Remembering George A. Romero's Influential Dead Trilogy
Ever since I was a kid, zombies were terrifying. The idea of an undead loved one coming after you not for your company but to consume your flesh is the definition of disgusting, and awesome. Without George A. Romero, we wouldn’t have the zombies we know and love today. Before Zombies were known to be undead walking corpses, they were defined as brainless slaves, sometimes bending to the will of a witch doctor. The Serpent and the Rainbow (1984) and White Zombie (1932) are an excellent gateway to understand that type of zombie.
The film that started it all was Mr. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Calling it low budget is an understatement, and the acting is anything but good. Where the movie truly shines though is in its originality and execution. No one saw it coming, and it quickly gained notoriety for the gore people saw on screen. There was never a movie before where cannibalism was shown with such detail. For lack of a better term, this movie had serious balls (for its time). That’s what makes it an iconic horror classic.
Dawn of the Dead was the sequel no one thought they wanted to see. It continued to be groundbreaking in its execution. Both Night and Dawn would cast the male leads to African-American actors. This was something regularly uncommon in the sixties and seventies, showing a positive main character being portrayed by a minority. The film also broke new ground with special effects, crafted by the now legendary Tom Savini. The gore was insatiably gruesome, intestines being dragged out of a person’s abdomen, flesh from the neck being devoured, it’s quite a beautiful sight. The film was actually a hit with critics as well, Roger Ebert gave it a four-star review in 1979. He may have put it best when he wrote, “Nobody ever said art had to be in good taste”. I think he may have meant as a double entendre.
What would come again years later is another sequel titled Day of the Dead. This one was not met with the same type of reception when it was released as the other two Dead films. Critics and fans agreed at the time that it wasn’t the worst movie, but that it didn’t live up to the hype. I actually find this to be a shame because Day of the Dead is my favorite of the original trilogy, and thankfully over time we’ve seen popular YouTube creators and contemporary horror fans give it the praise it deserves. This is Tom Savini’s crowning achievement when it comes to make up and special effects, the zombies actually look decayed and grotesque. The opening scene is incredibly enjoyable by itself.
What makes all these movies work so well is the characters. Each movie has an ensemble cast that resembles society. We see our fears, prejudices, hopes, and overall humanity in a small group of survivors. We want to see certain characters survive or get what coming to them, it’s easy to get invested in these people’s lives and how they are struggling not only to survive a terrible plague but what they are capable of doing to each other.
George A. Romero has made other classic contributions to the film industry, but none as influential as his original Dead trilogy. It’s sad to hear of his passing, but his legacy is something generations can enjoy. Thank you Mr. Romero, you'll be truly missed amongst the world of horror.