The first movie that ever truly got to me was George Romero’s Creepshow. At 10 years old I watched the George Romero/Stephen King horror collaboration and was more and more horrified as each story unfolded until we reached “The Crate” and I felt my blood run cold. Something about that scene where the college student goes under the stairs and is pulled into the aforementioned crate by the Tasmanian Devil and is gnawed on and killed. Blood running down his shirt as he’s pulled up into the crate to be a late night snack. That scene made my stomach curdle(and I hadn’t even gotten to the “bug” episode.)
That movie and that moment put me on a track to horror-dom that I’ve never quite gotten off of, and I owe it all the George Romero(and I suppose Stephen King, too.) That night started a journey into all things creepy, kooky, and downright disturbing. While many directors helped to fill my psyche with visions of the bizarre and bloody, no one did it with as much class as George Romero. Before Creepshow I had seen Night of the Living Dead on late night TV, but it didn’t really sink into my brain at 7 or 8 years old. Once Creepshow indoctrinated me, I was off and running. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead was the game changer. It was disturbing, chaotic, quirky, gory, and it spoke to society and consumerism. You couldn’t go to the mall after seeing DotD and not see blue-skinned zombies walking around with Orange Julius cups and Hot Sam pretzels. Day of the Dead, while not as essential as Dawn, still spoke to the evil that men do went left to their own devices. It also upped the ante in the gore department.
Those two movies, along with after revisiting Night of the Living Dead felt like these massive peaks that every horror filmmaker ever since have been trying to ascend to. George Romero wanted to scare the hell out of you, but he also wanted to comment on the current state of affairs. He wasn’t out to give us cheap thrills. He wanted to show us the horrors that awaited us outside our very front doors that we weren’t willing to look for ourselves. Romero’s zombie films were like these carnival mirrors showing us the world in distorted, grotesque fashions. You could get lost in the metaphors within those films, so if you chose just to enjoy the gore, story, acting, and sights instead no one could blame you. Least of all George Romero.
Besides his series of zombie films that changed horror forever, George Romero made many more amazing horror films. Martin, The Crazies, Monkey Shines, The Dark Half, Bruiser, and even his collaboration with Dario Argento Two Evil Eyes all showed Romero’s unique eye and perspective on a genre that had been weighted down by sleazy thrills and cheap production design.
George Romero came from a place of creating art over commerce. His influences were heavy hitters and included Orson Welles, John Ford, Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock, and Michael Powell’s The Tales Of Hoffman as one of his favorite films. His films never felt like cheap horror. They borrowed from the classics that came before and built their own worlds within Romero’s keen eye and knack for storytelling. He could’ve told stories in any genre, but horror was where he found a unique space to tell his stories. Edgar Allan Poe, with his morality plays as seen through the eyes of a doomed world and lovelorn spirit, is where Romero himself found a spot to speak out on society’s missteps and foibles. There’s nothing more horrifying than what’s lurking in our own subconscious, waiting to rise up when we least expect it.
We’ve lost one of the great voices in horror cinema, or any cinema for that matter. Romero saw the world, both the good and bad, and attempted to portray them both with equal fervor in his films. Despite the darker dispositions of his films, he was a man with heart and the desire to make great art. If he’d only made Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead and had stopped at that point we’d still be talking about the man as a genius.
Long live George Romero, the King of the Dead.