Best Wishes to George A. Romero, Father of the Modern Zombie

Screenshot George Romero
George Romero from the 2002 Showtime special “Masters of Horror” by Mike Mendez and Dave Parker

We’re taking the liberty of recognizing the birthday — one day late — of horror director extraordinaire George A. Romero.

See Romero’s filmography here.

Romero’s mother was Lithuanian-American and his father was born in Cuba, of Spanish heritage. Romero was born in the Bronx, but attended film school at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA. The result? “Night of the Living Dead” was filmed in rural western Pennsylvania and most of his other films were set in and/or filmed in Pittsburgh and the surrounding area.

Of course, his earliest film is also one of his most famous—perhaps THE most: “Night of the Living Dead” (1968). Made on a budget of $114,000, it grossed $12 million domestically and $18 million internationally.

It was the first of six Living Dead films. The most recent, “Survival of the Dead” was released in 2009, though out of the sequels, 1978’s “Dawn of the Dead” is probably the most well known.

“Night of the Living Dead” shocked audiences and critics, unused to its high gore factor — Romero intended to convey the concept of zombies as metaphor for but, the film also stood out for its sophisticated, yet subtle, comparison of the characters’ zombie crisis to what Romero has described race relations in the U.S. in the 1960s and ’70s. One of the most fascinating things about the film, however, is that this representation was unintentional. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated while Romero was looking for distribution — with this, the movie suddenly took on an additional meaning. One of the leads, “Ben,” was played by Duane Jones, an African-American theater actor who graduated from the Sorbonne and worked as an acting teacher, as executive director of multiple theater organizations, and as a film actor. Jones’s character was an intelligent leader, complex, and realistically flawed which made the role not only compelling, but also defiant of racial stereotypes. For this we have both Duane Jones’s performance and George Romero’s vision to credit. Though Romero hadn’t written “Ben” to be any particular race or ethnicity, Jones turned out to be the best actor for the part, which many believe made the film even stronger than it might have been.

George Romero didn’t just direct zombie movies. “Martin” (1978) was a surreal vampire film, 1971’s “There’s Always Vanilla” was a romantic comedy, and 1973’s “Season of the Witch” should be self-explanatory. Romero also directed the film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel “The Dark Half.”

Interesting facts about George A. Romero:

* He’s a Guillermo del Toro fan.

* His initial work involved filming shorts for Pittsburgh public broadcaster WQED’s children’s series “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

* Romero made a cameo appearance in Jonathan Demme’s Academy award-winning thriller “The Silence of the Lambs”(1991) as one of Hannibal Lecter’s jailers.

* Romero has appeared in video games and has written series for both Marvel and DC Comics.

* Romero lives in Canada and acquired dual citizenship in 2009.

Sources: Wikipedia, TheSocietyPages.org, http://www.telegraph.co.uk

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