George A Romero R.I.P.

George A Romero ist nach kurzer Lungenkrebserkrankung im Alter von 77 Jahren im Schlaf verstorben.

LA Times: „Romero died Sunday in his sleep after a 'brief but aggressive battle with lung cancer', according to a statement to The Times provided by his longtime producing partner, Peter Grunwald. Romero died while listening to the score of one his favorite films, 1952’s 'The Quiet Man', with his wife, Suzanne Desrocher Romero, and daughter, Tina Romero, at his side, the family said.“

Night of the Living Dead, a micro-budget zombie film combining horror and social satire, which Romero co-wrote with John Russo, was released in 1968 and became a cult classic. It spawned a series: Dawn of the Dead (1978), Day of the Dead (1985), Land of the Dead (2005), Diary of the Dead (2007) and Survival of the Dead. The last was released in 2009. […]

In a 2014 interview with NPR, Romero said he “never expected” his career to be defined by zombies. “All I did was I took them out of ‘exotica’ and I made them the neighbors,” he said, pointing to the success of his uncanny and chilling films that used terrifying effects, makeup and cuts to satirise consumerism, racism and other social horrors. “I thought there’s nothing scarier than the neighbors!”

Romero hatte 1968 mit Night of the Living Dead einen der Grundpfeiler des modernen Horror (und auch des damals um sich greifenden New Hollywood) aufgestellt und die ehemaligen Voodoo-Zombies mit gesellschaftlicher Kritik aufgeladen.

Er ersetzte den romantisierten, individualisiserten Untoten der Vergangenheit (Dracula, Frankensteins Monster) mit der Masse der verstümmelten Leiber einer ganzen Gesellschaft (in der ab und zu die Gesichter unserer toten Familienangehörige, Freunde und Nachbarn auftauchen) und erschuf so einen neuen Archetypus: Das Monster als ausdruckslose Dichotomie zum Leben, die Menschenmasse und die Gesellschaft selbst ist das Monster, eine alles verschlingende, herumschlurfende, untote Masse; dieses Motiv wurde dann auch großartig aufgegriffen in einem der Schlüsselmomente des erfolgreichsten Indie-Comics aller Zeiten und dem bislang wahrscheinlich prominentesten Vertreter von Romeros Vermächtnis: „We are the Walking Dead.“ (Dessen Serien-Verfilmung er übrigens nicht besonders mochte: „Basically it’s just a soap opera with a zombie occasionally“.)

Romero brach so mit den Konventionen des Genres, das bis dahin noch im viktorianischen Horror von etwa den Hammer Studios vor sich hin gruselte, und schuf den Zombie als ultimative Metapher, die sich für gesellschaftliche Kritik aller Art eignete und je nach Figurenkonstellation, Prämisse und Plot mit Subtexten ausgestattet werden konnte. Zombie is a canvas. Und selbst als hohle Figur ohne Subtext taugt der moderne Zombie immer noch zum Party-Splatter in den tausenden Trash-Horrorschlocks, die nach Night of the living Dead entstanden und in Perlen wie etwa dem letztjährigen Meilenstein Attack of the Lederhosen-Zombies mündeten.

So stilprägend und revolutionär George A Romeros Night of the living Dead auch war und so sehr sich seine Zombies als politische Metapher auf Vietnam-Krieg, Consumerism und Überbevölkerung lesen lassen, so diffus und unbefriedigend empfand ich seine Fortschreibung des Zombie-Mythos.

Romero erzählte in Day of the Dead bereits in einem Nebenplot die Geschichte eines intelligenten Zombies – Bub –, der als singulärer „Haus“-Zombie des Militärs noch funktionieren mochte. In späteren Ausformungen (vor allem in Land of the Dead) empfand ich die Intelligenz seiner Zombies allerdings vor allem als unnötigen Ballast, der die inhärente „Leere“ des Zombie-Archetypus nicht mit Subtext füllte, sondern mit einem banalen Plot Device.

