George A. Romero: Zombie Godfather
George A. Romero is a writer & director of motion pictures. His claim to fame is that he virtually created the modern genre of "living dead" or "undead" zombie horror through his work. His films are not the typical fare, as most of his films were produced outside of the Hollywood film making arena. He has preferred to maintain creative control of his work and in so doing, he has consistently turned out quality genre films since 1968 on an independent basis. Many of his films have been released as "unrated" as he does not conform to the censors rules and guidelines - therefore, his films are often graphic. His celebrated "Dead" Series is his crowning piece of work, which has influenced numerous other filmmakers, writers & directors over the years. Compiled here is a selected filmography with reviews and general overview of Romero's work appears after the filmography.
A WORD REGARDING NON-ROMERO SEQUELS
It should be noted that the "Return of the Living Dead" series of films, although started by former collaborator John Russo, went in an entirely different direction from Romero Canonical Films. As such, they are not included here.
After "Night of the Living Dead" Romero & Russo parted ways with the agreement that each could have the rights to develop the series in any way each saw fit. Romero took his creation serious in thier fabrication, as Russo obviously went towards the comical and commercial direction of film making. Russo originated the idea that zombies eat only human brains, they can speak & think, run, use weapons, etc. He also introduces the fact that buried humans are reanimated (some as long ago as the Civil War!). This is why Romero titles all of his "Dead" films beginning with "George A. Romero's.....of the Dead" to distinguish his work from his former collaborators. Besides, if you've ever watched "Return of the Living Dead: Rave to the Grave"...you'll see why Romero had the foresight to remove himself from that type of crappy filmmaking. Gosh, those films were awful!
REMAKES & 'RE-IMAGININGS'
The recent "re-makes" of "Dawn of the Dead" (2004), "Day of the Dead" (2008) and a sort of 'prequel' called "Day of the Dead 2: Contagium". The re-make of "Dawn" was very good, although it strayed from the Romero Mythos. The other two were made by hacks who happened to be able to buy the rights to the name "Day of the Dead". The last two mentioned were pure crap. "Night of the Living Dead 3-D" was completely incoherent and just a waste of time. These cheap old rip-offs simply try to make a profit off of their relationships to the real Romero films. Romero himself has recently stated that if he could have retained the rights to all of the films, he would have created and weaved each story that revolves around recurring characters that would come in and out at various crucial plot points in each film. He finally was able to achieve this with connecting "Diary", "Survival" & "Land" with the character of "Sarge".
Romero was approached several years ago to create an on-going TV series based upon his "Dead Mythos" films. The project never got off the ground due to creative control differences (rumored) and the project killed before it even got to the pre-production stages. Romero was quoted as saying he didn't believe it would have worked anyway. About this timeframe (2003), a new graphic novel appeared on the scene called "The Walking Dead" which was heavily influenced by George Romero's work- almost an extension of it. The series of novels has continued and is still growing strong and has been developed as a hugely successful TV series on AMC. Romero was approached to direct episodes, but he declined. He was then in the middle of production of “Survival of the Dead” and could not commit. In a recent interview, longtime associate Greg Nicotero stated that “George has his world and he’s focusing on that, the Walking Dead is in a similar world, but it’s different. I agree with his decision.”
Robert Kirkman, creator of "The Walking Dead", has stated very clearly that his intention is to "make a George Romero movie that doesn't end". With the show's continued success, now ending its third season on AMC, it seems that he may have well accomplished his goal.
SELECTED FILMOGRAPHY (Definitive Must-See indicated by asterix)
* Night of the Living Dead (1968)
There's Always Vanilla (1971)
*The Crazies (1973)
Season of the Witch (1973)
*Dawn of the Dead (1978)
* Day of the Dead (1985)
Monkey Shines (1988)
Two Evil Eyes (1990)
*Night of the Living Dead (1990 Remake)
The Dark Half (1993)
* Land of the Dead (2005)
*Diary of the Dead (2007)
* The Crazies (2009 Re-make; Executive Producer)
*Survival of the Dead (Limited Theatre release:May 28th,2010. US DVD Release Aug 24, 2010)
*The Zombie Autopsies – (Pre-production 2013)
REVIEWS & THOUGHTS
Romero's work is laced with metaphor and analogy; what you see is NOT always what you get. His work is very intricate and vocal about certain issues. Fans of his work generally can spot the social, political, or religious references often subtly woven into the films.
