Although much attention has been lavished upon the AMC television show The Walking Dead, any horror fan worth their salt knows the genesis of the modern zombie story lies in the 1968 cult classic Night of the Living Dead. The film, shot in rural Pennsylvania, featured a group of diverse, squabbling characters trapped in a farmhouse surrounded by flesh-eating animated corpses.
That film’s director, George A. Romero, who is half Cuban, still commands respect as the man that invented the genre with that low budget, black-and-white classic — a film that spawned three direct sequels, a sort-of-reboot (2007‘s Diary of the Dead, which spawned the 2009 sequel Survival of the Dead) a couple of remakes (one of them, made in 1990, was written by Romero himself) and too many imitations to list (1972‘s Tomb of the Blind Dead and 1974‘s Don‘t Open the Window, both by Spanish directors, are generally considered to be two of the better ones).
Romero’s track record in the ‘Dead’ films regarding minorities speaks for itself — the functioning leads in Night of the Living Dead, 1978’s Dawn of the Dead and 1985’s Day of the Dead have all been black; the most interesting character in 2005‘s Land of the Dead, an evolved zombie with intelligence and compassion, is African American; and Latinos play interesting roles to varying degrees in the first three sequels (John Leguizamo has a morally ambiguous supporting role in Land…). The films also tend to have a social/political sting in the tail — Dawn… is set in a shopping mall crawling with mindless consumers (zombies) while Day… has soldiers and scientists at odds regarding how to handle the zombie apocalypse.
When 76-year-old Romero spoke on Aug. 27 at the Matrix Conference Center in Danbury, the applause from the audience were deafening. He was the main guest at the Connecticut Horror Fest and there was no mistaking it.
During his panel discussion, he mentioned a forthcoming honor from mainstream Hollywood culture — he will be receiving his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He announced that a film school named after him is forthcoming in Pittsburgh, which was the setting of Dawn… — many of his earlier films such as the science fiction-flavored The Crazies (1973), the deconstructive vampire film Martin (1977) and the 1981 biker film Knight Riders, (which stars a young Ed Harris and is a retelling of the King Arthur legend) are set in Pennsylvania.
His later films include the anthology film Creepshow (a 1982 collaboration with Stephen King that satirizes classic horror comics) and Monkey Shines (a 1988 film with an environmental slant). He also adapted King’s novel The Dark Half in 1993 (Romero said during the discussion that he disliked the final 10 minutes of the film, adding that the special effects were terrible).
He recalled how he and his associates with the Latent Image, a company that made industrial films and television advertisements, all contributed $600 apiece toward the budget to a prospective horror film (originally to be titled Night of the Flesh Eaters) while support from a local horror television show host helped them raise $60,000. The film’s reputation gradually grew in America and Europe, securing Romero’s legacy.
He admitted early in the speech that he was tired of the zombie genre, adding that it is no longer as much of am opportunity for low-budget filmmakers. But even his more recent efforts, such as Diary…, reflect an interest in melding modern concerns with the living dead; he described the film as a personal statement on how citizen journalism has gotten out of control.