Dennoch: Romeros Lebenswerk (neben vielen Non-Zombiefilmen wie Martin, Creepshow oder The Crazies) ist nicht weniger als die Begründung eines neuen, möglicherweise sogar des einzig bleibenden Horror-Archetyps des 20. Jahrhunderts. Alleine dafür ist ihm der Platz im Olymp der Film-Legenden sicher.

Außerdem werde ich seine völlig unwahrscheinliche Brille vermissen.

Danke für die Zombies, George. (And thanks for never giving in on the stupidity of running zombies.)

Sad day.

[update] Nachruf von Edgar Wright:

It’s fair to say that without George A. Romero, I would not have the career I have now. A lot of people owe George a huge debt of gratitude for the inspiration. I am just one of many.

Without George, at the very least, my career would have started very differently. My future in film really started when I became firm friends with Simon Pegg while we were making ‘SPACED’ and we realised that we were both obsessed with ‘Dawn Of The Dead’ and George’s work.

I had been infatuated about George’s work before I saw it, scouring through horror and fantasy magazine for stills, posters and articles way before I was old enough to see his movies. When I finally did watch, on VHS or late night TV, the likes of ‘Night Of The Living Dead’, ‘Martin’, ‘Dawn Of The Dead’, ‘Creepshow’, ‘Day Of The Dead’ and others, I was a true devotee to all things Romero.

Later, after making ‘Spaced’, myself and Pegg had this wild notion of making a film that took place in George’s universe, but with a distinctly deadpan North London response to his Pittsburgh zombie epics. The resulting film ‘Shaun Of The Dead’, would obviously not exist without the master himself and when we completed the movie, we decided that we should try and contact George and screen the film for him. To us, his was the only opinion that mattered.

Nachruf von Simon Pegg:

In the wake of losing someone you respect, it’s hard to pay tribute without making it about you. What they meant to you, how they changed you, what you owe them, how sad you are. The key subject in all those sentiments is never the lost, it is always the loser. So instead of any personal reminiscence or reaction to the death of George Romero, I offer my love and sympathy to George’s wife, Suzanne and his family. To everyone else, a simple reminder. George A. Romero invented the modern zombie. Not the comedy variants that moan for, “Braaaains” or the squealing raptor like super zombies of later years, both of which are descendants of George’s original dead baby. George gave us patient zero. Before Night of the Living Dead (1968), zombies were specifically tied to Haitian voodoo mythology and generally used as metaphors for slavery and subjugation. It was George’s idea to combine elements of voodoo legend with a voguish fascination for cannibalism and the mythic communicability of lycanthropy and vampirism. It is from George’s epoch defining mash up, that everything else derives. Whether fast or slow, brain preferring of whole body inclined, ruining Shaun’s day or seven years of Rick Grimes’ life, everything that came after Night of the Living Dead owes a debt of gratitude to George. I don’t think it is said enough or acknowledged by those who have adopted his ideas. The remakes, the rip offs, the pastiches and the tributes all stand on the shoulders of this giant. Remember that, remember George A. Romero.

Variety: John Carpenter Remembers the ‘Profound Impact’ of George Romero

“I first saw ‘Night of the Living Dead’ when it came out in 1968,” Carpenter said. “It gave hope to those of us in film school that it was possible to make a low-budget movie and get it on the big screen.”

The seminal zombie film was “the beginning of modern horror,” Carpenter said. “It was a little influenced by Vietnam, and it had a black hero. That was totally new; it just wasn’t done then. Now it doesn’t seem so shocking.”

The level of explicit gore was also pretty high for the time, the director said.

Carpenter also loved the sequel, “Dawn of the Dead,” which Romero co-wrote with Italian horror auteur Dario Argento.

A few years later, after Carpenter’s “The Thing” was released, the two filmmakers finally met up. “He was extremely gracious,” Carpenter said, and they became friends, talking on the phone and running into each other at genre conventions.

“Each of his ‘Dead’ movies was about more than just horror. There was always something under the surface. He was always trying to deal with certain themes and deepen them. His characters were really edgy,” Carpenter said.

“I cannot tell you the profound impact that movie had. Not just on me but on everyone.”