The Bronx, New York, February 4, 1940.
Studied art, design, and theater at Carnegie-Mellon Institute,
Maker of short 8mm films, from 1954; actor/director in Pittsburgh, 1960s;
directed first feature, 1968; established "Latent Image" to
produce commercial/industrial films, early 1970s; worked extensively as TV
director, 1970s; began collaboration with make-up artist Tom Savini on
, 1977; began association with writer Stephen King on
, 1982; executive producer,
Tales from the Dark Side
, for TV, 1983.
Lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.
The Man from the Meteor (short); Gorilla (short); Earthbottom (short)
Curly (short); Slant (short)
Night of the Living Dead ( Night of the Flesh Eaters ) (+ co-sc, ph, ed) [released in 30th anniversary edition, with additional footage, 1999]
There's Always Vanilla ( The Affair ) (+ ph)
Hungry Wives ( Jack's Wife ; Season of the Witch ) (+ sc, ph, ed); The Crazies ( Code Name: Trixie ) (+ sc, ed)
Martin (+ sc, ed)
Zombies ( Dawn of the Dead ) (+ sc, co-ed, role as TV director)
Knightriders (+ sc, co-ed)
Creepshow (+ co-ed)
Day of the Dead (+ sc)
Monkey Shines (+ sc)
Due occhi diabolici ( Two Evil Eyes ) (+ sc); Dark Half (+ sc, pr)
The Dark Half (+ sc, ex prod)
Bruiser (+ sc)
The Ill (+ sc)
Flight of the Spruce Goose (Majewski) (role)
Creepshow 2 (Gornick) (sc)
Night of the Living Dead (Savini) (sc); Tales from the Dark Side—The Movie ("Cat from Hell" episode) (Harrison) (sc)
Night of the Living Dead (Savini) (sc, co-exec prod)
The Silence of the Lambs (Demme) (role)
Martin (novelization, with Susanna Sparrow), New York, 1977.
Dawn of the Dead (novelization, with Susanna Sparrow), New York, 1979.
"Filming Night of the Living Dead ," an interview with A. B. Block, in Filmmakers Newsletter (Ward Hill, Massachusetts), January 1972.
"George Romero from Night of the Living Dead to The Crazies ," in Inter/View (New York), April 1973.
Interview with D. Chase, in Millimeter (New York), October 1979.
Interview, in L'Ecran Fantastique (Paris), July 1982.
"The McDonaldization of America," an interview with J. Hanners and H. Kloman, in Film Criticism (Edinboro, Pennsylvania), Fall 1982.
Interview, in Cinefantastique (Oak Park, Illinois), October 1985.
Interview, in L'Ecran Fantastique (Paris), December 1986.
Interview, in Cinefantastique (Oak Park, Illinois), May 1988.
Interview, in Cinefantastique (Oak Park, Illinois), March 1989.
McCarty, John, Splatter Movies: Breaking the Last Taboo , New York, 1981.
Hoberman, Jay, and Jonathan Rosenbaum, Midnight Movies , New York, 1983.
Wood, Robin, Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan , New York, 1986.
Gagne, Paul R., "The Zombies That Ate Pittsburgh": The Films of George A. Romero , New York, 1987.
Newman, Kim, Nightmare Movies: A Critical History of the Horror Film from 1968 , London, 1988.
McCollough, P., "A Pittsburgh Horror Story," in Take One (Montreal), November 1974.
Stewart, Robert M., "George Romero: Spawn of EC," in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), February 1980.
Yakir, Dan, article in American Film (Washington, D.C.), May 1981.
Vernieri, J., "A Day with the Dead," in Film Comment (New York), May/June 1985.
Profile, in Millimeter (New York), August 1985.
Rosenbaum, Jonathan, and F. Strauss, "Les yeux, la bouche. Dis moi qui tu manges je te dirai qui tu es," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), February 1989.
Profile, in Cineforum (Bergamo), July-August 1989.
Newman, Kim, and M. Kermode, "Twilight's Last Gleaming: George A. Romero," in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), February 1990.
Grant, B. K., "Taking Back the Night of the Living Dead : George Romero, Feminism, and the Horror Film," Wide Angle , vol. 14, no. 1, 1992.
Caruso, Giacomo, article in Cineforum (Bergamo), March 1993.
Schubart, Rikke, "Romeros mareridt," in Kosmorama (Copenhagen), vol. 41, no. 212, Summer 1995.
Bradley, Matthew R., "I Am Legend: The Underlying Legacy of a Horror Classic," in Outré (Evanston, Illinois), vol. 1, no. 5, 1996.
* * *
As with Francis Ford Coppola, George Romero's reputation—his position as a major American filmmaker—rests ultimately upon a trilogy. Without the three "Living Dead" films his work would merit little more than a footnote.
