He changed cinema forever, and we do not say that lightly. George Andrew Romero’s low budget 1968 film, Night of the Living Dead, altered the horror genre completely. Before that, Romero was a jobbing Pittsburgh commercial director. After, he was the father of a new subgenre of horror: the zombie apocalypse (never mind that he was basically riffing on Richard Mathesons’ 1954 novel, I Am Legend). The film’s stark, documentary-like black and white aesthetic, its rigid internal logic, and its unsentimental, bleak narrative struck a chord that is still ringing. No Night of the Living Dead? No The Walking Dead, no World War Z, none of that stuff – the current horde of shambling corpses traversing the cultural landscape would not exist.
Horror was, of course Romero’s preferred genre, and he would return to the world of Night of the Living Dead five times, beginning with 1978’s Day of the Dead, arguably his best film. Outside of the form he pioneered, Romero gave us such fascinating oddities such as 1978’s disturbing vampire film, Martin; loving EC Comics odes Creepshow and Creepshow 2, for which he partnered with Stephen King; and the jousting motorcyclists of 1981’s Knightriders, which featured Ed Harris as a kind of modern day King Arthur, trying to live by a chivalric code in a corrupt world.
Romero’s final film as director, 2009’s Survival of the Dead, was not as well received as his early zombie movies, but the director had planned on returning to that world with Road of the Dead, with co-writer Matt Birman handling directing duties while Romero produced. Three days before his death, Romero described the project to Rue Morgue as “…The Fast and the Furious with zombies.” The film’s current status is unknown.
Romero died in his sleep on July 16 after a brief battle with lung cancer. He is survived by his wife, Suzanne Desrocher Romero, and three children.