His "Dead" Series is an intricate parable of humanity as a condition. This series is, by far, my favorite series within the genre. Since I first watched "Night of the Living Dead" in the late 1970's, I was hooked on Romero's visual style and writing. There was something simply frightening about the concept that people that have recently died were returning to life and attacking the living that scared me on a religious level! The lack of explanations to the pandemic made it even more open to interpretation and scarier. It always made me think that when someone dies and their soul leaves the body, that empty body was controlled by the simple instincts of the brain- like an animal. What do animals do? They eat. That's all that wild animals do, they attack and they eat. Without a soul- the very thing that defines us as Divine Creatures- we're all just a bunch of wild animals. That's my take on it anyway, Romero's never made it clear and says he likes it that way- let the viewer ponder the philosophical aspects of the epidemic.
GEORGE A. ROMERO'S SERIES
Although the genre has included many sub-par imitators, there are only six true Romero films which define the "Dead Mythos". The six Romero films are touched upon within the next section of this note.
"Night of the Living Dead (1968)" was, basically, a comment on the breakdown of social and family relationships when faced with difficult decisions. The film takes place within the first two days of the dead rising. The 1990 remake, directed by Tom Savini & under the creative control of the original team that made the 1968 version, takes the original & updates it into a contemporary setting. Certain elements are retained, while others are turned upside down. Initially a critical failure, the remake has since come into a cult following of its own as a wonderfully executed film that weaves itself nicely into the Dead Mythos. Although upon first viewing the film seems "too antiseptic", lacking gore to push the danger into sharp relief- that was not Tom Savini's fault. Columbia Pictures and the MPAA made drastic cuts to the film to achieve an "R" rating. The deleted scenes can be viewed in the Special Features section of the DVD release of 1999. There are no current plans to create an unrated director's cut of the 1990 version, which is a shame. I would also point out that Anchor Bay Entertainment recently released an re-mastered 1968 Version with new commentaries by Romero & crew in an "Ultimate Edition" similar to their earlier release of "Dawn of the Dead- Ultimate Edition" with multiple discs & features. Further, the 30th Anniversary Edition of the original NOTLD with newly shot footage is a pitiful example of some of the original crew attempting to cash-in of the name and this edition is just a crappy, incoherent edited mess- to be avoided. NOTE: NOTLD was never copyrighted in 1968 and therefore falls into the Public Domain & as such, there are many, many inferior DVD copies and imitators. If you want to see it as it was meant to be seen & heard- get the "Ultimate Edition" endorsed by Romero from Anchor Bay Entertainment. It's the real deal.
"Dawn of the Dead (1978)" was a comment on consumerism. I mean come on- the world is ending and there are very few living humans left and those few fight over a shopping mall full of useless stuff! This film occurs between the first 3 weeks and approximately 8 months of the dead rising. The "Ultimate Edition" DVD Multi-Disc set contains many versions of the film and an entire disc of extras. My favorite version is the "Extended Cut".
"Day of the Dead (1985)" was a commentary of the military and governmental complex that had been mistrusted by the American people during the mid to late '80's. Trying to rationalize a person'sexistance by answering questions may be a futile one, when the best thing to do is try and just be happy- especially if an answer can't be found. This film takes place within the first year to year and a half of the dead rising. The "DiviMax Edition" from Anchor Bay Entertainment is the obvious choice to view.
"Land of the Dead (2005)" was a parallelism to post-911 fears and isolationism. Ignore the problem (terrorism instead of zombies) and maybe it'll go away. The imagery, torn American flags, the "haves" and the "Have-nots" caste separation within the walled city- especially the line "We don't deal with terrorists.". Again, the threat isn't truly the Dead, it's the human's greed and social de-evolution that destroys what was built. This film takes place approximately three years into the rising dead pandemic. The Universal Pictures "Unrated Director's Cut" DVD Edition is the best available so far.