The other films can be dispensed with briefly. The interest of the early ones lies primarily in their relation to the trilogy. Jack's Wife reveals an early interest in feminism that would be fully realized in Day of the Dead ; The Crazies takes up certain themes of Night of the Living Dead and anticipates the later concern with militarism. The best of these films, Martin , stands somewhat to one side, though its insights into alienation and its consequences are consistent with the trilogy's themes. Little need be said of the later films. The liberal attitudes of Knight Riders collapse into liberal platitudes—and are the more surprising given the uncompromising radicalism of the trilogy. The five-part anthology film Creepshow is barely distinguishable from the British Amicus horror films of the 1970s: nasty people doing nasty things to other nasty people. The Dark Half is an undistinguished adaptation of one of Stephen King's worst novels. One might rescue Monkey Shines , with its intriguing premise, in which Romero seems somewhat more engaged.
The "Living Dead" trilogy, on the other hand, constitutes, taken in its entirety, one of the major achievements of American cinema, an extraordinary feat of imagination and audacity carried through with exemplary courage and conviction. The intelligence it so convincingly manifests in its sustained significance could scarcely be guessed at from the rest of Romero's work to date. Each of the three films— Night of the Living Dead , Dawn of the Dead , and Day of the Dead —belongs absolutely to its period yet still carries resonance today; together, they constitute an implicit radical sociopolitical critique of the dominant movement of American civilization. Night of the Living Dead develops the themes of the modern family horror film inaugurated by Psycho: from its initial brother/sister bickering in the cemetery (which conjures up the first flesh-eating zombie) it proceeds inexorably to the destruction of an entire nuclear family (its members killing and literally feeding on each other, as they had done metaphorically in their lives) and of the young couple (the embryonic future family), characters whose survival has traditionally been generically guaranteed. Unlike its successors, it also kills off its solitary hero-figure, mistaken for a zombie and shot down by the sheriff's team. As in the other two films, the hero is black, his color situating him outside the dominant mainstream; the authority-figures are treated throughout with bitingly sardonic humor. The whole film is rooted in the disturbance and disillusion of the Vietnam period.
Dawn of the Dead , in the 1970s, focuses its attention on consumercapitalism: the zombies, having taken over a vast shopping mall, proceed to carry on exactly as they did in life, except that they now consume human flesh. As one of the characters remarks, "They are us ." The film makes clear what was already there but unstated in its predecessor: the zombies do not consume for nourishment, they consume in order to consume. In both the first two films the characters are valued very precisely in relation to their ability to extricate themselves from the socially conditioned patterns of behaviour, with the difference that in Dawn of the Dead two are permitted to survive. Although male and female they are not presented as even potential lovers; the woman has earlier rejected marriage to the man (subsequently a zombie) by whom she is pregnant, not because she no longer loves him but as a matter of principle. The implication is that a non-zombie future would necessitate an entire rethinking of the prevailing social-sexual organization.
In Night of the Living Dead the main female character is catatonic through most of the film; in Dawn of the Dead , Fran is treated by the men as the traditional "helpless female," but at the end, having extricated herself from conformity, she is sufficiently empowered to take over: it is she who pilots the helicopter to a possible though unlikely safety. In Day of the Dead the woman, Sarah, becomes central—active, assertive, intelligent throughout. At the same time Romero extends his analysis of contemporary western culture to a more overtly political level, the critique of "masculinity" now directed at the two main bulwarks of male domination, the scientists and the military. The film is not anti-science: Sarah is herself a scientist. But she detaches herself from the masculinist science of Dr. Logan (aka "Dr. Frankenstein"). Logan's aim is to prove that zombies can be tamed and trained for use as slaves. The zombies have now taken over the earth, what is left of human life driven underground, and there is nowhere left to fly away to (the tropical island of the close is surely to be understood as fantasy). Logan's solution is represented by his prize pupil, Bub. What Bub learns—through Logan's system of punishments (beatings) and rewards (raw human flesh) that parodies the basis of our educational system—is "the bare beginnings of civilized behavior," in fact, the conditioned reflex. It is understandable that the film has been the least popular of the trilogy: it is unrelievedly dark both in tone and setting, rarely emerging into the light of day, in stark contrast to the brilliant colors and satirical humor of Dawn of the Dead , and it systematically demolishes all the central assumptions of our culture. What is inexplicable is its critical neglect and misrepresentation: it seems universally regarded as the weakest of the trilogy, yet it is, besides being the one great American horror film, the only one that is about something other than mindless titillation and essentially trivial gory excess since the end of the 1970s, when the genre was invaded and conquered by Michael, Jason, and Freddy. The answer may be that critics see the films only individually, not as panels in a triptych. It seems to be the case that Romero did not conceive them as a trilogy (how could he?—each is a response to a different decade), yet each demands the next, inexorably, and that is how they must be read.
Romero is currently trying to turn the trilogy into a tetralogy, with the addition of Twilight of the Dead , but has so far been unable to secure the necessary funding. The apparent finality of Day of the Dead makes speculation difficult, but one would certainly want to see what path he can find beyond it.