Infused with social commentary and a realistic, midnight-movie terror, Romero’s brazenly stark thriller, and the sequels that followed, made as large an impact on the genre and a culture’s nightmares as any horror film since the Universal Studios monster chillers of the 1930s.
His death was confirmed by his manager Chris Roe, who released the following statement on behalf of the family:
“Legendary filmmaker George A. Romero passed away on Sunday July 16, listening to the score of ‘The Quiet Man,’ one of his all-time favorite films, with his wife, Suzanne Desrocher Romero, and daughter, Tina Romero at his side. He died peacefully in his sleep, following a brief but aggressive battle with lung cancer, and leaves behind a loving family, many friends, and a filmmaking legacy that has endured, and will continue to endure, the test of time.”
The Pittsburgh native’s low-budget, black and white film went from cult favorite to blockbuster franchise with Romero’s 1978 sequel Dawn of the Dead, 1985’s Day of the Dead (1985), Land of the Dead (2005), Diary of the Dead (2007) and finally 2009’s Survival of the Dead. His take on the vampire genre, Martin, was released in 1978, and he wrote the 1990 Night remake, directed by Tom Savini.
As a producer, Romero delivered TV’s seminal 1980s horror anthology Tales From the Dark Side.
“Hard to quantify how much he inspired me & what he did for cinema,” tweeted Hostel director Eli Roth. (See other Hollywood reactions here.)
After graduating from Carnegie Mellon University in 1960, Romero started a small commercial production company before undertaking his 1968 $114,000 midnight movie groundbreaker, a film that not only set zombie genre rules that survive today with The Walking Dead, but also was hailed for its casting of African-American actor Duane Jones in a heroic role.
Other Romero directing credits include Creepshow (1982), Monkey Shines (1988), The Dark Half (1993), and Bruiser (2000).
But it was Night of the Living Dead that changed the horror game, with its slow-moving, gut-chomping zombies terrorizing a disparate group of survivors gathered in a remote Pennsylvania farmhouse. Surprise deaths, racial undertones, anti-establishment fervor and a stylish, gory-for-the-time relentlessness revolutionized the B-movie genre, taking it from drive-in theaters to shopping mall cineplexes – the very places he satirized with savage glee in 1978’s Dawn of the Dead.
Today’s zombies might be faster and grislier, brought to life with special effects that would have been unimaginable in 1968, but The Walking Dead, Get Out and 28 Days Later, to name just a very few, would be unthinkable without Romero’s dark vision of life after death.