"Diary of the Dead (2008)" symbolizes the over dependence upon internet technology to obtain "the truth". Humans inability to see the truth when it is presented right in front of them and a desire to spread the truth and being unable to do so. One image stands clear in my mind, a shot of a laptop on a desk showing the downloaded video of one of the first re-animations- beside of the laptop is a globe...turned upside down. The films shows that it really doesn't take long for people to "get out of Dodge" when the crap hits the fan, that society de-evolves quickly- the lines of Good & Evil sometimes become blurred. This film takes place in the first three to five days after the dead began to rise. The "Dimension Extreme Edition" is the only available edition currently available to my current knowledge.
"Survival of the Dead (2010)" is a unique vision by Romero. I've just obtained a copy today (08-24-10) and viewed it once. However, it is laced with themes related to differentiating opinions and how there can be no resolute answer to a problematic situation while there is discord among people's viewpoints. Religion is touched upon, lightly, as one possible solution. While another solution presents itself as mindless violence without regard to whom it might hurt, namely the family unit. Racism and greed are touched upon in a rather unique way early on in the film. There are some humorous moments and some very unique digital effects relating to several zombie kills. New ground broken is provided by a more demonstrative example of the Dead's ability to have a certain amount of memory recall of their previous lives. One female "Dead Head" still rides her horse, dead mailmen still attempt to deliver mail, a dead wife still tries to cook family meals. The second idea involves the attempt to have the Dead eat something other than Human flesh- in this instance a living horse. Of interesting note, the main character "Sarge" appears in "Land of the Dead" & "Diary of the Dead". Since this film begins at the offset of the "outbreak", sadly, we know that Sarge will live another three years before being killed in "Land". Overall, I think it's a great addition to the series. This film takes place sometime between the fifth day to the end of the first month of the pandemic. The best version is the two-disc "Ultimate Undead Edition".
CRITICAL & FANBASE ACCEPTANCE
Also, I would like to point out, that since 1968- Romero's films have not been critically acclaimed until long after their dissection by the fan base. Their meaning and allegorical significance usually isn't fully appreciated until then. "Day of the Dead" is a great example.
Released in 1985, this film tanked...big time. The fans really expected another comic book romp like "Dawn" was ten years earlier. Alas, now "Day" is considered one of the best and most revered in the series. It's definitely the darkest & bleakest of the series and certainly has enough isolationism to make anyone claustrophobic. Romero writes about people, with a zombie apocalyptic setting as a threatening backdrop. The stories are always about how people fail; debase themselves instead of coming together during the ultimate crisis- the end of humanity. I think this is what is currently happening with Romero's Dead Series since "Land of the Dead" in 2005. The acceptance and the understanding of the hidden meanings of the films are growing.
METAPHORICAL & ALLEGORICAL STORIES
The zombies simply represent a pressing danger to the whole of humanity- it might as well be a pandemic virus, a nuclear war, natural disasters, man-made disasters...anything. Romero chose zombies because they, at first glance, are our neighbors, friends, teachers...a society literally devouring itself from the inside out. The "enemy is us". Another overall take on the films could be a sort of McCarthy-istic idea of being taken over from the inside by forces not readily differentiated from our family & friends; a la Communism or other subversive groups. Think of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, "Lifeforce" or "The Puppet Masters" alien invasion stories for a good comparison to this concept. "District 9" is also a wonderful metaphorical film that deals with immigration issues, just in a sci-fi format.
The gore of the movies is to place the danger of the situation into sharp relief. If we don't work together, you'll be consumed by others. If you really catch any real recurring theme in any of Romero’s "Dead" films, it's not the zombies that are the real danger (they're slow, easily defeatable, but dangerous in numbers)- it's the humans who seems to screw it all up by their actions and typically selfish, emotional behavior. All one has to do is recollect the Hurricane Katrina disaster to see that humans will regress into almost animal pack-like mentality when civil infrastructure alone has been lost to see what Romero's point really is. He pulls no punches on this and for good reasons. His movies are not mindless gore, he writes and directs as a master craftsman- weaving imagery and allegorical meanings into his commentary; placing it into a fantastical format to let the viewer learn something without being subjected to the "real" story. You can walk away from a Dead film and say- "That was just a movie- zombies aren't real" - you don't have to deal with the real dangers of the world...which are a lot more dangerous if you stop and think about it.
