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George A. Romero: Father of the Modern Zombie Films

Updated on July 18, 2017
George A. Romero | Father of the Modern Zombie Craze
George A. Romero | Father of the Modern Zombie Craze | Source

Horror fans need no introduction to writer/director, George A. Romero. Early on in his career, he heavily influenced the horror genre by giving form to the modern zombie.

Classic horror films often featured a creature called a "ghoul" when they wanted to refer to a monster associated with graveyards and the consumption of human flesh.

Then, in 1968, Romero released a seminal film that morphed the classic horror movie ghoul into the modern-day zombie.

Although the term, "zombie," originates from Hatian Folklore, Romero's film Night of the Living Dead (1968) helped to make the creature relevant in the 20th Century, and beyond.

George Romero Zombie Film #1

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Night of the Living Dead (1968) | Source
Duane L. Jones (February 2, 1937 - July 22, 1988
Duane L. Jones (February 2, 1937 - July 22, 1988 | Source
Judit O'Dea
Judit O'Dea | Source

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Principal Cast

  • Duane Jones as Ben
  • Judith O'Dea as Barbara
  • Bill Cardille as the Channel 11 News Reporter

Initially, there was intense controversy, because there was no MPAA film rating system in place at the time, although the ratings system did come into being later that same year.

Because anyone with the money to buy a ticket could view the film, children and teens across the country were stunned and plagued by nightmares.

Next came the controversy over politics and racism, as many historians and critics called the film subversive.

All director George Romero wanted, was create an eerie story about a group of strangers attempting to survive a night filled with the reanimated dead, their race his thoughts on the raging war in Vietnam, and looming Cold War environment was not the major focus.

The film's story begins at the very outbreak of what we would know today as a zombie apocalypse. At the time of the film's production, the word "zombie" was not typically used to describe this type of horror movie monster.

In the story, A group of total strangers try to band together in an attempt to survive a night filled with "ghouls." The group learns of the gruesome nature of the ghouls through terrifying personal experience, and news reports later on in the story.

The opening scene of the classic horror film was memorable, because it was sudden and jarring, and the scene's principal actor, Judith O'Dea, delivered a convincing performance as the shell shocked victim of a recent tragic event.

The final scene was equally as memorable, due to the sheer irony of the situation, and the totally believable sequence of events that led up to the unfortunate ending.

Night of the Living Dead (1968) went on to become a cult classic, a critical as well as commercial success, and one of the most important horror films of all time; so if you've never seen it before, be sure to watch the full film below:

Night of the Living Dead (1968) | Watch the Full Film Here

Rules for Surviving a Zombie Apocalypse

What is Your Favorite Zombie Flick?

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The Establishment of Zombie "Rules"

Night of the Living Dead (1968) helped to establish basic rules for what classifies a creature as a zombie, how they should be dealt with upon encountering them, and how to kill a zombie:

  • Zombies were once human, but upon death they reanimate
  • Zombification is usually caused by a fatal virus/bacteria, or exposure to a toxin
  • Zombies lack human traits, their only concerned is the consumption of flesh
  • Zombies often travel in herds
  • Zombies are slow movie creatures
  • Zombies are killed by head wounds...and other obvious methods, such as burning, or decapitation - a wound to the heart or major organ other than the brain will not harm a zombie

In recent years, other zombie films have ignored 1 or 2 of the basic rules, such as director Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later (2002), its sequel 28 Weeks Later (2007) and Marc Forster's World War Z (2013).

In all three of the above mentioned zombie movies, the creatures move at a frightening lightening speed, particularly when roused.

However, for the most part the basic zombie rules are still followed in modern horror films, or the rules only slightly vary.

The film Zombieland (2009) officially expanded the rules greatly, by naming concrete rules for how to survive the zombie apocalypse.

George Romero Zombie Film #2

Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Dawn of the Dead (1978) Trailer

Dawn of the Dead (2004) Scary Opening Scene

Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Principal Cast:

  • Ken Foree as Peter
  • Scott H. Reiniger as Roger
  • Gaylen Ross as Francine
  • David Crawford as Dr. Foster

George Romero's next zombie flick surrounds a rag-tag group of strangers who band together to survive a city (Philadelphia) in the early stages of being overrun by flesh eating zombies.

Dawn of the Dead (1978) is most memorable for its location as much as anything else. Our group of survivors choose a remote shopping mall for shelter.

The group includes two Philadelphia S.W.A.T. team members, a television executive and his girlfriend and a traffic reporter.

Dawn of the Dead (2004) was remade, with same story-line and a different group of survivors in 2004. The remake featured Ving Rhames, Sarah Polley and Makhi Phifer.

One of the early scenes in this film is memorable, as a Sarah Polley's character fights a zombiefied little girl who infects her husband, then she has to fight him, and her way out of a tiny bathroom window, and into an infected neighborhood in order to escape. You can view this scene to the right, underneath the original film trailer.

