Sunday, July 16, 2017

George Romero

Filmmaker renowned for his game-changing horror films, beginning with "Night of the Living Dead" -- via the L.A. Times. He stuck to what he was good at -- and besides his "Living Dead" franchise, which he used to make droll points about society, he made other good horror films such as "The Crazies," "Martin," and "Creepshow," an anthology collaboration with Stephen King that comes closest to capturing the vibe of the forbidden horror comics of the 1950s. A prominent architect of contemporary nightmares.

Here's an excerpt from my upcoming horror-film book, about his influence:

"George Romero’s arguably more influential Night of the Living Dead is the exact opposite. Shot cheaply and in black and white, Dead is the epitome of DIY filmmaking – simple, linear, graphic, and effective, it became one of the most popular independent films of all time.

Its story is cobbled from ideas set down in Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel I Am Legend (and takes a lot of its look from the first film adaptation of the book, 1964’s The Last Man on Earth). Romero changed the nemeses from vampires to flesh-hungry, slow-moving undead, single-handedly reviving the zombie-horror subgenre. All the gore-goods are delivered, but there’s something else pulsing along underneath all that – a precise and perceptive examination of people in extreme circumstances.

Norms are subverted -- the heroine is catatonic; the hero is black and unapologetically smarter and more proactive than anyone else, one of the first in a feature film. (Duane Jones’ character is not message-y because it wasn’t written with race in mind – the real problem is, he’s stuck trying to help a buncha selfish, short-sighted goddamn MORONS.) The characters dally, waver, make bad choices, reverse themselves; they are convincingly like what you might expect the average American would do if this kind of thing came up.

The low-grade black-and-white footage gives the film a gritty documentary feel (and Romero’s experience before was exclusively with documentary film). Romero turns over the exposition to scattered news broadcasts, keeping the audience just as in the dark as the characters, and adding a touch of satire to the proceedings as well. (Of the ghouls, the local sheriff says, “They’re dead – they’re all messed up.”) Ironically, the solution to the zombie problem consists of redneck posses roaming the countryside, shooting people in the head (and killing out hero by mistake in the process). As his body is added to the bonfire with the others in a series of stills, the grim truth seems to be that, in this horror universe at least, Murphy’s Law is ascendant."