Romero, the original zombie master

We’re overrun with zombies these days. We’ve got so many zombies in movies, TV, graphics novels and video games, it’s like the undead are everywhere we turn.

Thanks to The Walking Dead, zombies are still going to be with us for a while, and we have George Romero to thank for creating the modern zombie we know and love.

Romero just had his 73th birthday on February 5, and before Night of the Living Dead a zombie just sleep walked around and occasionally strangled somebody. With Once Night of the Living Dead came along, zombies were an ultra violent threat.

They still moved slow, but now they ate the living, and as we saw in Dawn and Day of the Dead, they eventually ended up taking over the world, leaving what’s left of humanity scrambling to survive.

The work of Romero meant a lot to me and many others growing up. It was not only scary and gory, but it had great subtext as well. Where a lot of horror films were just fodder for the drive-ins, Romero proved that the genre could have depth and intelligence. Although he’ll always be best known for his zombies, when he ventured outside of the world of the living dead with Martin, Knightriders and Creepshow, he also proved he wasn’t a one trick pony. (Romero’s work was usually critically acclaimed, and the serious critics understood he was a real filmmaker in spite of the genre he was working in).

Romero’s also always been an independent spirit who never sold out. He kept Pittsburgh as his home base for most of his career, and never left it to set up camp in La-La Land. In fact, he didn’t even make his first film for a major studio until 1982’s Creepshow. He also had the cojones to bypass the MPAA and release several of his movies unrated. 

In recent years, thanks to the zombie revival, the undead have been Romero’s “brand,” and he was able to enjoy a comeback in 2005 with Land of the Dead. It was great to see Romero back making movies again, and delivering flicks that were just as hardcore and violent as ever. While the great horror masters like Romero, John Carpenter and Wes Craven may never again deliver a film as good as when they were in their glory days, it’s definitely a good thing to see them still working after all this time.

So we salute George Romero, and thank him for giving us the modern zombie, as well as many years of classic horror. The first times I saw Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and Creepshow growing up were pivotal memories for me growing up, and as the film critics who championed his work realized, no matter the genre, Romero is a great filmmaker who always did it his way.