By Maria Lewis

“George Romero made a film where the levelheaded black hero survives zombies only to be killed by scared whites. Almost unfathomable in 1968.” In one tweet, award-winning author Saladin Ahmed summed up just how revolutionary and ahead of his time the late, great George Romero was. For horror fans, the past few years have been brutal ones. Back in August of 2015, we lost a legend of the game in Scream and Nightmare On Elm Street filmmaker Wes Craven, a man of talent so rare that he had a ground-breaking hit every decade of his career. And just this week, we lost a true icon in George Romero. The king of zombies, he was the man who literally created a movie sub-genre with classics like Night Of The Living Dead, Day Of The Dead, and, what many consider to be his masterpiece, Dawn Of The Dead. At 77-years young, he passed away from a short but aggressive battle with lung cancer and was surrounded by his family. It was reported that he died while listening to the score of one of his favourite movies, The Quiet Man from 1952, remaining a lifelong film fan right until the end.

There was arguably no other filmmaker who influenced horror and the idea of what horror was in the pop culture sphere more than Romero. Clerks filmmaker Kevin Smith labeled him an “indie film icon” and he truly was one of the first. Fresh out of university, Romero cut his teeth in the ’60s by shooting commercials before banding together with a group of friends, founding their own production company and making their first project, Night Of The Living Dead. He made his debut in the zombie genre, with Night becoming one of the most profitable films of all time, and Romero a self-made success story.

Although his next series of films ranged from Stepford witches to a documentary about O.J Simpson, he returned to zombies with Dawn Of The Dead. A searing social commentary on consumerism in America, it saw Romero looping back around to the undead for the rest of his career. “Before Romero ‘zombie’ meant someone under a voodoo curse, not an undead flesh eater,” said Thor and The Flash screenwriter Zack Stentz. “He invented an entire sub-genre of horror.” Zombies – and the stories he was able to tell through them – were endlessly fascinating to Romero and the millions of loyal fans that followed his work. So, it seems self-explanatory the global film industry was, as the kids say, “shook” with tributes pouring in.

Asia Argento, actress and daughter of Dario Argento, sent out a heartfelt tweet with a picture of the pair saying: “Goodbye genius, I want to remember you like this”. Argento starred in Romero’s Land Of The Dead, a criminally underrated entry in his filmography that now seems like a fitting commentary on the present state of the USA. Following the zombie apocalypse, the last human city hangs in the balance with extreme physical borders separating the haves and the have nots. The film also starred fellow zombie filmmakers Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg in brief zombie cameos that came just a year after they won audiences over with their Romero homage Shaun Of The Dead. Wright penned an essay on his blog about the depth of his love for the filmmaker and how much his influence meant to his career. “It’s fair to say that without George A. Romero, I would not have the career I have now,” Wright says in the post. “A lot of people owe George a huge debt of gratitude for the inspiration. I am just one of many…  While genre films are often dismissed when people are talking about classic cinema, there is absolutely no denying the seismic impact his movies have had and continue to have in the world of film, TV, comics, video games and literature.”

To fellow horror icons like Stephen King, Romero was a “favourite collaborator” and “good old friend”, whereas John Carpenter – who should be surrounded by protective glass from here on out – said “George Romero was a great director, the father of modern horror movies”. To his fans, Romero was someone who treated their passion seriously. He was a horror lover as well as a horror maker, someone who started from the same place so many aspiring filmmakers did – the bottom. He took horror seriously and was a lifelong loyalist. He didn’t dip in and dip out, he may have switched zombies for witches for vampires but he was forever feverish about fear and what that could say about humankind. Perhaps Wright said it best: “For just his very surname, ‘Romero’, immediately conjures more images and themes than 99 percent of writer/directors out there.” It seems fitting that a man who spent his career telling us social parables through the device of the undead, shall now remain exactly like his creations: immortal.

Maria Lewis is a journalist and author previously seen on SBS Viceland’s The Feed. She hosts Cleverfan 9pm, Thursday nights on ABC Indigenous. She’s the presenter and producer of the Eff Yeah Film & Feminism podcast. Her debut novel Who’s Afraid? was released in 2016 with the sequel – Who’s Afraid Too? – out now. You can find her on Twitter @MovieMazz

 

 

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