RIP George A. Romero is a short string of words I dreaded ever having to see, hear, read, write. George A. Romero passed away today and as I write this, I'm still wearing the Night of the Living dead T-shirt that I left the apartment in this morning, about 12 hours before my wife read and broke the news to me after seeing it on her iPhone. I couldn't bring myself to take it off just yet.
To say that George Romero was a huge influence on my life is an understatement. He was my first “favorite film director” when I started getting into film and discovering his films in the early nineties. Yes, I'd seen Creepshow in the eighties, but I was just a nine-year-old kid. It was later on when I caught Monkey Shines and Night of the Living Dead on late-night cable television that I became really interested in Romero's films, and following that, I would go about seeking and exploring Romero's visionary horror films through the various video stores in my area. I rented Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, and Tom Savini's Night of the Living Dead remake and watched all three back-to-back in a single evening. That had quite an effect on me. I rented The Dark Half, and fell in love with that film, too. But when I found a then-rare copy of Martin on VHS tape at a video store called 24-Hour Video, my world suddenly exploded open. I had never witnessed a film like Martin before, and though I loved vampire movies, Romero's vision was so authentic, so experimental, so engagingly realistic and suspenseful and sad and thoughtful, it changed the way I looked at cinema forever. After this, one might think (myself included) that there would not be a Romero experience to outdo Martin (although the back-to-back Dead trilogy left a branding upon my brain that is still in evidence); however, a mere couple of months following my life-changing viewing of Martin, I managed to find a copy of Knightriders at a mall in Bellingham, in a VHS retail store called Suncoast Motion Pictures. Taking this VHS tape for the car ride home, I was on the edge of my seat with anticipation. I didn't unleash the tape from the thin foil wrap until I got inside the living room and was ready to push Knightriders into the VCR, fully expecting to witness a Romeo gore-fest. It was not a gore-fest at all. What it was, was a modern retelling of the Knights of the Round Table as they jousted tournaments in modern-day California on motorcycles, in a world that Romero imaginatively created to critique the capitalistic ideas of greed, consumerism, and corruption (both moral and capitalistic); and it instantly became one of my favourite films of all time. After this first viewing, which left me slack-jawed and awestruck, throughout 1995 to 1996 I would watch my LP VHS copy of Knightriders every Friday night for a year.
Ideals and sentiments that Romeo brought up in Knightriders I employed in my own life and actions. The visuals of Romero's film swam in my mind for years, even after I stopped the weekly viewing of Knightriders. His films in general left an immense impression on me (as it did so many others) and for the rest of the nineties and into the new millennium I would seek out nearly anything George Romero was also partially, and even remotely, connected to. I once stopped at a video store in the middle of nowhere to buy a VHS copy of Two Evil Eyes; I found a paperback copy of “Masters of Modern Horror”, a literary horror anthology that contained a short story by Romero entitled “Clay”, on a cross-Canada journey I was taking. Years later I came across and purchased a 1974 Warner paperback printing of a “Night of the Living Dead” novelization that contained a lengthy preface written by Romero, and which is still, I think, one of the best pieces he'd written. I read Jay R. Bonansinga's “The Black Mariah” novel about a cursed runaway truck (which I still think was jacked as the inspiration for the Keanu Reeves film Speed) because Romero was developing a film version of the book. Likewise the Canadian direct-to-video movie Dead Awake, which Romero once mentioned in an interview that he had optioned as a part of a handful of outside scripts he was developing for production. Of course by the time it was produced in 2000, George Romero was long gone from the project. In 2003, when I finally came across a sought-after videotape of an early version of Roy Frumke's documentary on Romero, Document of the Dead, and I found myself transported back to the magic of discovering Martin and Dawn of the Dead for the first time...
Like so many filmmakers and producers throughout the world, visuals and ideals and social criticisms form Romero's groundbreaking horror films left significant impressions on me and also heavily influenced my own film work for nearly a decade. Knowing that this amazing, uncompromising artist and the author of these works is no longer with us truly leaves a weight on my heart and a sadness in my mind; although my thoughts keeps coming back to all of the creativity and work and soul he's given to us over so many years, for us to enjoy and to learn from and to draw inspiration from, and I can only be forever glad he was a part of our world. RIP George A. Romero.