George Romero, the filmmaker who made a cottage industry out of zombie films — and all but defined the genre from its inception — has died at his home, according to the Los Angeles Times. He was 77.
Mr. Romero is often credited with pioneering the zombie genre thanks to his 1968 low-budget black-and-white classic “Night of the Living Dead,” in which a satellite returning to Earth unleashes radiation that reanimates the dead, turning them into cannibalistic, mindless beings trudging after their victims. Mr. Romero’s film pioneered several of the genre’s staples, including the slow-moving monsters grunting unintelligibly, chasing survivors into confined spaces and the use of impromptu weaponry to stop them.
Additionally, “Night of the Living Dead” had its survivors developing conflict among themselves in the boarded-up farmhouse as, just outside, the creatures sought ways to enter. Mr. Romero cast as his hero Duane Jones, a black actor, among an otherwise entirely white cast, and granting the horror tale an extra-textual element during the height of the civil rights era. Jones’ character, Ben, must not only battle the hordes of zombies but also the barely veiled prejudices of the white family he is trapped with inside the home.
Mr. Romero returned to the zombie genre frequently, with sequels “Dawn of the Dead,” taking place inside a mall, “Day of the Dead,” “Land of the Dead,” “Diary of the Dead” and “Survival of the Dead” following — the last in 2009. Mr. Romero also executive-produced a color remake of “Night of the Living Dead” in 1990, this one directed by special effects wizard Tom Savini.
As zombies became cliche, the genre experienced a 21st-century renaissance thanks to them being transformed into swift pursuers in “28 Days Later” and the ongoing AMC series “The Walking Dead.” However, though he found much to admire about the show, Mr. Romero decried “The Walking Dead” as “a soap opera with a zombie occasionally,” according to The Telegraph.
Mr. Romero looked more kindly upon “Shaun of the Dead,” the British satire about two London slackers (Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright), who battle the undead in one of the goriest comedies in cinematic history — and one that references several of the death scenes in Mr. Romero’s own films.
“I called them up immediately right after I saw it and I said, ‘Guys … this was just so loving,’” Mr. Romero told Horrormovies.ca in 2013, adding that he later cast both Messrs. Pegg and Wright as zombies in “Diary of the Dead.”
According to Variety, Mr. Romero was born in The Bronx, New York, and studied at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. It was in Western Pennsylvania where he began shooting commercials before filming “Night of the Living Dead” in and around the Pittsburgh area.
Mr. Romero’s non-zombie flicks included the Stephen King adaptation “The Dark Half” and the anthology “Creepshow,” written by Mr. King.
The filmmaker died in his sleep early Sunday following a bout with lung cancer, according to a statement from his manager.
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