In Memoriam: The Godfather of the Walking Dead: George A. Romero (1940-2017)

George A. Romero was a passionate innovator, a visionary, and an indie filmmaker who always created art on his own terms. His zombie apocalypse movies created a new terror for us to be afraid of, with their shambling walking dead, but his keen eye for social commentary made us realize that the true monsters lay within ourselves. Night of the Living Dead (1968), Dawn of the Dead (1978), and Day of the Dead (1985) are widely regarded as masterpieces within their genre and influenced many other artists to include directors John Carpenter and Edgar Wright, and comic book writer Robert Kirkman, who went on to write one of the most popular zombie stories of all time The Walking Dead.

My relationship to Romero's work is more personal because his film Dawn of the Dead was one of the first horror flicks I remember watching as a young child. My father and I bonded over horror films and much of our time was spent together watching them. He told me early on that there were no such things as monsters and that it was just pretend and people wearing makeup which allayed my fears. Honestly, some of my fondest memories are going with my father to the rental store and picking out scary movies on VHS to watch when we got home. In 2012, my dad died from cancer and when I went to visit him in his final stages we talked about horror movies to take his mind off the pain. It sounds strange, but I feel extremely comforted and nostalgic while watching classic flicks like Dawn of the Dead because of the happy memories I associate with my dad. Romero died from cancer as well, and I hope that in the future we are able to fight that disease and eradicate it from our existence.

Romero was an icon in the horror industry and his mark was made with 1968's Night of the Living Dead which brought that documentary-style/guerilla feel to scary movies. The events of that film could take place in real life and they use locations that are familiar to audiences which heightens the feeling of unease. He also made this film with a small budget which inspired subsequent directors to make their own indie movies. Night of the Living Dead was both a critique of America's involvement in the Vietnam War and the state of race relations in the country at the time, and Romero never shied away from subversive political issues in his filmography.

While zombies have become somewhat cliche in recent times due to over saturation, their initial impact on horror cannot be undermined. Even now, people love to hate the reanimated ghouls and it is in no small part to George Romero's classic films. We lost a master today in the horror community and his influence and voice shall be sorely missed.

As an aside, Romero's zombie movies aren't the only ones he made worth checking out. Creepshow (1982), Monkey Shines (1988), Knightriders (1981), and Martin (1978) are all fantastic in their own right and should be on any horror aficionado's list.

--Michelle Kisner