Waking up to very sad news this morning that George Romero has passed away at 77 after a short battle with lung cancer. This is hard news to take, Night of the Living Dead, Martin, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead are four sturdy pillars that my love of Horror Cinema rests upon. I haven’t been keeping up with Romero in recent times, every now and then I would hear speculation that a new Living Dead film was emerging but after half-hearted engagements with Land of the Dead and Diary of the Dead, I figured Romero had followed the terminal decline of Dario Argento and John Carpenter. Better to bask in the warmth of the classics than suffer the diminishing returns of Bruiser or Survival of the Dead (both of which I still haven’t seen). But all that fades from view now, Romero leaves behind a tremendous body of work. That would be true had he simply made the four films mentioned above, but Romero also gave us The Crazies, Creepshow and Knightriders, and there are films that I’m eager to go back and revisit – Jack’s Wife, Monkey Shines, and Romero’s half of Two Evil Eyes. Jack’s Wife is an especially intriguing prospect – I saw the film back in the 90’s when it screened on Channel 4 and strongly disliked it. But this was long before my tastes developed matured (and before I discovered Ingmar Bergman!) and now that I’m roughly the same age as the titular character, I feel much better placed to appreciate what Romero was trying to do. I’ve only mentioned Romero’s films up to this point, and rightly so – I hate it when people sentimentalize the passing of remote, unknowable public figures, but in Romero’s case, I think I can grieve for the man he was. By all accounts he was an absolute gentleman, listening to his commentary tracks one gets a measure of his kindness, warmth, humor, the way he remembers his films like they were extended family outings. He remains always a joy to listen to. In Martin, I see Romero’s tenderness and humanity towards a character struggling with mental health issues. I look at Romero’s courageous casting of Duane Jones in Night of the Living Dead, a black actor given the role of a strong, resourceful and defiant man (and defiantly smacking a bothersome white man), at a time when Civil Rights was still a tinderbox within American society. When asked about it, Romero would always shrug it off and insist that Duane Jones was simply the best actor for the job, but it’s hard to believe that Romero and his partners at The Latent Image didn’t discuss the political ramifications of their decision. For me George Romero’s greatest legacy was perfectly encapsulated by my friend and film-maker John Mulvaney earlier today: "Watching the likes of Night of the Living Dead, Martin and Dawn of the Dead still gives me urge to want to just go out there and make art, irregardless of budget, or what popular culture dictates."
Filming Night of the Living Dead, 1968
With Stephen King and Richard Rubinstein on the set of Creepshow, 1982
Playing an FBI agent alongside Charles Napier and Jodie Foster in Silence of the Lambs,1991