What is it about Halloween that compels us to dress up and decorate our lives in black and orange, consume and provide copious amounts of candy and watch scary movies? Everyone has their reasons, but it’s certainly no secret that many people, myself included, consider this the greatest holiday all-year ’round.
“Scary” is the key word here. Most people find a thrill in being scared. So aside from theme park rides and dangerous adventure seeking, what’s the best way to easily indulge in this experience? Why the movies of course.
The thirst for a good horror thrill didn’t start with a camera, however. In fact, the earliest works of “horror” were first introduced with literature. We can recognize quite a few house hold names in the world of horror writing from Edgar Allen Poe and Marry Shelley, a couple of the early pioneers, all the way up to present time with legendary writers such as Stephen King.
The birth of the motion picture, however, changed the game almost immediately. Some of the most popular mythical “monsters” that we recognize today were first depicted in silent short films, and given the nature of creepy black-and-white video with nothing but an ear-piercing sound track behind it, there’s no wonder horror became an immediately sought out genre of film.
Horror in film has always been delivered with a sense of taboo. It was edgy and unexpected in its early execution, and often pushed the boundaries on censorship and what was allowed in the main stream. As the genre continued to boom and grow in popularity, certain elements of horror started to become overdone and cliché, even stereotypical, which lead to many sub-genre’s such as “slasher flicks” or “home invasion” films.
Today, I find myself going to a new scary movie in the theaters and though I am excited, I feel like I already know what to expect. I am set up for what kind of experience I will have. It’s rare for me, to watch many modern horror films and find myself constantly surprised, or to find a deeper underlining message within the madness.
Out of the many notorious filmmakers that have made this holiday so special to me, one in particular stands out, and not just for his ability to scare me shitless: George A. Romero.
With his unfortunate recent passing I found myself going back and revisiting his familiar work, as well as discovering other works of his that I had never even heard of before. Like most people, I was obsessed with his version of what we recognize as the modern day zombie. He indeed was the godfather of Zombie movies and made an art form out of their portrayal on the big screen.
I always particularly enjoyed finding his politically charged messages within the plot and figuring out how the survivors of the film were a reflection of modern day propaganda, vanity, consumerism, or you name it.
There was also much more to George than slow creeping, flesh eating zombies. No not brains! He never came up with that concept even though people insist on giving him that credit. George A. Romero had many other works that truly set him apart from other film makers. He was creative on a level that constantly challenged the imagination.
He always came to the table with fresh and original stories and compelling characters. Some of his lesser (than zombies) known works of art, in no particular order, are “Bruiser” in 2000, consisting of a guy who continuously fantasizes about death and ultimately transforms his face into an expressionless mask.
Who doesn’t want to watch that movie even despite my lackluster synopsis?
A favorite classic of mine is 1982’s “Creepshow,” which was an anthology style film with collaborator Stephen King. This wasn’t his only partnership with King. Eleven years later, George adapted King’s novel “The Dark Half” into a film. Though it wasn’t a box office smash, the film showed a different side to George his style and proved that he could bring a story to life even if it wasn’t his own original idea.
One of his most underrated yet widely popular cult-crazed projects was his television series “Tales from the Darkside” which aired from 1983 to 1988. There were various writers that aided in this series but Romero was certainly the driving force behind it.
The episodes that he wrote on his own also stood far out and made the show what it was. There are various other works out there with the George A. Romero mark, this just scratches the surface.
Aside from creating a universe of decay and undead nightmares that will live on forever, George A. Romero never stopped trying to raise the bar, and though he found himself grounded in the roots of horror, he continuously aimed to surprise and delight us with imagery and storytelling that not only made you jump out of your seat, but made you think and go deeper than the surface, and that’s a lot coming from a guy who’s first gig was with Mr. Rogers.
To borrow a commonly used expression by George’s son Cameron, “Film used to be Dangerous” and it still can be, if the creative minds of today and tomorrow make it so. It can be hard to step out of the main stream and dig a little further, but if you do, you are sure to find some unpolished underdog gems that not only lay the foundation for our precious genre but also give it the diversity that it seems to lack now days.
So this Halloween, after gorging yourself on sweets and getting those last second candelabras lit, and maybe after carving a few pumpkins, end your evening with some Romero flicks that are sure to become your new top contenders. Don’t settle for cookie-cutter repeats and unnecessary reboots.
For all of you who are deeply saddened by the loss of this genuine cinematic artist and find yourself nervous about the future, fear not. George A. Romero is survived by his son Cameron Romero, who, aside from already leaving his own foot print in the film industry, aims to pick up the golden Romero torch and carry it on.
With various projects in the works that we cannot talk about yet, Cameron has some big shoes to fill, but trust me… he won’t disappoint us. If you would like to stay up to date with Cameron and his various endeavors, check out romeropictures.com.
By Wesley Johnson