It’s fair to say that without George A Romero, I would not have the career I have now. A lot of people owe George a huge debt of gratitude for the inspiration. I am just one of many.
Without George, at the very least, my career would have started very differently. My future in film really started when I became firm friends with Simon Pegg while we were making Spaced and we realised that we were both obsessed with Dawn Of The Dead and George’s work.
I was infatuated with George’s work before I even saw it. Way before I was old enough to watch any of his movies I’d scour through horror and fantasy magazines for stills, posters and articles about them. By the time I finally did watch the likes of Night of the Living Dead, Martin, Dawn of the Dead, Creepshow, Day of the Dead, on VHS or late-night TV, I was a true devotee of all things Romero.
Later, after making Spaced, Simon Pegg and I had this wild notion of making a film that took place in George’s universe, but with a distinctly deadpan north London response to his Pittsburgh zombie epics. The resulting film, Shaun of the Dead, would obviously not exist without the master himself, and when we completed the movie we decided to contact George and screen the film for him. To us, his was the only opinion that mattered.
Universal screened the movie for George while he was on vacation in Florida. I remember being bemused that he watched the movie with a studio security guy in the theatre. As if George himself would pirate the movie! Even if he did, he would be more than due some profits from our cinematic valentine to him.
Later that night, George called us in London. He couldn’t have been warmer and kinder about the movie. I remember him saying that it was “an absolute blast”. That line became the sole poster quote for the movie in the US. I frequently think back to this moment of standing in my house as the moment my life truly changed and the world got smaller.
Over a year later George asked us to come to Toronto and appear in his new movie Land of the Dead. We had sent George a ‘Foree Electric’ name tag [from Shaun of the Dead] as a token of our gratitude for his poster quote on our movie and he was wearing it when we met. Meeting the man himself was just amazing; anyone who knew him will attest how funny, smart and genial he was. When we shot our brief cameo as “Photo Booth Zombies”, it was such a trip. We couldn’t believe we were being told what to do as zombies by the King of the Zombies himself. George actually had no notes and said: “You guys know what you are doing.”
The day after we shot our cameo, we had coffee in a Toronto hotel and he asked me and Simon what we were doing next. I replied that we were making a police action comedy. “Oh, not a horror, then?” he replied. “So you’re getting out.”
This was a telling statement, as there was always the sense that George had interests in film that stretched beyond the realm of horror. But even if he was pigeonholed somewhat, one of the reasons that his work resonates still is because of the fierce intelligence and humour behind it. His zombie films alone are the work of a major satirist, being highly vivid socio-political metaphors and sometimes better records of the years in which they were made than countless serious dramas. While genre films are often dismissed when people are talking about classic cinema, there is absolutely no denying the seismic impact his movies have had and continue to have in the world of film, TV, comics, video games and literature.
The last time I was in contact with him was last year when it was announced on the internet that he was to have a star in his honour on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I emailed him to ask when the ceremony was because I wanted to go, and here is just part of his very droll and typically modest response:
So nice to hear from you. You are the first person of note to have responded to the announcement of my “Star” on the “Hollywood Walk of Fame”. If I had been given a date for the “ceremony”, I would certainly have passed it on to all who might have been amused. As of now there is no definite date. Once a date is determined I will alert you and my children who, at this point, seem to be the only amused parties … I fully appreciate that some day in the future one of my kids might be walking along Zambeezie Street in LA and wonder why his or her father has his name embedded beneath the dog shit. Thousands of people, stepping over that same dog shit, if they can decipher the time-crusted lettering, will ask, “Who the fuck is George Romero?” Only you and my children will know.
Thank you for knowing.
This was the last email I received from George. He is, as ever, being way too hard on himself. For just his very surname, Romero, immediately conjures more images and themes than 99% of writer/directors out there. I look forward to whenever they do lay down the star in his honour, but he is already is a bright shining beacon in the film universe.
RIP to the lovely George. Knowing your movies, I have a feeling you will be back.
Alice Lowe, director
At a time when a huge fuss is being made about a female Doctor, it’s notable that we’ve lost George Romero, who was making casting decisions that blew people’s minds way back in the 60s – witness his colour-blind casting of African American actor Duane Jones as the lead in Night of the Living Dead.
Romero was ahead of his time and his films about zombies and vampires were more than human, seeming to speak straight to the audience. He possessed the rare gift of being a filmmaker who seemed to be able to step outside of the mainstream with a prescient overview. His films were politically conscientious, skewering consumerism, racial prejudice and bigotry with their zombie metaphors, and he never disappointed in terms of practising what he preached. He was generous to a fault with his time, support and unwaning enthusiasm.
I hoped at some point I might meet him. Not from any belief in my own special destiny in this, but because he just was such an unbelievably active participant at so many events, horror cons, screenings, etc. But sadly, I will just have to content myself with the pleasure of re-viewing his films. And wondering what new thing I can learn from them.
John Landis, director
George Romero was a mensch. A kind and gregarious man, his influence on popular culture is profound.
Night of the Living Dead remains a milestone in the history of the horror film. Not only for the concept of what George called his “blue collar zombies”, but his casting of an African American to play one of the leads and the film’s shattering conclusion. To quote Walt Kelly, creator of the Pogo cartoon strip, “we have met the enemy and he is us”.
Horror, always a disreputable genre, is the perfect vessel for political comment and George’s films were always subversive and knowing. He had a wonderful sense of humour, and although sometimes bitter that he was a victim of his own success – he felt trapped that he was unable to get financing for other kinds of movies – he ultimately came to peace with being known as the King of the Zombies.
George was a sweet, smart and gifted man. His passing is a great loss.
Ben Wheatley, director
Romero was a pioneer. He didn’t go to Hollywood and try to climb the greasy pole. He shot Night of the Living Dead outside the system. He showed that you could from a standing start, without Hollywood connections, create a genre virtually from scratch. If you are asking yourself, “How do you get to become a film director?”, best read up on George Romero.
Max Brooks, World War Z author
What make a true genius? Insight? The ability to see the same world as the rest of us but to understand so much more? Communication? What good is insight if you can’t explain your findings to others, to make us care, to make us think. George could do that. He took the seemingly lowest, silliest, crudest medium, the zombie movie, and used it to explain the state of humanity. He educated through entertainment. How many of us can do that? George A. Romero was, in the purest sense of the world, a genius.