Romero's Dead Rules:
1. Zombies don't run. Decomposition of musculo-skeletal systems as well as synaptic control from the brain prohibits fast movements.
They can, however, shamble quickly. (NOTLD)
2. Everyone that dies reanimates- no matter the cause of death -unless the brain is damaged or destroyed before death. (NOTLD)
3. If a person is bitten by a zombie or consumes part of a zombie, then death is expedited. (NOTLD, Dawn, Day, Land, Diary & Survival)
4. Zombies eat living human flesh, not just human brains. It has been suggested that zombies eat animals & insects also .(NOTLD)
5. Zombies can retain some memory from their lives and can mimic "living human" behavior.(Day, Land & Survival)
6. The origin of the rising is not known for certain. (Viral, Apocalyptic Supernature or other)(ALL)
7. The brain must be destroyed or otherwise rendered inoperative, or the brain severed from the body in order to put down the zombie for good. (NOTLD)
8. Individually, the zombies are weak & defeatable- their strength lies in their numbers & living humans emotional attitudes towards destroying family & friends.(NOTLD)
9. The undead have crude, rudimentary communication skills. (Day & Land)
10. It has been suggested that the undead have a pack-like mentality. (Land)
The aforementioned rules are not an "official" quotation, but simply observances that I believe represent the basic overall behavior of the undead as shown in "on-screen" references & official quotes by Romero from various interviews over the years.
OTHER FILMS INFLUENCED BY GEORGE A. ROMERO
(NOT IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER; SEE www.imdb.com FOR FURTHER DETAILS!)
"Shaun of the Dead" - The film that coined the phrase "Zomedy", zombies + comedy!
"Resident Evil"- 2002
"Resident Evil 2: Apocalypse" - 2004
"Resident Evil: Extinction": 2007
"Resident Evil: Degeneration" - 2008 - Total CGI film that takes the series back to it's roots. Awesome.
"Resident Evil: Afterlife" - 2010
"Resident Evil: Retribution" - 2012
"House of the Dead"- Not a great movie, but interesting.
"Dead Alive" - Peter Jackson's over-the-top 1992 film!
"The Dead Next Door" - J.R Bookwalter's 1988 zombie opus.
"The Last Man on Earth" - Vincent Price stars in this early '60's film.
"I Am Legend"- 2007
"Planet Terror"- Robert Rodriguez's retro-zombie opus, from Quentin Tarantino.
"The Walking Dead" - AMC TV series -2010 - ?
"Autumn" - 2010 Zombie movie with a very unique twist.
"Undead" - A truly unique zombie film from New Zealand.
"Zombieland" - A 'zomedy' in the vein of "Shaun of the Dead"!
"Fido" - Another 'zomedy', very strangely set in the 1950's!
"I Sell the Dead" - 2010 - A zomedy about grave robbers in the 18th century!
"I, Zombie" - A Fangoria Magazine production, low budget- but very interesting.
"The Dead Pit" - 1989 - A good, old-fashioned z-flick with plenty of twists.
"The Dead Hate the Living" - 2000- z-flick that seemed to be inspired by Lucio Fulci. But this one makes sense! :)
"World War Z" – Loosely based upon the best-selling book by Max Brooks. The Unrated Cut is the best.
"The Dead" - 2010- Ford Brothers film strikingly shot in Africa and an homage to Romero.
"The Dead 2: India" - 2013 Sequel by the Ford Brothers, but set in similarly striking scenery of India.
"Dead Snow" - a neat little gem with zombie Nazis!
"Zombi" - Lucio Fulci's 1980 "masterpiece" of zombie carnage!
"City of the Living Dead" - Another Fulci zombie movie from 1980!
"The Beyond" - Fulci cranking out some zombies in 1981!
"The House by the Cemetery"- 1981, damn, Fulci! Too much too soon, man!!
"The Video Dead" - 1987's z-flick by Robert Scott.
********More Suggestions Coming Soon*********
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