Sunday, July 16, 2017
Tribute: George A. Romero (1940 - 2017)
One of America's greatest horror filmmakers is gone.
The press is now reporting the death of George A. Romero, the director of Night of the Living Dead (1968) and its many sequels. He was 77 years old.
George A. Romero's films were notorious to mainstream audiences, in large part, for their unflinching gore and violence.
They were beloved by horror aficionados, however, for their insightful social commentary and understanding of the human condition. George Romero's films were always more about people than they were about ghouls.
Beyond the Dead series -- Night of the Living Dead (1968), Dawn of the Dead (1978), Day of the Dead (1985), Land of the Dead (2005), Diary of the Dead (2007), and Survival of the Dead (2009) -- Romero's best genre films succeeded in de-romanticizing horror monsters and horror myths.
In some senses, Romero removed the Gothic touches of the genre, and stripped horror stories to their "realistic" bones.
The Crazies (1973) -- remade in 2010 -- was about zombies created by a biological agent called Trixie. There was nothing supernatural about the monster, in this case.
Likewise, Romero's Hungry Wives (1972) was ostensibly about witches. But witchcraft was viewed, in the film as just another passing fad for a bored suburban house-wife to become enamored with, not as a supernatural force. As one character in the film noted, "Voodoo only works because you believe it works. Your mind does the work."
Even Romero's vampire film, Martin (1977) was stripped of the romantic touches we commonly associate with that monster. The vampire there was not a mythological creature, just a kid with, in the words of Romero (from The Michigan Daily), "hang-ups."
In my essay in Cult Cinema (Arrow Books; 2016) -- "No More Mysterioso: Horror's Great Sociologist," -- I also wrote about Romero as a clever observer of the social order, and discussed his films as examples of how mankind doesn't change, even in the face of apparent social disorder.
As the director would often note: "What is it going to take for us to change?" His Dead movies are all about the fact that the world can fall into a zombie-apocalypse, but that man will be the same self-destructive, selfish creature he has always been.
With all the discussion of late about "post-horror" films, Mr. Romero's passing reminds us of why so many scholars, fans, and audiences love horror now, and see no need or imperative to move beyond it.
At its best -- in the hands of artists like Romero -- horror movies terrify us, and more than that, illuminate some facet of our existence on this mortal coil.
Romero's "monster" films often uncovered the dirty truth that man himself could be the greatest monster of them all. Romero showed us that horror was the perfect mirror by which to examine who we are.
We lost Wes Craven, the horror film psychologist, in 2015, and it is too soon to face the loss of horror's sociologist.
Alas, that loss is upon us.
George Romero entertained us, inspired us, and terrified us for nearly fifty years. He made us think, and he showed a generation of horror filmmakers that horror could be smart, not simply gory.
This loss is immeasurable.