George A. Romero, who created the modern zombie phenomenon with his groundbreaking Night of the Living Dead film in 1968, has died at the age of 77 after what his family termed “a brief but aggressive battle with lung cancer.” Romero mixed social commentary with horror, setting his films in realistic modern environments and taking on, either directly or obliquely lots of the key issues of late 20th Century American society including racism (Night of the Living Dead), consumerism (Dawn of the Dead), the power of the military (Day of the Dead), and class warfare (Land of the Dead—see “Romero Preps New Zombie Pic”).
Romero revolutionized the modern American horror film with Night of the Living Dead in 1968, which was made in Pittsburgh for about $100,000. In addition to classic filmmakers like Hitchcock, Ford, Welles, and Michael Powell, Romero was influenced by Herk Harvey’s 1962 film Carnival of Souls, which was produced independently by Harvey in Kansas City for just $30,000. In addition to providing the template for the modern zombie horror film, with the success of Night of the Living Dead, Romero also gave a great boost to independent and regional filmmaking across the U.S.—and independently-made horror films continue to be one of the major steppingstones for young directors and creators.
Romero’s influence was immense and long lasting, so it’s no surprise that his death brought an avalanche of tributes from colleagues and those he influenced. Stephen King tweeted “sad to hear my favorite collaborator--and good old friend--George Romero has died. George, there will never be another like you,” while Joss Whedon noted “No one mined the zombie metaphor like Romero. (After he invented it.) No one has come close.” James Gunn, who directed the underrated horror film Slither, before he found fame with Guardians of the Galaxy, confessed that Romero “made me want to make movies, and helped me to find meaning in monsters.”
Like many other modern filmmakers Romero tried his hand at writing comics, creating Empire of the Dead, a 15-issue miniseries from Marvel Comics that debuted in 2014 (see “George A. Romero to Write Zombie Comic for Marvel”), and was optioned for TV in 2015 (see “George A. Romero’s Empire of the Dead Optioned for TV”. Simon and Schuster has just released a new edition of the late Berni Wrightson’s comic book adaptation of Romero’s film of Stephen King’s Creepshow (see “May 2017 BookScan—Top 20 Adult Graphic Novels”).