Adam Riske: After an initial monster phase in grammar school, I became a horror fanboy largely through anthologies in books (Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark) and on television (HBO's Tales from the Crypt) so it was only natural that I found my way eventually to George A. Romero. I remember going to a theater in May of 1990 and seeing the poster for Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (Romero wrote the "Cat From Hell" segment) and being in absolute awe. I didn't see it at the time but I always remembered how boss that movie looked and three years later I was allowed to rent it from my local library. I did and loved it and every time I went to return it with my mom, I asked her if I could rent it again. I must have done that a half dozen times in the summer of 1993. After that, I sought out every horror anthology I could find and it quickly took me to Creepshow and Creepshow 2. I loved both immediately, particularly Creepshow. It is such a fun "party" horror movie, made with great style. In 2008, I got to meet Romero at the Flashback Weekend convention. I got his autograph on a Creepshow 11x17 poster, which he inscribed "Stay Scared" along with his signature and I got to thank him for making such a great movie. It's a pleasant memory and I'm happy to know from these conventions that he was so loved by genre fans. He was a true ambassador of the genre, someone who never was ashamed of it and an artist whose work acted as a signpost for my growing adolescent horror fandom. RIP.
Stephanie Crawford: I’ve lost a lot of personal pop culture heroes lately, and George A. Romero looms as large as my idol David Bowie does over my heart and my influences. When I first got into the horror films, I propelled myself wildly headfirst through slasher franchises, The New Releases and The Big Names. This, of course, brought me to Night of the Living Dead.
I assumed it would bore me—I was sure it would be charming and impressive for its time, but that’s about it. I didn't expect to be slowly drawn in to a low budget, black and white world that was filmed decades before my birth, and I didn't expect it to cause me to check the front door during and after watching it. It felt as fresh, vital and unnerving as I’m sure it felt in 1968. I can’t imagine that will change in the future. We’re still alienated, stupid and scared, but we’re still trying. I’ve seen it countless times since then, and thanks to its public domain status I’ve seen it horror hosted and riffed to hell and back, but if I sit down, turn out all the lights and focus… it’s the first time all over again.
Exploring Romero’s filmography afterwards became a dedicated passion for me. Following the next two “Dead” movies (I’ve always fought for Day over Dawn), Romero has always captured my imagination by being a “try anything” filmmaker who mostly subverted horror, which is always prime for subversion by the deft. From the nihilistic The Crazies and Martin to Creepshow and the uneven later “Dead” films,” I could always count on Romero’s nervy but sensitive filmmaking to draw me in. No matter how violent or sardonic the events unfolding on screen were, George’s big, beating heart could be felt behind every frame.
We’ve lost so much, but we were so incredibly lucky to have him at all. He started his career as a renegade and ended it as a legend, and the only bright spot to this is that I’m looking forward to revisiting his work with his fellow fans.
Years later, I walked into the empty bar of the hotel hosting the Flashback Weekend convention and ran into Romero, who was one of the special guests that year. I insisted he let me buy him a drink, so that I might boast for the rest of my life that I had once bought George Romero a drink. He laughed and ordered a drink. I paid.
Romero's Night of the Living Dead is one of the greatest horror films ever made. It is clever and scary and funny and trenchant: it works as horror, as social commentary, as an artifact of its time, as the greatest zombie movie ever, and it's just so much goddamn fun.
And I once bought its director a drink.
In my late teens, I discovered the wonders of conventions. Completely new to me, seeing directors, stars and writers I grew up admiring was so shocking and profound that it took me a couple of hours to really soak it all in. After sitting down for a while, I was under the impression that every person would be suddenly into meeting young teenage me. I was most definitely wrong. I was shy and bashful and when I approached my comic book writer god (I won’t name him here), I was so very excited to tell him how much his creation meant to me. Well, the experience was easily the worst experience I’ve ever had meeting someone I admired and in fifteen seconds, I was crushed. My first convention and I was already feeling like absolute crap. Dude was a full on prick. I stood there, crushed and holding a purchased sketch that I ended up throwing in the trash later on out of having my feelings hurt. I looked to my right and there, looking at me, was the man: George motherfucking A. Romero. The godfather of zombies, a hero to me. I was scared to even approach him due to what had just happened with another hero, but looking at me was the legend and he WAS signaling me to come over to him. Scared, I obliged and walked over. He had just seen the entire exchange I had with the world’s biggest asshole and he said to me, “Look, there are always guys like that, don’t let it get to you...” and then spent at least 15 minutes talking to me and making me feel like I was the only person in the world. He asked about where I was from, talking about filming Dawn of the Dead, answered every single question I had about Martin and was easily one of the friendliest guys I’ve ever met. Mr. Romero made me feel like I was important and, most of all, that he cared and was appreciative that I was such a big fan. Quite the opposite of the asshole before him, Romero cared. He really cared. My first convention experience went from one of the most embarrassingly uncomfortable experiences to one of the best, all because of one legend who actually gave a shit about those who loved his work.
When I was 26, I attended Comic-Con in San Diego and Romero was there signing and I took my then-four-year old child Ariel with me to meet him. I wanted her to meet the man who turned a shy and embarrassed kid into someone who then lived to go to conventions and I wanted to thank him for being so kind to me, those years before.
