Horror legend (although that word almost doesn’t feel big enough) George A. Romero has died at the age of 77 on Sunday night. His longtime producing partner confirmed the news to The Los Angeles Times on behalf of George’s family that he died after a “brief but aggressive battle with lung cancer.”
If you’re a horror person, you already know how huge George was. He basically created the terrifying human-eating zombie genre we know today. That’s always kind of funny to me, since he spent the majority of his later years looking like the sweet old man from Up. After graduating from Carnegie Mellon University in 1960, George started doing commercial film work. His first job was filming a segment for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Eventually he moved on to making films. In 1968, George took $114,000 and made Night of the Living Dead, the first of six films in a series. Night was crazy; it was released at a time before the MPAA rating system, so kids could go see it and they were all shook up from the zombies. People expecting a campy, ha-ha horror film about slow-moving zombies instead got an “oh fuck!” horror film about human-hungry ghouls. Despite the initial controversy, Night got great reviews and was at one time the most profitable horror film made outside of a studio. It was added to the National Film Registry in 1999.
George continued to make scary-ass movies, and in 1978 he made Dawn of the Dead, a movie which probably still causes some people to get a little anxious if they find themselves in a mall after closing time. George found a formula that worked, and he kept making movies about the undead: Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead. He also made some not-great movies, but I will argue forever that Monkey Shines is a completely underrated weird gem of a film.
George’s manager released a statement about his death on Facebook saying he passed away in his sleep in Toronto, Ontario while listening to the score from The Quiet Man with his wife Suzanne Desrocher Romero and his daughter Tina beside him. He leaves behind three children.
I watched Night of the Living Dead for the first time last year, and going into it I was like “This can’t be that scary, it’s a black and white movie from the 60s.” Wrong. It’s still extremely scary. Okay, maybe I laughed a little at the scene of a zombie kid eating her dad. But that was after I nervously checked over my shoulders at least twice first to make sure there wasn’t a juvenile zombie behind me.
Rather that show something scary, here’s George talking about a clip from a segment he filmed for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood about Mister Rogers getting a tonsillectomy. I know it’s not supposed to be creepy, but it’s definitely giving off a Night of the Dead Tonsils vibe.
Rest in peace, George.