Romero has been one of my heroes for quite a while, giving birth to the insanely fascinating and ripe for social commentary genre of the modern zombie film. While I am predisposed towards his work with the undead, I’ve enjoyed a couple of his other works as well, particularly The Crazies and Martin. I consider Night of the Living Dead to be a hallmark in low budget horror and one of the better examples of invention born from necessity. Dawn of the Dead is a wonderfully satirical look at consumerist culture as well as a frighteningly efficient horror film. Day of the Dead is my favorite of all of his films, and is a woefully underrated indictment of military culture as well as the oneupsmanship that capitalism inspires. Land of the Dead is not quite as good as his earlier stuff but still a fun, big-budget examination of the class system and the cannibalistic nature of society, and it is really unfairly maligned. Diary of the Dead is another example of Romero being dismissed in his old age, when really this is some of his most poignant work yet. The decision to introduce a film which runs simultaneous to Night of the Living Dead was interesting and it stands as a very intense critique of media objectivity and experience.
So who wants to fight about it?
No fight here, though we may not agree on Romero’s best films. NOTLD is a horror classic that broke an amzing amount of rules and redefined how the genre was going to be handled. In some ways the new tropes it created are still in use (the down-beat and surprise or reversal ending being just one). I was lucky to see it on its initial theatrical run, so I saw it in the context of the horror films being released at the time & it was a shattering experience. Horror films were supposed to build slowly, not be in your face within minutes after starting & then maintain a near-steady degree of tension for the rest of the film. And the ending was like a slap upside the head.
I do think there’s more political/social commentary unstated in NOTLD than in his later Dead films, though. It seems heavy-handed and not nearly as perceptive as Romero’s admirers seem to find it.
I do like CRAZIES (though it seems technically a regression from NOTLD) and MARTIN is terrific. KNIGHTRIDERS and MONKEY SHINES are also admirable.
It’s a pity that the only projects he seems to be able to finance are more zombie films. This guy has, potentially, much more inetersting work in him than going back to the same well again and again.
I don’t have much to add, except to say that Diary of the Dead was a stunning show-up of the awful cinematographic idea of Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield. It’s like Romero watched those movies and said, “Nono. Film students would know how to hold the camera steady for longer than a split second. I’m going to do that, only you can actually see what’s going on, and I’m going to make it an essay on YouTube culture.” Way to go for a master to show up the newbies!
Harry Long – I do agree with the idea that the social commentary was much subtler in NOTLD, but I think that his later work is strong for its unabashed criticism, as I think that it would have come off as insincere were he to try and disguise his intentions, particularly in Dawn of the Dead. I consider Day of the Dead to be a little more complex because while the girl is the empathetic protagonist, none of the sides are shown as morally correct.
And I’m with you that The Crazies is absolutely a regression from NOTLD, but still interesting. Did you see Bruiser? I figure that sort of capped off his non-zombie career, to be honest.
PolarisDib – It’s nice to see some love for Diary, for some reason everyone I know, even zombie fans, hate it with a passion. It’s bizarre, to be honest.
Martin may be his greatest film. It is such an American (as opposed to Hollywood) film that it feels foreign. Still amazing after all this years.
BRUISER? Gad, I think this is the first I’ve heard of that! (And I write for genre publications; I’m not supposed to be so out of the loop!)
Oh, I didn’t mean that Romero should try to hide his feelings. A) Working in some kind of social commentary is probably the only think keeping him interested in trotting out the old, cannibalistic corpses again & again. B) Without it they’be like any one of too many Italian zombie films that are just rotting corpse make-up and gore effects. Plot, characterizations, etc., purely optional. I see way too many horror films in the course of a year not to appreciate a director (or writer) who takes the trouble to make something more than just another standard outing*. That said, I do think the political/social commentary is not terribly deep; it’s sort of referred to, pointed out but not explored in any meaningful fashion. But god luv ‘im, Romero’s not just going through the motions.
>>It’s like Romero watched those movies and said, “Nono. Film students would know how to hold the camera steady for longer than a split second<<
Yer a caution, PolarisDiB …
*Hell, after the stack I’ve just waded through recently, I appreciate basic technical competence…
Haha, I know how that feels. I used to review independent genre flicks and boy, after a while you begin to appreciate anything that has a budget over $7000 and doesn’t involve a serial killer who likes to deliver grammatically incorrect monologues.
And I consider his work to be of greater depth than the majority of horror films which is why I appreciate it so much. Plus, I think he is one of the few filmmakers who really seems concerned with the state of the world. And that passion translates, methinks.
I just saw “Dawn of the Dead” and “Day of the Dead” for the first times. Both were way less interesting than I was expecting them to be. Not that I’ve constantly been hearing good things about them all through the years, but I had just assumed they were brilliant cult films for some reason.
“Dawn” was very awkward and uneven at the beginning. It finally slid into its own about halfway through. I like how as the film went on it became less about the zombies and more about modern living. Even though, I think there was very little to admire in this film, and it seemed much more clumsy than “Night of the Living Dead”, which looks fresh, modern and timeless by comparison.
There was a lot less to admire in “Day”. I found the film practically worthless until the climax, which still wasn’t that exciting or interesting. The zombie with the personality as comedy relief fell flat for me. It took me out of the film. I don’t think I’ll be rushing anytime soon to see the newest episodes in the franchise. If these two films underperformed for me I can’t imagine that the newest ones are even a slight improvement.
They were thoughtful commentaries on consumer culture.
Romero’s films though have aged poorly, watch Brusier or (oddly) the original Night of the Living Dead which haven’t aged at all
Just a s a sidenote: i read the monograph George A. Romero contributed to the official online NOLD website.
From the depth, density, soundness and correctness of Romero’s prose, it was clear to me that he is a man of exceptional, even probably genius-level, intelligence.
Yes, the films aged poorly for me as well. Particularly so with “Dawn”. But ironically, the presentation of mall culture was definitely prescient. I didn’t even know malls were in general use in the 70s!