I waited in line and when it was my turn, I walked up to Romero and before I could thank him for what he did years before, I got choked up and my voice began to shake. I told him about the first time we met and how much his kindness meant to me and told him I was so excited for Diary of the Dead (I know, I know). He was so kind again, and told me my child was so cute and kissed Ariel on the cheek. This guy was just the best.
So yes, Dawn of the Dead, Creepshow and The Dark Half are some of my favorite films. Yes, he created an entire subgenre of horror with Night of the Living Dead. Yes, he inspired so many filmmakers, writers and various creatively-inclined people. His stamp on film and pop culture in general is undeniable. To me, though, he was one of the nicest human beings I had ever met and when hearing of his passing, I couldn’t help but to cry. This one hurt. This one punched me in the gut. Mr. Romero was a class act, a true legend who actually CARED about the people who loved his films. He cared. Rest in Peace, sir. You’ve made your mark on us all and your star will forever shine for us.
PS - To the A-hole comic book writer who felt the need to be rude to a late-teens Jerry: Fuck your reboot with the dude from Stranger Things.
Adam Thas: I guess the biggest compliment I can give to a horror director is that because of one of his or her movies, I lost a lot of hours of sleep. The stars really aligned the first time I saw Dawn of the Dead. I was at a point in my life where social issues were starting to become important in my life, and, more importantly, I was starting to look deeper into a movie rather than what I saw on the surface. Dawn of the Dead messed me up. Being totally honest, it still messes with me when I start to think about it. I remember how open-ended the end of Dawn of the Dead was and how there wasn’t a happy ending. The first time I saw it, I was at Michael Pomaro’s house; the movie was over, the lights turned on, and I just sat there. There are moments in my life that I wish I had a film crew with me to revisit the ridiculousness of them, and the image of teenage Adam questioning everything about his existence on a reclining chair in a basement seems pretty hilarious in retrospect. George, you made me question everything about who I am, why I’m here, and what it means to be a person. For better or worse, Dawn of the Dead is one of the most impactful movie experiences I’ve ever had. You did your job well, sir.
There’s probably not a lot I can say that would add anything of real value to the Creepshow conversation at this time, so instead, I just wanted to take a moment to pay tribute to George as a human being, not just as a director or a “Master of Horror,” because he was truly one-of-a-kind and the way he embraced his fans over the years was something very special to behold.
The first time I ever saw Romero in person was at Flashback Weekend 2004, where they had both a Day and Dawn of the Dead reunion, and I was absolutely in awe of being in the presence of what I considered horror royalty. George was in great spirits that weekend, and I’ll admit that I was way too intimidated to even go and get an autograph, so I was happy to observe him from afar. Romero returned to Flashback in 2008, and again in 2013 (when I was attending as a co-host), and the thing that struck me about those three appearances is that every single time he was a guest at the convention, he was genuinely excited to be there, and he was thrilled for the opportunity to talk to each and every fan that would approach him throughout the weekend.
Romero leaves behind a legacy of over 50 years in cinema, and while that’s something in itself to celebrate, I think the thing that I will always remember him for the most is his unbridled passion for horror (and zombies) as well as his deep appreciation for those of us who loved him, and his work, as much as we have throughout the years.
I talked about how I knew losing Romero was going to be really, really hard a couple years ago when Mike and I worked our way through his Dead series. I wrote about what I think are his essential films a couple years ago as part of my "Director Essentials" column. I've written about how Dawn of the Dead is one of my favorite movies ever and how Creepshow made me a horror fan. I have always loved writing about Romero until tonight, when I'm struggling to find the words to express just how sad I am about the loss of one of the sweetest men to ever scare the shit out of us -- a filmmaker who was mistreated and devalued by the film industry for his entire career but who never quit, never gave up, never ceased making brilliant outsider art that changed the shape of the genre and influenced generations of filmmakers to come. Thanks to Heather, I had the opportunity to meet George Romero a couple of years ago. I was too nervous and didn't take advantage of the opportunity. I didn't know what to say to someone whose work has meant so much to me, and whose approach to filmmaking and to his fans has meant even more. Romero is the Gold Standard: a genius who was gregarious and approachable, cerebral and an anarchist. He was uncompromising in his vision and deeply cynical while still being, as Stephanie mentioned above, a humanist.
It is Romero's horror films that have meant the most to me and which I will be revisiting the most in whatever time I have left (just two days before his passing, Arrow Video announced an amazing three-movie Blu-ray box containing The Crazies, Season of the Witch and There's Always Vanilla), but the movie I've thought of nonstop since hearing the terrible news is his 1981 drama Knightriders. The story, about Ed Harris leading a group of ren fair actors who recreate Arthurian legend on motorcycles, is undoubtedly Romero's most personal: it's a movie about integrity and honor, qualities Romero had in spades, as well as committing to your art even when the rest of the world can't understand what it is you're doing. I'm too scared to revisit it in the wake of the news because I'm not sure I'll be able to take it. It's a truly great movie and while I don't think it's Romero's best, I do think it's his most underrated and the movie that always reminds me that he should have been allowed to make more movies outside of the horror genre.
I love you, George A. Romero. I miss you already.