Happy Birthday, Uncle George!

What must it be like to invent an entirely new sub-genre of film? In my life time, I only know of one man to do so - George A. Romero. Romero turns 72 today and while his most recent entries in the "Living Dead" series pale in comparison to the first three, no one can deny that his contribution to modern Horror films is without comparison. 

Romero's movies aren't just about scaring audiences (though most of them do so quite effectively), but making them think along the way. Night of the Living Dead comments on racism; Dawn of the Dead on rampant consumerism and Day of the Dead addresses military oppression. Even the lesser and latter films in the series have something to say. Land of the Dead is about class and money, while Diary of the Dead is about obsessive artists and Survival of the Dead speaks to familial relationships. 

Uncle George
Of course, Zombies aren't Romero's only topics. One of my favorite Romero films is 1981's Knightriders, about a traveling group of entertainers who reenact medieval joust tournaments on motorcycles. It features the leading man debut of Ed Harris, and is the one of the first films I can remember seeing as a young man that features a positive representation of a gay character. His first of two collaborations with author Stephen King is the highly effective anthology Creepshow, which features a hilarious performance from Adrienne Barbeau as an obnoxiously pushy wife of a wimpy professor; King himself as man overtaken by an alien life force; Leslie Nielson and Ted Danson in a tale of infidelity, murder & revenge and a very creepy sequence involving cockroaches (my college friend Rich W. nearly lost his mind during that one).

1988's Monkey Shines tells the tale of a quadriplegic (Jason Beghe) whose genetically altered helper-monkey Ella, develops inappropriate feelings (and eventually murderous rage) for her 'master.'

In 1993, Romero adapted King's novel The Dark Half, about an author whose fictional pseudonym (possibly the soul of his twin who died in vitro), comes to life to take revenge after the author "kills' and buries him publicly. The Dark Half was written in response to King's outing as 'Richard Bachman,' author of 'The Running Man,' among other novels. Timothy Hutton, Amy Madigan, Julie Harris, Michael Rooker and my beloved Beth Grant star.

I haven't even covered Romero's early, 'smaller' indie films like Martin; The Crazies or Season of the Witch (AKA Hungry Wives); all of which are worth seeing, if only to track Romero's progression as both a writer and director.

Still, Romero's legacy will always be his "of the Dead" films, beginning with the 1968 classic that started it all, Night of the Living Dead.

I and hundreds of other film and Horror bloggers have written about this film ad nauseum, and none of us have anything truly new to say that hasn't already been said. Just know that had it never been made, AMC's amazing series "The Walking Dead" would never have existed. Nor would any number of other zombie movies (including the hilarious Shaun of the Dead and my own screenplay Army of the Dead), novels (Max Brooks' "World War Z") toys, calendars, blogs and even trading cards.

Happy Birthday, Uncle George. Your rabid fans will always love you for creating the sub-genre that continues to infiltrate and influence popular culture.

More, anon.
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