George A. Romero, the godfather of the modern zombie story, has passed away at the age of 77.
Romero was born in the Bronx, New York in 1940. He graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh in 1960 and began producing commercials and short films. Night of the Living Dead was his first feature, shot on a shoestring budget in 1968 with Romero directing and, alongside John A. Russo, writing.
Night of the Living Dead was an enormous success, driven by cultural shock at the movie's explicit blood and gore. It was filmed for just $144,000 but made over $30 million at the box office. The success was seismic and transformative for Hollywood: it created both the modern zombie story paradigm and also popularised gory horror as a major franchise in its own right, paving the way for the likes of the Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween franchises.
Unexpectedly, Romero did not immediately embark on a sequel. Instead, he directed a romantic comedy (There's Always Vanilla), an occult thriller (Season of the Witch), a virus disaster movie (The Crazies) and a vampire movie (Martin) before finally making a sequel to his debut. Dawn of the Dead (1978) was just as seminal as its forebear, featuring only light narrative connections but it was praised for its taut direction and siege storyline. The third film, Day of the Dead, was released in 1985 but Romero showed little appetite for continuing the story, instead putting his stamp of approval on remakes of both Night of the Living Dead (1990) and Dawn of the Dead (2004), the latter marking the directorial debut of one Zack Snyder.
A resurgence of interest in Romero's work took place in the late 1990s and early 2000s, with Joss Whedon citing him as an influence on his work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, and Robert Kirkman's comic The Walking Dead (2003 onwards) taking off featuring a fresh, ongoing take on the zombie mythos. The Resident Evil video game series and movies, along with the films From Dusk Till Dawn (1996), 28 Days Later (2002) and Shaun of the Dead (2004), also featured nods and homages to Romero. Romero, inspired, filmed three new movies in his series: Land of the Dead (2005), Diary of the Dead (2007) and Survival of the Dead (2009).
Romero subsequently semi-retired from film-making, instead passing the reigns for a new sequel, Road of the Dead, to Matt Birman and Night of the Living Dead: Origins, a prequel that will finally explain the origins of the zombie apocalypse, to his son G. Cameron Romero.
George Romero passed away on 16 July 2017 from lung cancer. Few creative minds can claim to have achieved as much as did in completely transforming a genre of film and bringing it to a massive new audience. His influence lives on in the zombie movie and that ongoing fear and fascination with the living dead.