“God changed the rules. That’s the only explanation I need. No more room in hell.” – George A. Romero
I should be doing research for an upcoming interview or writing a review for a film I watched earlier but the fact is, I can’t concentrate. The world has lost one of its’ greatest and most influential filmmakers: George A. Romero. He single-handedly guided and shaped the zombie sub-genre into what it has become today. It wasn’t only about zombies, his other films are just as brilliant and important to the genre as the Dead Saga is. I can’t help but think, did he know just how impactful he was? Not just in the cinema world either, to the average fan. Did he realize how he has brought people together, people who have formed life-long friendships because of their admiration for him and his films? We’ll never know the answer but we as admirers and fans, will come together and keep his spirit alive by celebrating his life and career.
I couldn’t even tell you if I tried just how old I was when I first discovered him and his films. As a hardcore horror fan, it just feels as if he’s been a constant for as long as I can remember. I do know for certain, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was the first of his films I saw. It was on a horror host program, though I’m not sure which one. Certain moments in the film just terrified me, when Bill Hinzman first appears in the graveyard or when we get the first glimpse of the young Karen Cooper after she had transformed into a flesh-eating ghoul. These are iconic moments, captured on film for fans to relive over and over. It’s been forty nine years and it still haunts our nightmares.
After NIGHT, I knew there was more and I knew I needed to see them. I used Leonard Maltin’s legendary film guide to figure out who was behind the films and which one would be next. I had to go to a friend’s house to watch it, my parents wouldn’t allow me, but DAWN OF THE DEAD was, is, and always will be the absolute best zombie movie ever made, PERIOD! It was funny, frightening, graphically violent, and most importantly, intelligent. The social commentary wasn’t something I would come to appreciate until later in life when I knew what it was.
I could go on and on about each and every one of his films but then there would be no end in sight for this little article. CREEPSHOW, KNIGHTRIDERS, MONKEY SHINES, etc., etc., they’re all iconic in their own right. I remember when he finished THE DARK HALF and Orion Pictures was facing a desperate financial situation, the release was delayed. I had a friend who traded tapes with me through the mail and he came across a copy, quickly sharing it with me. On vacation with my parents in Florida over twenty years ago, I bought a copy of THE ZOMBIES THAT ATE PITTSBURGH book. I loved that book and eventually traded it for THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD FILMBOOK. I wish I had kept his biography instead.
George A. Romero was a brilliant filmmaker, his friends and family knew it, his fans knew it, but Hollywood never really cared. He only did a handful of studio pictures, he spent most his time fighting to get films made. More than any other director, the films that could have been really hurt. Can you imagine what THE MUMMY would have been like had George been allowed to take control, even RESIDENT EVIL. That film would have been an entirely different beast had the stars aligned for him. He made a pretty good living there for awhile by getting hired for projects he was never allowed to follow through on.
I had always wondered what it would be like to meet George. What would I say to him? What will he be like? He made a few appearances a tried to make but was unable to attend. He had scheduled a couple of appearances I was able to attend but unfortunately things came up and he had to cancel. I began to wonder if I would ever get that opportunity I had often dreamed of. In April of this year, that moment finally came. He made an appearance at the Motor City Nightmares Convention in Novi, Mi. I was reluctant to approach him, nerves maybe, whatever it was, I quickly overcame it. The first thing I had noticed was how frail he looked, his hands were shaky, and he kept dropping his Sharpie. It was a bit heartbreaking to see him like that but when he looked up at me, that Romero smile was wide across his face, and he offered me his hand to shake, asking my name. You could just tell he was genuinely interested in meeting his fans. I sat next to him for a few moments and thanked him for everything, for the films’, his influence, and for being there for his fans. He responded by patting me on the back and thanked me for supporting him and his career. He shook my hand once more and that was it. I have a couple of pictures and a signed DAY OF THE DEAD script to commemorate the day I will never forget.
As I reach the end of this article, I can’t help but feel a little selfish. This was written about how Romero affected me, a journalist who only had a couple of short interactions with him. What about his friends and family who have lost their loved one, their father, husband, or best friend? My heart aches for them, I want to send them my condolences, and I am honored to be a part of a community who has shown so much love for this man we all admire. I hope they can see just how much George positively impacted the lives of millions of strangers, in a positive way. He’s inspired, driven, and nurtured almost every generation of filmmaker or artist who has come after him. He even drove his contemporaries and colleagues to step up their game and be their best. There will never be another George A. Romero, he may have moved on, but we will always have his art. We can continue to watch his films, watch the documentaries he appeared in, or read his interviews in magazines. His voice and art will live forever! He will continue to inspire future generations! Once again, my heart and prayers go out to his wife Suzanne, his children, and the rest of his family and dear friends. Rest in Peace, George, we’ll miss you.