FILMMAKING HEROES: GEORGE A. ROMERO

I’ve been a fan of movies as long as I can remember. My Grandad owned a video rental (or, technically, a newsagent with a video rental section in it, as was the style at the time)* and I’d devour any and all behind the scenes/making of documentaries that I could find (I acquired a Making of INDEPENDENCE DAY VHS from the local Odeon by collecting tokens from the News of the World newspaper, one of the benefits of having access to a newsagent is that I could pilfer tokens from unsold papers). Special effects were a huge fascination with me. Nothing would please me more than some footage of Stan Winston wiggling a remote control and making a Schwarzenegger puppet blink or something.

Cut to 1997. I’m 13 years old. I don’t know what I’m going to do with my life. In my defence, I’m 13 years old, I shouldn’t have to think about it, but that’s how our education system works. I liked drawing, so I have vague ideas about being a cartoonist or illustrator, not accounting for the fact that I’m not that good an artist. I had seen hundreds of movies by this point, but at no time did I consider filmmaking to be a viable career choice. Films are made in America with famous people and cost millions of dollars, how could I do that, you douchebag? Get off my dick about it.

Then I purchase this:

Total Film, Issue 3. April 1997. I lost my original copy years ago, I just bought this on eBay for the purposes of this blog.

Like most people, I buy a magazine and read the stuff that interests me, but sometimes you’re on the shitter and you run out of stuff to read, so you branch out a little, and that’s when I read this interview with George A. Romero.

I’d seen a couple of horror movies (the ones I specifically remember being FRIDAY THE 13TH and AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, both of which shit me up at age 9 or 10), but I was far from a fan. Romero cut an intriguing figure to me, and this interview made me curious to check out his films as they intersected with several interests, like special effects and censorship. And the shot of Joe Pilato’s gaping torso is pretty badass whichever way you look at it.

The interview concludes saying “DAWN OF THE DEAD is just out on video,” but it was hard to come by in Leeds. Very few of his films were readily available and the internet was barely a thing, so I just had to wait it out and hope for the best. At some point not too long after that, Bravo screened DAY OF THE DEAD. From the opening notes of John Harrison’s score, I knew this was a film I was gonna dig. A few months later, they screened DAWN. The night before I watched it, I had a dream I was watching it. It’s fair to say, at this point, I was on board with the horror genre.

THE OEUVRE

I was gonna do a write-up for each film in Romero’s filmography, but really, they’ve been covered pretty extensively over the past fifty years by people who are much smarter (and better writers).

But I have enjoyed every one of these films and found some form of inspiration from each one of them…

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)

Made by a bunch of friends with private investor backing, shooting on-and-off over a period of months whenever they scrape together any free time/money, this is the granddaddy of independent filmmaking, and the birth of the modern horror film.

THERE’S ALWAYS VANILLA (1971)/SEASON OF THE WITCH (1972)

THE CRAZIES (1973)

MARTIN (1977)

DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978)

Fun fact: DAWN OF THE DEAD was the first DVD I bought, and the first blu-ray.

KNIGHTRIDERS (1981)

DVD signed by Romero, CD signed by composer Donald Rubinstein.

CREEPSHOW (1982)

CD signed by composer John Harrison.

DAY OF THE DEAD (1985)

CD signed by composer John Harrison (on a different booklet).

MONKEY SHINES (1988)

TWO EVIL EYES (1990)

THE DARK HALF (1993)

BRUISER (2000)

LAND OF THE DEAD (2005)

DIARY OF THE DEAD (2007)

SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD (2009)

MISC:
EFFECTS (1980)/DOCUMENT OF THE DEAD (1981)/CREEPSHOW 2 (1987)/TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: THE MOVIE (1990)/NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1990)

Romero had a hand in several projects that he didn’t direct, be it writing, producing, or being a spiritual influence.

UPDATE: I now have EFFECTS on blu-ray.


Meeting Romero in 2007. I skipped a film school lecture to hop on a Megabus to Milton Keynes, where Romero was appearing at a convention. Kevin Sorbo had a line around the hall, but Romero was sitting at a table alone. Through my cracking voice and pissed-filled pants, I had a solid 10 minute conversation with him about filmmaking, got him to sign my KNIGHTRIDERS DVD, gave him a DVD of my shitty films (in PAL and NTSC formats so he could watch it on either side of the Atlantic) and got a blind idiot photographer to take our picture. I was preparing my dissertation on the political/social themes of 70s horror and I asked if I could e-mail him some questions. He agreed and gave me his address.
I never e-mailed him.

Low budget filmmaking was now fully on my radar, but Romero had come from a well-established place in advertising and industrial films before his first feature, so it still didn’t occur to me as a potential career.

NEXT TIME:

SHIT GETS GROOVY

*My dad had a dedicated video shop in the early 80s, which lead to some issues when the Video Nasties scare happened, but that’s for another blog.

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