For fans of the cinematic world of horror, there are few directors that have had such a massive impact on the genre than George Romero, the grandfather of the zombie film who nurtured one of the most popular sub-genres to a thriving contemporary existence. Along with the likes of Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper, William Friedkin and John Carpenter, Romero helped to popularise the horror genre for the general audience.
Though Romero’s zombies were pale slow-walking, brain-eating ghouls, the director planted the seed with such classics as Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead for the future of the sub-genre to germinate from, creating the likes of The Walking Dead and Shaun of the Dead in the long run. A devout believer in pure horror cinema, Romero has long shunned the transparent carnivalistic jump scares of the modern genre, favouring his own style of filmmaking that laid a strong social subtext beneath its blood and guts.
For Romero, horror without meaning is simply vapid, with the filmmaker criticising Zach Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead in an interview with Simon Pegg. “It sort of lost its reason for being…There was nothing going on underneath,” the filmmaker explained before going on to outline his dislike for the noughties trend of ‘torture porn’ and questioning if modern horror directors had forgotten how to have fun with the genre.
When it came to the grandfather of horror, it was the classics that remained his favourites up until his unfortunate death in 2017, pointing to the likes of Christian Nyby, John Ford and Orson Welles on his list of top picks. On his list of favourites, the crime drama On the Waterfront takes the first spot, a film that made a name for the lead actor Marlon Brando and elevated director Elia Kazan to further industry status. Though the film had little literal impact on Romero’s celebrated filmography, its gritty style and dedication to realism would’ve no doubt influenced the director’s tendency for authenticity.
Showing his early love of horror cinema, Romero’s second choice is The Thing From Another World by director Christian Nyby, the original film that would later inspire John Carpenter to make his iconic remake starring Kurt Russell. Concerning the presence of a cosmic alien that can take the form of human life, Nyby’s tense thriller would later become the blueprint for a horror classic.
Third on Romero’s list is a rare romance film from the western pioneer John Ford, the director of The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and How Green Was My Valley. Choosing none of these aforementioned popular classics, Romero opted for The Quiet Man, a gentle film featuring John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara and Victor McLaglen that followed a retired boxer who falls in love with a young woman on his return to his hometown.
As one of the most influential filmmakers of early Hollywood, many directors include Orson Welles on their list of favourite films, with George Romero choosing Othello as his top pick. Adapted from the classic Shakespeare play, Othello featured Welles in the lead role alongside the likes of Micheál MacLiammóir, Robert Coote and Suzanne Cloutier in this somewhat outdated version of an iconic play.
The inclusion of The Tales of Hoffmann finalises Romero’s list, with the 1951 film directed by the British duo Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell, following a poet who reflects on the lost loves of his past. A surreal fantasy flick, the influence of Powell and Pressburger’s Oscar-nominated musical is not seen anywhere else in the career of George Romero, though likely inspired his wicked imagination and colourful charm.
George A. Romero’s five favourite films:
- On the Waterfront (Elia Kazan, 1954)
- The Thing From Another World (Christian Nyby, 1951)
- The Quiet Man (John Ford, 1952)
- Othello (Orson Welles, 1952)
- The Tales of Hoffmann (Emeric Pressburger, Michael Powell, 1951)