by Patrick Bromley
I've said before that the great George A. Romero is like the George Lucas of horror, becoming famous and beloved for a trilogy of hugely influential, genre-shaping films and then returning to do a second trilogy too many years later that diminishes his legacy. And while Romero will always best be known for his Dead movies -- they did, after all, launch the entire modern zombie movement that's now disgustingly played out -- several of his non-zombie films are just as good or better than the subgenre for which he's recognized.
I love George Romero. I love a lot of his movies, but I also love him just for existing. He's a guy who makes movies with passion and who is always trying to say something, even in later years when his messages became heavy-handed and muddled by bad storytelling. He's a filmmaker whose every movie is worth seeing simply because he made it.
2. Season of the Witch (1973) Romero's third film tells the story of a suburban housewife (Jan White) who gets involved with witchcraft. Though deeply flawed and crudely dated, Season of the Witch (also known as Hungry Wives) is interesting as a study in Romero's social progressivism. He has always been a feminist filmmaker, but with its concerns about the oppressed housewife attempting to find some agency in the "man's world" of the early '70s, Season of the Witch might be Romero's most feminist work. The movie was released in the same year as The Crazies, which is a more consistent -- and possibly better -- movie, but too much like Romero's zombie films to stand out in his filmography the way this one does. Over 40 minutes were cut out of the director's original version; a restored 103 minute cut made its way to DVD, but that's still a half hour shy of the director's 130 minute version.
4. Dawn of the Dead (1978) Thousands of words have already been written about this one, so I won't say too much about it here. I've already called it one of the best zombie movies ever made, one of my favorite horror movies and just one of my all time favorite movies period. Dawn of the Dead sees the small-scale, documentary-like aesthetic of Night and raises it to a big, splashy comic book action movie. Brutal social satire and groundbreaking gore effects courtesy of Tom Savini are a big part of what makes this movie a classic, but it's the smaller moments that make me love it. It has the look and feel of an epic despite its focus on only four characters. People not able to look past some of the blue zombie makeup or orange blood (I'm looking at you, Doug) are missing out on a true masterpiece. Plenty of people might argue that Night is better, but Dawn of the Dead is easily Romero's best movie for me.
6. Creepshow (1982) Romero's most commercial studio film is still his most fun, suggesting that he knows how to lighten up and make pure popcorn entertainment when not bleakly predicting the end of humanity in movie after movie. A tribute to the great horror comics of the 1950s scripted by Stephen King (their first official collaboration), Creepshow remains one of my favorite horror anthologies of all time -- a colorful, cartoonish blast of a monster movie. It's a side of Romero that we too seldom got to see.
7. Day of the Dead (1985) The last of Romero's original zombie trilogy (and his favorite of the series) is the one that has aged the best -- which isn't to say that it has surpassed the previous two films, only that it's better now than it was when it was released. Originally written to be a massive apocalyptic epic, Romero was forced to cut way back to keep the budget down so he could still put the movie out Unrated. The result is something that feels claustrophobic and nightmarish, with a team of scientists and the military forced into underground bunkers while the undead freely roam the streets. The pitch of some performances is a little bracing (coughJoePilatocough), but Romero continues to explore life after civilization in a way that's fascinating -- and, more importantly, feels very real. Almost 30 years later, Day of the Dead still boasts the best gore effects in any movie ever.
9. Land of the Dead (2005) Romero returned to the zombie genre after 20 years away and kicked off his second trilogy with this, a mid-budget ($15 million, but it feels like more), large-scale studio movie with a wide release and actual stars in the roles. Using elements from his original epic Day of the Dead screenplay, Land of the Dead has a GREAT concept (the wealthy class is able to "ignore the problem," living above the city while everyone else contends with the zombie apocalypse on the ground) but only a so-so execution. Working with a major studio meant that Romero's hands were tied more than usual; he wasn't allowed to cast a black actor in the lead as intended and instead wound up with wet pancake Simon Baker, and the contractually required R-rating (the first in his Dead series) meant Romero had to edit out or digitally obscure much of the gore, which was later restored on DVD. Romero's return to the zombie genre was such cause for celebration that we all wanted the movie to be better than it is. Plus, its intentions are so good and there are so many great ideas at work that I'm willing to overlook certain aspects of the writing and the...uneven...performances. There's still a lot to like, but it's a mess. Still, of his second trilogy, this one is easily the best.
abysmal found footage effort Diary of the Dead before it) feels like a bad imitation of what Romero once did so brilliantly. We're unlikely to see many more new George Romero movies, meaning Survival could end up being his last.
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