I really just wanted to stay home today and watch these. George A. Romero created great films ("Creepshow" and "Monkeyshines" come to mind) that weren't zombie-related, but his Dead series of films are his true forte, and the ones that mean so much to me. They all featured great social commentary (consumerism, cold-war-era paranoia, etc. etc.) and they all demonstrated the fact that with any problem, the real problem is People.
The first time I saw "Night Of The Living Dead", was around 1980. One of the local stations in Phoenix (where I grew up) was showing it at midnight, and my mom let me stay up and watch it. I wouldn't say it scarred me for life, but it certainly did some sort of damage. I've since had a life-long affinity for the undead. In my early years, they freaked my shit out (to be totally honest). As I grew older, I started to see the layers of the onion that each Romero film had, versus other non-Romero zombie entries. The context, the message, the reason why these were not merely gore fests. The fact that they are us and we are them. And they freaked my shit out even more.
In recent years, running zombies have become popular. I simply do not find the Olympic Zombies scary. They run, they jump, they attack, the world is over in a flash. I prefer George's dead - the shamblers. Their slowness, to me, is what makes them frightening. Can you outrun them? Sure. But to where? They don't stop. The "slow" world would give you a false sense of hope - that if you're careful, you can survive. But what kind of world is it to survive in? It's slowly decaying, like the dead that are stumbling around.
The idea of a virus or weapon causing the dead to rise seems silly to me. George never outright revealed in his films what caused the apocalypse (in "Night" scientists and government officials were theorizing it was space radiation, but they were just humans grasping at straws). His dead world was Act Of God / Cursed Planet scenario, as he's mentioned over the years. This is illustrated in the famous line from "Dawn Of The Dead": "When there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the Earth." But again, the WHY isn't important. It's the WHAT that matters. What will people do? And therein lies the drama.
Zombies have become mainstream and cash-generating monsters over the years thanks to video games, TV shows, and endless spins on the classic monster (the monster that is us / we are them). It doesn't matter if they talk, run, groan, sell cell phone service, fight sharks (no really, look that one up), they all started with the invention of the modern zombie, in "Night Of The Living Dead." As Robert Kirkman, creator of the graphic novels and TV show "The Walking Dead" Tweeted today about George: "His inspiration cannot be overstated. He started it all, so many others followed."
So I say thank you to George. For scaring the frak out of me as a child, for making me think about social issues, for entertaining me. If he does come back, he'll be the best zombie ever.
(George A. Romero, 2/4/40 - 7/16/17)
Play hard. \m/