THE DON OF THE DEAD

Em­pire’s Chris He­witt re­mem­bers Ge­orge A. Romero, a hor­ror leg­end who spawned a genre

Empire (UK) - - PRE.VIEW -

THERE WAS MORE to Ge­orge A. Romero than zom­bies. A Romero triple-bill could avoid flesh-eat­ing fiends and still take in the likes of psy­cho­log­i­cal vam­pire thriller Martin, or mod­ern Arthurian fa­ble Knightrid­ers, or the barmi­ness of his Stephen King col­lab­o­ra­tion, Creepshow.

But zom­bies and Romero, who died in July af­ter a short bat­tle with can­cer, will re­main for­ever linked. When Edgar Wright and Si­mon Pegg pitched Shaun Of The Dead to Work­ing Ti­tle, they called it “Richard Cur­tis shot through the head by Ge­orge Romero”. The Walk­ing Dead and Res­i­dent Evil wouldn’t ex­ist if it hadn’t been for the man who ba­si­cally cre­ated the mod­ern zom­bie with Night Of The Liv­ing Dead (1968), and re­fined it with gal­lons of gore in the pulpy Dawn Of The Dead (2004) and 1985’s pre­sciently pes­simistic Day Of The Dead.

For a guy who made films about brain­less hordes, though, brains were one thing Romero didn’t lack. His movies were sly, sub­ver­sive, satir­i­cal. They were pro­gres­sive — the leads in his orig­i­nal zom­bie tril­ogy were black men (Duane Jones, Ken Foree, Terry Alexander), and women (Ju­dith O’dea, Gaylen Ross, Lori Cardille). He was of­ten ahead of his time.

He never had a great re­la­tion­ship with Hol­ly­wood, partly through sheer bad luck and that old in­de­pen­dent sen­si­bil­ity that didn’t work in the stu­dio sys­tem. As a re­sult, he spent too long in the wilder­ness, at­tached to pet projects that didn’t get made (The Stand) or ended up with some­one else (1999’s The Mummy, 2002’s orig­i­nal Res­i­dent Evil).

His re­turn from the cold in 2005 was a re­sult, iron­i­cally, of the re­vival led by Shaun Of The Dead and Zack Sny­der’s re­make of Dawn Of The Dead. Romero turned back to zom­bies with Land Of The Dead. The movie didn’t catch fire com­mer­cially, but the di­rec­tor — hap­pily re­lo­cated to Toronto from his for­mer Pitts­burgh base — stayed with the genre for his last two movies, Diary Of The Dead and Sur­vival Of The Dead. And while this sec­ond tril­ogy failed to match the first, he still had plenty of piss and vine­gar. And his le­gacy and im­pact re­mained undi­min­ished.

Romero was al­ways self-dep­re­cat­ing about his suc­cesses, ei­ther un­able or un­will­ing to face up to his huge cul­tural foot­print. He also had a wicked sense of hu­mour that shone through in his films. In 2005, while dis­cussing Land Of The Dead, Em­pire asked him when this sud­den zom­bie fever might end. “I guess, when I die,” he smiled. “I don’t know. I might come back.” We’d be just fine with that.

Clock­wise from

above: Romero in 2011; With his dys­func­tional screen fam­ily — “I try to re­spect and sym­pa­thise with the zom­bies as much as pos­si­ble”; And his 2005 come­back, Land Of The Dead.

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