My stories are about humans and how they react, or fail to react, or react stupidly. I’m pointing the finger at us, not at the zombies. I try to respect and sympathize with the zombies as much as possible. –George Romero
With the news of George Romero’s death, there’s a peculiar hole in my heart that I am not certain will ever be filled. Romero’s films had a profound impact on me at young age, and have been a part of my life, in some form or another, ever since that time. I felt I knew him intimately, and yet I never met the man–and if given the chance, I probably wouldn’t have (I’m not really big on meeting celebrities. Or people in general, I guess.)
Where were you when you saw your first zombie? I think I was ten years old, in 1986, and it was Romero’s 1968 film Night of the Living Dead, whilst seated upon an ugly floral sofa in the living room of my family’s small house on Viking Drive, the empty, troubled house that I still dream about to this day. From the opening scenes of Barbara and Johnny’s ghoulish encounter in the cemetery where they trekked to place a wreath on their father’s grave, to the expository radio and television updates on the zombie phenomenon, presented with such deadpan expression: “…the wave of murders…in the Eastern third of the nation is being committed by creatures who feast upon the flesh of their victims,” and those unforgettable scenes of the bloody aftermath of the gas-station pump explosion and little Karen Cooper (the OG Ghoul Next Door) hacking her mother to death in the basement of that abandoned farmhouse…these are scenes I have watched so many times that their shadowy afterimages are burned indelibly behind my eyelids, and I can replay them in an instant.
When I was eleven or twelve years old, a book suddenly appeared on my mother’s bookshelf. I suspect it was a gift from her boyfriend at the time, whom I believe was really quite fond of my sisters and I, and delighted in introducing us to all manner of gruesome, gory movies. I’m not sure my mother really appreciated the gift of this book–in retrospect, it just doesn’t seem like her cup of tea. It was very much my cup of tea, however, and captivated by its lurid cover, I would steal into her bedroom time and time again, sneaking The Zombies That Ate Pittsburgh from her shelf, secreting myself away in my bedroom and devouring the story of George Romero and his fascinating filmography. For a period of several months, I thought of nothing but this man and his zombies, but far from working myself into a state of terror, I just grew more and more fond of this visionary and his shambling undead creations.
Already a fan of horror, and of ghosts and monsters, (thanks Scooby Doo in my formative years!), the concept of the zombie was relatively new to me at that time, but my interest in it grew to influence my every decision regarding reading, viewing, and even listening, for years to come. I believe that’s what got me into Iron Maiden; after all, their iconic mascot sort of looks like some crazed, skeletal, undead flesh-eater, you know?
I think it was easier to fixate on these ghastly monsters and fantastical stories of the macabre instead of focusing on my own life, which was becoming increasingly chaotic. In the grips of addiction, my mother had grown quite monstrous, her frightening rages unpredictable and inconsistent–I never knew what might set her off, how to deal with it, or how to prevent it from happening, again. I became paralyzed with fear anticipating the fury of her next explosion, numb with guilt and shame and recriminations: why is our mother like this? What did we do to make her angry? How close are we to becoming that family on the street, the ones that the neighbors call the police on once a week? (We were somewhat lucky, there was already another family that had us beat in that regard.) In the face of my mother’s alcoholism, I found myself shutting down, shutting people out, becoming a zombie myself. These many years and mommy-issues later, monsters, and zombies in particular, are still a safe haven for me. How funny is that?
But, although I’m very familiar with Romero’s oeuvre, I’ve still only seen Night of the Living Dead! Well, and maybe snippets of Creepshow. I suppose after having read about these films so often, I almost feel as if I have already seen them? I did see the Dawn of The Dead remake, and I saw The Crazies remake, and well, I guess I suppose I have seen most of Land of the Dead, but I barely remember it, so I am not certain that counts.
At any rate, I was terribly saddened to hear of George Romero’s passing. Thinking about his life and his body of work dredged up a lot of issues for me–old bones I thought I’d buried deep, as well as the good stuff, too, the lifeblood that sustained me in troubled times, and the passion it sparked in me for the themes he touched on in his work and all my related interests that grew from that. Without him, I’d be a very different ghoul today.
I shall miss George Romero–the “Godfather of the Dead”, “father of the modern movie zombie”–tremendously. To celebrate his life, I have commenced watching all of the films I’ve come know and love from reading about them so very long ago, and which influenced me in ways I am still discovering today. To start with, one that Romero called his “most realized film”, Martin, which is actually not a zombie film at all! A story about a confused, misunderstood youth committing a series of vampiric murders, Martin has long since intrigued me. I also think that since I so closely associate Romero and his zombies, it might be easier on my heart to watch a film that would seem to be so distanced from that.
What are some of your favorite George Romero films? How are you holding up since the passing of our beloved storyteller? Disembodied hugs for you all can be found here.