American-Canadian director George A. Romero will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the greatest horror filmmakers of all time because of the cinematic accomplishments he achieved in the iconic Dead Trilogy. The largely influential body of films have inspired generations of newer filmmakers including Quentin Tarantino who famously claimed that the “A” in George A. Romero stood for “A Fucking Genius”.
Romero reflected, “I don’t think you could make Night of the Living Dead now. You certainly can’t pitch it. It has to be under the wire. In a certain sense, Night of the Living Dead was under the wire. I thought Dawn of the Dead was a pie in the face to consumers, but people say there’s this underlying message of anti-consumerism in it. I think it’s way upfront. The only way you could make a film like this is to hide the message — unless it’s a message that is currently acceptable. You cannot pitch an idea the way I did. It would not get financed.”
Adding, “It was the idea of the family unit. Everything is falling apart. Back then, in 1968, everything was suspect — family, government, and obviously the family unit in Night of the Living Dead completely collapses. That’s what we were focused on. I don’t see the broader statements on race. The message is, ‘Hey, what can’t we just get along?’ If they pulled together, they’d be OK. To that extent, that’s exactly what’s happening now in the United States. It’s bisected. If you’re a Republican, you can’t vote this way, and if you’re a Democratic you can’t vote that way. It’s garbage — just crap.”
As a tribute to George A. Romero’s timeless horror film collection, we take a look at 10 of the most iconic moments that took place in his famous Dead Series.
10 iconic moments from George A. Romero’s ‘Dead Trilogy’:
10. Barbara (Night of the Living Dead)
In a very creepy and ominous scene, we witness Johnny tease her sister Barbara about her paranoia by uttering a line that has become downright famous – “They’re coming to get you, Barbara.” Although it was meant as a joke, Johnny ended up constructing a foreboding prophecy about the future of mankind in the cinematic universe.
While discussing the film, Romero said: “Some of the graininess and some of the simplicity is intentional. We make a living making a glass of beer look like heaven, and we could have glossed this up too. This is one of the talents our shop has, making things look beautiful. Maybe that’s why we went as far the other way as we did.”
9. Basement of Horrors (Dawn of the Dead)
With some of the most impactful imagery in the series, Dawn of the Dead’s basement scene is a truly unforgettable experience. In an enclosed area, a group of zombies can be seen feasting on the remains of the living which comes across as a commentary on domesticated and colonised horror.
To a large extent, the success of the sequel damaged Romero’s future artistic scope. He confessed, “That’s what happens to me, I try to make each one different, then people just don’t show up! Suddenly, 10 years later they’re flying off the shelves at the video store. They just don’t want it to be different, they just want me to remake Dawn of the Dead every time.”
8. Zombie Salute (Day of the Dead)
The figure of Bub is a very special one because he is a zombie with remnants of human consciousness. In this scene which has tragicomic undertones, Bub manages to execute a deformed salute which indicates that he has retained some cognitive abilities.
“I used to have a van that had a TV in the backseat for the kids and they put on Day of the Dead. In the front seat, I am driving and I am listening to it,” Romero said. “It completely works as a radio show. I was cracking up, particularly at Joe.”
7. Bloody Matricide (Night of the Living Dead)
Definitely one of the more terrifying scenes on this list, Night of the Living Dead features an infamous moment where Karen loses her humanity and feasts on the flesh of her murdered mother. It is not just visually shocking but the crystallisation of pure violence is ideologically volcanic.
The director recalled, “The film did pretty well when it first came out. Immediately we had indications that it was unique. It started to get editorialised by Readers Digest, Life Magazine, and people were saying, ‘This is about the grossest thing possible. How far will you go to make money?'”
6. Flyboy (Dawn of the Dead)
Another classic Romero scene where he perfectly portrays the dehumanisation of characters within the confines of modernity. When Stephen steps off the elevator with all signs of humanity erased from his face, it makes us confront our own mortality.
Actor Scott Reiniger had this to say about the production: “It was a very, very positive shoot just very, very long hours. When we’re in the mall [we filmed] all night long and slept during the day. But [doing that] that day after day after day after day, I felt after a while we were in The Twilight Zone! Imagine wandering around the mall with all the zombies wandering about!”
5. Miguel’s Sacrifice (Day of the Dead)
In a truly remarkable turn of events, one soldier decides that he has had enough and sacrifices himself in order to facilitate the entry of a horde of zombies. The spectacle of the undead masses closing in on their targets is the perfect representative image for the film’s vision.
“I wish that I had a wider range. I tried early on to do several films that were non-genre and nine people saw them, so I don’t have the credentials in that regard,” the filmmaker said. “On the other side of that coin, and far outweighing it, is the fact that I’ve been able to use genre of Fantasy/Horror and express my opinion, talk a little about society, do a little bit of satire and that’s been great.”
4. Ben’s Demise (Night of the Living Dead)
One of the more politically volatile moments in the history of the trilogy, Ben manages to survive the onslaught of the zombies but dies at the hands of white people. Even though Romero has insisted that this was not meant to be racial commentary, it cannot be a coincidence that a Black man made it through the end of the world only to be shot on sight by actual oppressors.
Romero later clarified, “When we made the film, I thought that we were talking about miscommunication — people who, even when faced with impossible and improbable situations, still argue among themselves about petty things rather than facing the problem. I find that this is still going on today. That’s all I really care about. Then, all of a sudden, it accidentally became a racial film because of the Duane Jones’ character. There’s nothing in the dialogue or anywhere else that says this film is about race, but that’s what made it become important, I guess.”
3. News Segment (Dawn of the Dead)
Dawn of the Dead’s opening news segment is a brilliant technique that Romero employs to show how the apocalypse would be televised. The atmospheric chaos is palpable and ominous, alluding to the inevitable breakdown of all communication.
Romero revealed, “For all of these films, the ideas for them have come from the world. And once you know, okay, I’m going to make a movie about this you can glue zombies on it, easily. So it’s not difficult at all. You just have to have that idea. I think a lot of people don’t. I go to conventions and universities and talk to young filmmakers and everybody’s making a zombie movie!”
2. Opening Scene (Day of the Dead)
Romero’s 1985 post-apocalyptic horror film’s opening scene is a remarkably simple exploration of the zombie condition in a world that is almost completely devoid of humans. In a world where the prey does not exist anymore, predators are nothing but existential paradoxes with no fundamental subjectivity.
“I’ve tried to make the zombie films different from each other. I was hoping there would be another one. I wanted to do a noir, black and white. But it was not to be because Survival just tanked,” the director reminisced. “Day of the Dead remains my favourite zombie film of mine. So much of it is again in the process – remembering everyone being there to make that film, everyone there to work with one purpose. And no bad apples – a wonderful time was had by all. And we are all still friends. Good memories.”
1. Rednecks vs Zombies (Dawn of the Dead)
A relatively lighter scene in Dawn of the Dead, this particular segment contextualises the apocalypse within a carnivalesque setting. Instead of running for their lives, we witness the transformation of the zombies into target practice for rednecks as yet another way of displaying their obsession with guns.
When he was asked how he came up with all these different ways of killing zombies, Romero replied: “It’s all ideas that come to you in the shower. I don’t know what else to say about it, but that is the challenge every time you set out to do one of these. How am I going to kill these guys, how am I going to get rid of that brain? Anybody with ideas, please write them down! If I have to do another film, I don’t know, man, I’m sort of running out of stuff.”