George Romero earned his reputation as a master of horror with his very first film, 1968’s Night of the Living Dead. He has contributed more to the genre than virtually any other horror director. He gave us the zombie film as we know it today. And yet he is so much more than just “the zombie guy” outside of his heralded zombie trilogy and the films of the same type he made after that, there is a wide and diverse career featuring many different films and different types of films. Romero doesn’t like to scare people the same way twice, and even in his zombie trilogy each film is different than the one before it. He is one of the greats, and here are five of his greatest.
5. DAY OF THE DEAD-
Known as something as a disappointment for years, Day of the Dead has finally found its audience and has begun to receive the recognition that it truly deserves. Many people even list it as their favorite of Romero’s zombie trilogy, which is understandable. It’s one of the most perfectly political, satirical, gory and frankly mean-spirited zombie films out there. It may be even more nihilistic than Night of the Living Dead. This one centers on an underground bunker that has now found its research mission under military control. It’s about the moment when they decisions and proceedings on how to end the outbreak could have been made—and weren’t. When it is revealed that the zombies may be able to learn, to adapt, that’s when Col. Rhodes, the newly self-appointed leader, realizes that the world is essentially Heaven for a man like him the way it is now. While there was debate in the first two, this was the film that made the humans worse than the zombies. The results were spectacular.
It promises “The Most Fun You’ll Ever Have Being Scared!” And it is no lie. Creepshow is one hell of a fun movie. It is pure pulp in the EC comics tradition. The movie is an original version of an EC Comics tale from the minds of both Romero and Stephen King, who wrote the script. It’s one of the best anthology horror movies ever made and the stories are so different and varied that the end result is perfectly balanced. “Father’s Day” is a gruesomely funny vengeance tale, “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” finds Stephen King in a rare starring role as he goes about a one man show as a redneck who stumbles across a very strange meteor, “Something to Tide You Over” is a tense psychological thriller and boasts a psychotic turn from Leslie Nielsen, “They’re Creeping Up on You” is a disturbing one about a despicable old tycoon who also happens to be a complete germophobe who gets what’s coming to him in a plague of cockroaches.
3. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD-
It is one of the best horror movies ever made and the fact that it’s third on the list just shows what a truly fantastic filmmaker we’re dealing with. It was made for very little money, but it rises above its amateurish production. It not only started the movement of modern zombie films, but more immediately kickstarted a new group of “siege movies”—these being movies in which a group of people are trapped in an isolated location surrounded by a seemingly insurmountable, invading horde of attackers. It was one of the first movies to show onscreen gore. It dealt with themes of classism, racism and the general cannibalistic nature of mankind. But more than that it was a very scary story about the dead rising up to eat the living. Its legacy has only grown in the decades since it was released.
2. DAWN OF THE DEAD-
If there’s one way to improve on Night of the Living Dead, it’s Dawn of the Dead. Made ten years after Romero’s first zombie film, this one had a lot more to work with and did not take that fact for granted. Romero’s theme was much more focused this time and he decided to work his second zombie movie as a satire on American consumer culture. Most of the zombies may look fairly dated now, but the gore effects still astonish. This was the cementing of a great partnership between Romero and Tom Savini, who had been originally approached to do effects for Night of the Living Dead, but went to Vietnam as a combat photographer instead. That background only helped add to the realism of Savini’s effects, especially the wounds inflicted on both the living and the dead in this film. It’s also an epic, a rare two hour horror film in a time when they were almost unheard of unless they were major event films from major studios.
It’s by no means his most well-known movie, but even Romero himself claims that Martin is his most effective movie. It’s a vampire movie from “the zombie guy” but he reinvents vampires in just the same way that he reinvented zombies. Martin stars John Amplas as a troubled young man who believes he is a vampire and has had this belief reinforced virtually all his life by his superstitious family. He moves to Pittsburgh where he stays with his Uncle Cuda (who incredibly superstitious and only refers to Martin by the name nosferatu) and his cousin who doesn’t believe any of it and thinks that it’s sick that her father would enforce Martin’s psychosis. It’s a study of both mental illness and simple human cruelty. Martin doesn’t want to be a vampire in any way, shape or form. He’s not trying to be a vampire, like so many people you might run into now. Martin hates his condition, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t wholeheartedly believe in it. It’s a fantastic little horror movie and definitely worth a look for those who haven’t seen it already.