He’s celebrated as the godfather of the contemporary zombie film, but as an auteur of horror, he’s produced several other works that deserve attention, also. Born in New York, Romero came into prominence as an independent filmmaker in Pittsburgh, where he teamed up with the legendary special effects makeup artist Tom Savini.
He’s collaborated with some of the most influential figures in contemporary horror, including Dario Argento and Stephen King. And while many of his films do feature explicit on-screen violence, he is always attentive to storytelling and character development, and even when he’s had to work with a meager budget (as he has with most of his productions) he’s still managed to produce compelling films.
Here is a look at the 7 best films from the legendary George A. Romero.
7. Martin (1976)
A grotesquely underrated attempt to contemporize Vampire lore, George A. Romero’s Martin tells the story of a young man who believes he is a vampire. However, he’s a distinctly modern kind of vampire. He’s impervious to garlic and sunlight. He doesn’t have fangs, as such, but normal, human teeth. Martin’s family, however, is convinced that he is a vampire of the classic Bela Lugosi variety. What remains ambiguous throughout the course of the film is whether Martin is actually a vampire, or just a disturbed young man with the compulsion to kill and drink blood. Romero plays a memorable cameo as a lush priest.
6. Creepshow (1982)
Romero teamed up with Stephen King to collaborate on this horror anthology, which was a tribute to the E.C. Comics horror publications (which were infamously banned in the 1950’s). The film is divided into four stories, each with it’s own sinister twist. Among the most memorable moments from the film: Stephen King playing a bumpkin who, through a bizarre twist of fate, turns into a weed; the segment in which a zombified Ted Danson comes back to avenge his death against an uncharacteristically evil Leslie Neilsen; and, the story about the savage primate who lives inside of a crate underneath the stairwell of a university.
5. Monkey Shines (1988)
Based on the novel by Michael Stewart, Monkey tells the story of a permanently disabled man who is given a rather special monkey (who has had human brain cells surgically implemented) to serve as his helper-monkey. Seems like a good enough idea on paper, but then, people start dropping like flies. This was one of the most expensive films that Romero ever worked on, and it artfully evokes Edgar Allan Poe’s seminal Murders in the Rue Morgue.
4. Land of the Dead (2005)
This was the first Dead film that Romero made since 1985, and it was, by many accounts, the last good installment of the series. Largely a reaction to the Bush presidency, the films tells the story of a town being run under an oppressive government. This time zombies have learned how to communicate and plan their attacks, and they launch an assault on the protected area between Pittsburgh’s two rivers and an electric fence where humans have hunkered down. This one was another critical and commercial success for Romero.
3. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Roger Ebert heaped praise on the film, calling it “one of the best horror films ever made – and, as an inescapable result, one of the most horrifying.” A group of television journalist and S.W.A.T. team members stake out in a shopping mall that’s overrun by zombies (hmmm…wonder what Romero was getting at there.) One of the best scenes from the film features makeup artists Tom Savini playing the head of a biker gang that decides to mix it up with the zombies. Dawn was remade in 2004, and the new version was mostly well received.
2. Day of the Dead (1985)
Romero reportedly set out to make the Gone With the Wind of zombie films. It features more sophisticated special effects than any previous Romero zombie film (courtesy of Tom Savini and Greg Nicotero). Following up where Dawn left off, Dead features a gang of zombies who have been subdued by U.S. military officials, who are conducting cruel experiments on the poor beasts. This film really sways you over to the zombies side, and successfully vilifies the military personnel (especially Captain Rhodes who…well, let’s just say “he gets his comeuppance.”) Marginal box-office receipts prevented Romero from making another Dead film for 20 years, but now the film is regarded by many as one of the best zombie films of all time, and it’s getting even more visibility thanks to frequent TV screenings (visit this website for more details). The film has also been remade once, with another remake in production.
1. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Not only did it jump start Romero’s career as a horror auteur it introduced the world to the modern zombie. The consensus among horror fans and critics is that Living Dead is among the best zombie films ever made. Made for peanuts, and shot in black and white, the film tells the story of a group of strangers who are forced to hold up in an abandoned house in the midst of the zombie apocalypse. And more menacing than the ghouls lurking outside of the house, is the tension mounting within it, as the group struggles to cooperate. The film is also notable for featuring a black actor (Duane Jones) as its male lead. The most memorable scene from the film is the zombie BBQ/picnic that they share after a young couple is incinerated in a vehicular explosion.
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