Legendary horror director George A. Romero has died, his family has confirmed, at the age of 77. Romero was best known for effectively birthing the zombie movie genre, with Night of the Living Dead in 1968. Starring Duane Jones and Judith O’Dea, the movie was made with a mere $114,000 budget, but went on to gross $12 million in the US and $18 million internationally.
In the process it faced outcry over its graphic content and accusations that it was too heavy on gore for audiences to stomach. The story centers on seven people trapped in a farmhouse in Western Pennsylvania, who become the targets of a horde of zombies. It went on to spawn five sequels, most recently in 2010, along with two remakes.
Critics were unimpressed. Roger Ebert notoriously criticized both theater owners and parents in his Chicago Sun-Times review of Night of the Living Dead, accusing them of not taking into account how much impact the content might have on young children. “The movie had stopped being delightfully scary about halfway through,” Ebert wrote, “and had become unexpectedly terrifying.”
According to Romero’s manager, in a statement to Variety, the director died in his sleep. He had been diagnosed with lung cancer, in what manager Chris Roe described as “a brief but aggressive battle.” He is survived by his wife Suzanne, and two children.
Although Night of the Living Dead never actually referred to the eponymous creatures as “zombies”, the movie is credited with creating the most notorious interpretation of the undead. Previously, the most common depiction had been living people that were voodoo-enslaved, rather than flesh-eating, decaying corpses brought back from the grave. Romero’s work is also seen as a turning point for where horror movies were set, kickstarting a trend to pervert “normal” locations with terrifying and otherworldly events.
The director returned to such themes in Dawn of the Dead, in 1978, and Day of the Dead, in 1985. However, he was also responsible for movies outside of the franchise, including The Crazies (1973), Martin (1978), Creepshow (1982), Monkey Shines (1988), and The Dark Half (1993). None, arguable, had the same impact however.
With Romero’s 1968 classic now in the public domain, you can actually watch all of the original Night of the Living Dead free. Even getting on for five decades after it first debuted, it still has the potential to shock.
IMAGE: Josh Jensen under CC BY-SA 2.0