George A. Romero: 1940 – 2017

It is with a heavy heart that we heard today that George A. Romero, god-father of the modern zombie, has passed due to Cancer in Toronto today. Romero of course gave us the Dead series of films starting in 1968 where he envisioned zombies not in the traditional Haitian, plantation sense, but as the end of the world, and as a (possibly accidental) metaphor for racism and the 1960s. It was also a rip-roaring good horror flick that has stood the test of time for nearly 50 years for being ahead of its time (in part due to the lead character Ben (played by Duane Jones) being black, but also in terms of narrative and filmmaking style).

The director started making industrial/commercial films for various companies after graduating from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, but after Night of the Living Dead he was a pretty major indie filmmaker and followed Night with a sequel, the more ambitious, both in gore and metaphor, Dawn of the Dead, which is considered by many to be one of the greatest films the genre has ever made. And while 1985’s Day of the Dead is kind of ignored by the mainstream lovers of the genre or considered ‘lesser’ than the first two entries, I personally love it dearly.

While Romero was often type-cast as ‘that zombie director’ he also re-invented the witchcraft film with Season of the Witch, government conspiracy and chemical weapons, The Crazies, the venerable vampire film as an addiction metaphor, Martin, as well as the creature feature anthology with Creepshow. There are so many nutty little corners of his career, from directing an episode to Mr. Rogers Neighbourhood, to (effective!) primate freak-out horror Monkey Shines, and gonzo medieval motorcycle cult favourite, Knight Riders.

Romero struggled in the 1990s and 2000s as he churned out a few more Dead films (including a modest sized studio entry, Land of the Dead) to diminishing returns. He moved to Toronto and acted as part-time mentor to several members of the local filmmaking community, and was popular at conventions and in repertory screening Q&As. I recall seeing him enthusiastically offer his unvarnished opinions on the large resurgence of the Zombie Genre he helped popularize in the early 2000s, a renaissance that has continued to this day. It is notable, that like John Carpenter, many of his classic films have been officially and unofficially remade, and homaged in every conceivable way.

Mr. Romero will be missed, but his contributions to the wilder side of cinema will likely never be forgotten.

The L.A. Times has more.

Sign of the Times: Pontypool.

zombiebadge[A big special thank-you to recurring Cinecast guest host Matt Gamble (and author of Where the Long Tail Ends) for allowing us to re-print his essay on Bruce McDonald’s semiotic horror picture Pontypool, apropos of its Canadian DVD release yesterday. Matt tackles the meaning and the metaphor of the word Zombie, where the genre has been, and were it is going:]

Pontypool: Or How I Learned to Start Worrying and Fear the New Zombie

Being born in 1976 I have missed most, if not all, of what I would consider the major tide changes in horror film making here in the United States. The two closest to my heart, and in my opinion the two most important films, being Night of the Living Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Some might say that I was able to witness a similar precedent with The Blair Witch Project, which is a fair point to make. But I think that over the course of time since The Blair Witch Project was released has proven the film to be far more influential in the marketing of films, and specifically the rise of viral marketing, then it has influenced the horror genre.

But while The Blair Witch Project certainly was influential, Night of the Living Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre were revolutionary by comparison. Both were low budget shock fests that relied far more on mood and atmosphere to set the table for the scares they were about to serve the audience then most of the other low budget fare of their time. Night of the Living Dead was serious whereas other horror films of the day were campy. And The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, despite its reputation, isn’t bathing in gore as many of its contemporaries were, but rather is a subtle and subdued fright fest. Neither are particularly scary by today’s standards and styles, with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre relying on an general level of creepiness rarely matched in any other film, and Night of the Living Dead almost suffocating the viewer with tension. And while these two might not be the best horror films ever made, particularly in the case of Night of the Living Dead where most people, myself included, view its sequel Dawn of the Dead to be the superior film, but these two films introduced audiences to new concepts and styles in horror, with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre masterfully manipulating audiences with its “based on actual events” premise. As much as I would like to discuss The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the lack of zombies in the film make it a bit difficult to directly correlate to the film that made me want to write this piece in the first place. But Night of the Living Dead on the other hand, brought about a whole new and terrifying meaning to the word zombie, which is quite relevant to what I wish to discuss.

Would you like to know more…?