Today is the 70th birthday of Pittsburgh’s own “Grandfather of the Zombie,” George A. Romero.
To say Romero’s work changed my life would not be an overstatement. As a kid growing up around Scranton, PA, I spent a lot of late Friday and Saturday nights watching horror movies. Two favorites that I watched again and again were Romero’s Night of the Living Dead—the movie that defined the modern zombie—and its incredible sequel, Dawn of the Dead. Little did that young, horror-crazed version of myself know that years later I would (fatefully?) move to Pittsburgh, where Night and Dawn were born, and where I still have nightmares (and daydreams) about zombies.
Shortly after my move a friend took me on my first tour of the Monroeville Mall—Dawn’s arena of zombie mayhem—where I walked around with my mouth agape, finally seeing in person the locations of the film’s important scenes that I had watched so many times before on my television. More recently I was able to visit Night’s Evans City Cemetery, resulting in another jaw dropping experience as I approached the hilly cemetery entrance made famous in the film’s opening scene (shown around 1:24):
I eventually came to strongly appreciate the finale to Romero’s zombie trilogy, Day of the Dead. Though often forgotten in the shadows of Night and Dawn, Day is arguably the best looking film of the trilogy, and it’s a terrific final (and gory!) statement in the trilogy’s allegorical assessment of the human condition. (Out of respect for Romero’s birthday, I won’t talk about my feelings regarding the post-trilogy Dead films, Land of the Dead and Diary of the Dead. Let’s just say that I hope his upcoming Survival of the Dead sees him return to form).
Yes, Romero has made more than zombie films. His filmography includes some of my favorite horror movies of all time, including his creepy Pittsburgh-filmed take on the modern vampire, Martin; his horror comic book inspired Creepshow, which was written by his pal, Stephen King, and had some scenes filmed right up the road at Romero’s alma mater, Carnegie Mellon University; and the Edgar Allan Poe-inspired Two Evil Eyes, which was co-directed with another horror master, Dario Argento. Yet, for better or worse, Romero will always be most memorable to me—and surely many others share this feeling—as the guy who started me down the road to zombie obsession.
Happy birthday, Master . . . I mean, George!