George Romero Zombie Film #3

Day of the Dead (1985)

Day of the Dead (1985) Trailer

Day of the Dead (1985)

Principal Cast

  • Lori Cardille as Sarah
  • Terry Alexander as John
  • Joseph Pilato as Rhodes

This time around, the zombies have completely taken over. A small group of scientists and military personnel hold up in an underground bunker in Florida.

The scientists who reside there are still trying to rid the world of the plague that cause the zombie outbreak. In order to find this cure, they perform gruesome experiments on zombies they've relegated to the caves.

Eventually, military officers discover that their own men are also being used in the scientists experiments, so they drive the scientists out of the bunker and into the caves where the living dead roam. However, as luck would have it, the zombies on the surface are making their way into the bunker...

George Romero Zombie Film #4

Land of the Dead (2005)

Land of the Dead (2005) Trailer

Land of the Dead (2005)

Principal Cast

  • Simon Baker as Riley Denbo
  • John Leguizamo as Cholo DeMora
  • Dennis Hopper as Kaufman
  • Asia Argento as Slack

This version of events is extra gloomy, because the zombies have taken over the entire world, and the remaining living survivors have built a fortified city to keep the living dead at bay.

The city is protected by rivers on both sides and an electrified barricaded wall the survivors call "The Throat."

The wall they have built does a job of keeping the zombies out, however, humans do what humans always do and the people become the greater threat to themselves.

A revolution plans to overthrow the city's feudal-like government, and no one seems to be paying attention to the zombies...who are are slowly, but surely turning into more advanced creatures than the mindless, flesh eating walkers they once were.

George Romero Zombie Film #5

Diary of the Dead (2007)

Diary of the Dead (2007) Trailer

Diary of the Dead (2007)

Principal Cast

  • Michelle Morgan as Debra
  • Joshua Close as Jason
  • Shawn Roberts as Tony
  • Amy Lalonde as Tracy

A group of film students and their professor rom the University of Pittsburgh travel to the woods to film a horror movie. They learn from a local news station that the dead are reanimating.

Most of the group decide to stay together, some of the students break off from the group and head for home, and others head to their significant others'.

All of them end up fighting off the living dead, some of them get robbed by law enforcement, others encounter infected friends and family members, and some don't make it at all.

It should be noted that although the film is not an actual sequel, George Romero meant for this story to occur within the universe of the original 3 films.

George Romero Zombie Film #6

Survival of the Dead (2009)

Survival of the Dead (2009) Trailer

Survival of the Dead (2009)

Principal Cast

  • Alan Van Sprang as Sarge
  • Joshua Peace as D. J.
  • Hardee T. Lineham as Lieutenant Vaughn

On an island off the coast of Delaware, in the good old USA, the zombie apocalypse is in full swing, so much so that it has become the norm.

In the midst of the horrific daily events, a long-running feud exists between two large families.One family, the O'Flynns, wants to annihilate all the zombies, and the other family, the Muldoon's, choose to keep their infected family members alive in order to wait for a cure.

When a group of survivors arrive on the island and witness infected members of the Muldoon family, they realize they will need to fight to survive. This film was intentionally meant to be a light-hearted, western style.

George Romero Zombie Film #7

George A. Romero Presents: Road of the Dead (2018)

George A. Romero | Pitching "Road of the Dead"
George A. Romero | Pitching "Road of the Dead" | Source

George A. Romero Presents: Road of the Dead

The Idea for this film came to George Romero more than 10 years ago from the film's director, Matt Birman, who worked as a second unit director on three of Romero's films.

Although Romero's name is stamped across the title of the film, he handed over the directorial duties to Birman. “Road of the Dead” is described as "Road Warrior meets Rollerball at a NASCAR race, with significant inspiration from Ben-Hur."

According to the Internet Movie Database (IMDB), the story line is as follows:

"The story is set on an island where zombie prisoners race cars in an arena for the sole purpose of entertaining the rich. cast"

The film is currently in production, it has no release date, nor has it been cast.

Rest in Peace, George A. Romero
Rest in Peace, George A. Romero

Rest in Peace, George Romero

Because of his contribution to the horror genre, George A. Romero is a legend. He is regarded as both the "Godfather of the Dead" as well as the 'Father of the Modern Movie Zombie."

Although he paved the way for the modern zombie craze, he wasn't particularly keen on some of the most popular projects of the genre, especially big budget projects, like The Walking Dead and World War Z (2013)

Romero felt industry has become too "Hollywood-tized," and studios are only interested in projects that will become blockbuster hits.

Romero often stated his cult classic zombie film, Night of the Living Dead (1968) might never have been made if the creative atmosphere at the time was as monetarily focused as it is today.

On Saturday, July 16, 2017 George Andrew Romero succumbed to lung cancer, he was 77 years old. At the time of his passing, Romero was in his home, surrounded by family members.

George Romero had a vision for four future zombie related films, according to IndieWire, Mark Birman, a long-tine collaborator, has vowed to make sure each of those films are released.

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    • Coffeequeeen profile image

      Louise Powles 5 months ago from Norfolk, England

      I like most of these horror films, and it's good there's a lot to watch on You Tube these days. =)