie flesh-eating though: his seventies horror films The Crazies and Martin were terrific. The former, a high-energy thriller about a town gripped with fear over a biological weapon unleashed upon them; the latter, a superb, grim addition to the vampire genre. His other horror films included Creepshow, The Dark Half and Monkey Shines.

It’s also worth mentioning his eighties biker film Knightriders, a two-and-a-half hour road movie about carnival motorbike jousters. It’s an anomaly in a filmography mainly devoted to horror, but in the spirit of films exploring the nomadic life of workin’ on the road (everything from The Lusty Men through to …All the Marbles) it’s great. The film’s fine exploration of family, the dynamics of corporate structure and the dangerous lure of commercially “selling out” is matched with an excellent cast topped by Ed Harris and FX guru Tom Savini (Stephen King makes a cameo too).

According to the press Romero died listening to the score of The Quiet Man. He is survived by his wife and three children.

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