I met George Romero on the set of the remake of Night of the Living Dead directed by Tom Savini. It was a dream come true having become a “dead” fan from the original black and white classic. I spent two weeks sleeping on the couch of the make-up team. After spending time in “zombie school” learning how to walk and how to respond when told to go “back to one,” I ended up being a featured zombie in one scene Savini directed.
I wrote a story for an old issue of the print edition of Film Threat detailing this amazing experience. The whole shoot was like summer camp with zombies. And every zombie was a fan and each had a story about how Romero’s zombie films had changed their lives. The crew, including actors Tony Todd, William Butler and Patricia Tallman, were a real family. And Romero could not be kinder. George was like everyone’s favorite uncle and incredibly nurturing to anyone who got the nerve to chat him up.
Romero’s casting of college professor Duane Jones in the original black and white Night of the Living Dead was a stroke of genius. Romero refused to alter the script when Jones, a black man, was cast. And the entire film took on a whole new meaning as the redneck’s patrolling for “ghouls” played into our hero’s untimely demise. His zombie films contained social commentary that elevated the horror genre beyond being a simple-minded gore-fest. Dawn of the Dead is a biting satire about consumer culture that is as relevant today as it was when it was made. And Day of the Dead’s indictment of the military industrial complex is a warning that we clearly have not heard. But zombie fans know.
And Robert Kirkman owes a debt to Romero for The Walking Dead. Sure, the Walking Dead is a great soap opera with zombies, but Romero made the rules. And Kirkman is smart enough to stick to them. Just aim for the head.
Romero changed the horror genre and with it, the world. Thank you George.
I’ll really miss you.