For 42 years George A. Romero has scared the bejeezus out of audiences with his army of the undead. From the groundbreaking Night of the Living Dead to his latest indie installment Survival of the Dead, he’s clearly established himself as the premier authority on zombie films. Combining dark humor with gore and underlying political commentary, no one can put em out like Romero and he’ll never be surpassed in the zombie genre.
In celebration of his latest release, currently on “On Demand” and to be released to limited theaters in May, I present you with a retrospective of his spooky series thus far.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
: What can I say that I haven’t already about Night of the Living Dead? Were talking about the progenitor of the modern zombie genre as we know it. A group of people, held up in a farm house, fighting off the undead. So simple you wonder why it had never been done before. It may not be as impressive by today’s standards but you have to remember where this film was coming from. A fearless independent film with much to say about “American society, Cold War politics and domestic racism”. Those were the words of critics and moviegoers alike. It just goes to show you the impact it had as both a groundbreaking piece of intelligent indie filmmaking and as a classic horror flick.
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
: Years later when Romero was visiting the Monroeville Mall in Pennsylvania, he was inspired to use the setting and what better subject could occupy the mall than the walking dead? This would go on to be the highly successful 70s hit Dawn of the Dead one of my favorite horror films. Again pitting a a group of survivors (led by Kenan’s dad from Kenan and Kel) defending themselves from zombies, although this time in enormous surroundings. Dawn would prove to be a landmark in makeup effects (by Tom Savini) and the genre in general. Filling the script with hits at modern day consumerism and the excess of the seventies, this film goes deeper than your average gorefest and is a must see.
Day of the Dead (1985)
: Originally envisioned as Romero’s epic of Gone With the Wind proportions, Day of the Dead fell somewhat short of expectations but over time has cemented it’s status as a cult classic. Set in and around an underground military base in Fort Myers, Florida. Day of the Dead told the story of a group of scientists and soldiers trying to find a cure, or at least solution to the zombie pandemic. Romero describes this one as “A tragedy about how a lack of human communication causes chaos and collapse even in this small little pie slice of society”. Personally I’ve always thought it was the scariest installment and it’s definitely worth checking out for Tom Savini’s outstanding effects.
Land of the Dead (2005)
: Almost twenty years passed before production started on Romero’s fourth installment. Romero had worked on a script years back but it was until the new millennium that he’d realized how culturally relevant it had become. Land portrays a post-apocalyptic city torn into two halves. One is the luxurious yet immensely exclusive city “Fiddler’s Green” run by the selfish Paul Kaufman (Dennis Hopper.) While the other half of the population must live in the poverty stricken ghettos on the outskirts. Meanwhile we see the zombies as they start to evolve. Learning to use weapons and grasp simple concepts. All wrapped up it’s a witty and dark piece of action/horror and Romero’s first film to have some well known stars. Aside from Dennis Hopper, Simon Baker (from that show The Mentalist) stars as the hero and John Leguizamo is solid as a weapons clad street rat. It’s a surprisingly entertaining zombie movie that turned out to be both a critical and box office success.
Diary of the Dead (2008)
Easily the weakest of the series is the handheld melodrama that is Diary of the Dead. I already reviewed it once on this blog so I’ll keep this short. This installment follows a group of young filmmakers making a horror film when all of a sudden, you guessed it! Zombies start to appear and wreak havoc. This was basically Romero’s attempt to satirize the Youtube generation but it doesn’t feel like Romero is still in sync with younger audiences. His portrayal of young adults feels forced and unnatural. Not to mention the shaky cameras really don’t add much to the experience. It was kind of a neat idea but it just came off as cheesy and amateur, not god awful just disappointing.
Survival of the Dead (2010)
: After Diary I pretty much accepted that Romero was past his prime. I didn’t have much interest in another installment but being that Paul is such a super fan I knew I’d see this somehow. Miraculously, I liked it very much, probably even more than Land. What’s great about Survival of the Dead is it’s approach to create conflict out of characters we care about. Sure some of the folks here are a little over-the-top but it’s fun to watch and made even better by throwing in everybody’s favorite rotting corpses. Survival tells the story of two feuding families the O’Flynns (who want to exterminate all the zombies) and the Muldoons (who wants to cure the zombies) trying to get along, living on an island off the coast of Delaware. Bring a small group of survivors into the mix and things get messy. It’s a clever idea with some great entertainment, that’s really only brought down by the slight silliness of the two family heads (Patrick O’Flynn and Seamus Muldoon), both of which are for some reason Irish. All in all it’s a well made independent feature that’s a welcomed installment to the series.
How many more will Romero make? Who knows but I’m glad to see he still has zombie related stories that are worth telling. This is the kind of stuff I hope to see when AMC and Frank Darabont do their upcoming zombie series The Walking Dead due out next October. As long as they follow the Romero guidelines they’ll be sitting pretty.