If you are one of the millions of devoted viewers of AMCs’ The Walking Dead or any of its spin-offs/imitators, you can say a little thanks to George A Romero for creating the genre to which they belong.
I say “genre” and not “SUB-genre” because that is what the modern zombie narrative has become. Zombies are no longer confined to direct-to-vid horror flicks. The shambling, vacant, flesh-eating resurrected corpse which has come to define the word zombie now appears in comedies, cartoons, fantasies, action adventure films, music videos and even soap operas (looking at you, The Walking Dead) and that’s just film and television. Countless videogames, comics, and fiction works feature the same species of “walker” that first appeared in Romero’s Night of The Living Dead, way back in 1968.
When horror magazine Fangoria began bringing horror filmmakers to the fore in the 80s and turning them into recognizable superstars, the name George A Romero rose to the top of the heap based almost entirely on his original trilogy of zombie films known as the Dead series. These were all low budget affairs, crafted with love and passion by a man who found the perfect stand-in for the most basic, perhaps the worst, aspects of his fellow man.
In trying to reach the warm food bags holed up in that Pennsylvania farmhouse, the first wave of Dead clambered over each other, unconcerned with the unbreathing brethren trampled en route to achieving their singular selfish goal.
As their Dawn rose, they moved outward from their various necropoli, Romero’s legions finding their way to the shopping malls, where thoughtlessly they roamed, only occasionally finding the gristly goodies they sought behind store windows.
As living folk began to haltingly re-organize, in vast military bunkers for instance, and further, began trying to corral and control the Dead, they demonstrated that sheer numbers and mindless appetite will always win the Day; even over any concepts of hierarchy or supposed intellect.
George A Romero milked the zombie genre, perhaps not for all it was worth, but certainly, for its most meaningful elements. He did so almost entirely without the help of the Big Bully studio system, even while lampooning it in many ways.
Many images from his work stand stark in my brain forever. That first stumbling cadaver, zeroing in on Barbara, while her cruel brother mocks her in a Karloff voice.
The nightmare of a hundred hungry hands punching through a wall to claim Lori Cardille.
The agonizing wait for David Emgee to “turn.”
That effing nerve-shattering Thing In The Crate, with its bottomless stomach, swimming up even now from some less-bottomless gulch.
Milquetoast Jason Flemyng, waking to find himself beautifully faceless.
Psychotically jealous Capuchin Elle, screeching somewhere in the dark, wielding a straight razor.
He was by all accounts, good to his family, his friends, and his fans. He was never less than generous, not only in sharing his talents, but in sharing his time.
Cliche’d as it is, one truly wonders if there can ever be another horror auteur like him. Another cliche’: there simply isn’t enough of his work for us.
But when I watch The Walking Dead, or play Resident Evil, whatever the given origin story, I will always realize I’m in the universe he made.