The most obvious tribute to George Romero is the immediate flurry of jokes about how he's not really dead, or how he won't stay dead long, and so on. For those of you who are late to the twenty-first century or missed great chunks of the century before, George A. Romero is the architect of all things zombie in our current popular culture. To be fair, zombies existed before Night of the Living Dead. Up here in the USA, we were walking with white zombies and tended to use the mysteries of the walking dead as fodder for our nightmares and B movies.
George Romero is the guy who brought the flesh-eating shamblers into our modern day terrors. He filled a country house with a cross-section of America, and then turned a bunch of brain-gobblers loose outside. There was some vague reason given for the appearance of all these hungry corpses: not voodoo, but some sort of outer space radiation that returned with a probe from Venus. At some level, we had brought this version of the apocalypse on ourselves, and it was up to the common folk to save themselves.
Made for a budget that eventually topped out at one hundred fourteen thousand dollars, about as much as George Clooney spends on Nescafe during a shoot, this little horror movie from 1968 has stuck around in ways that very few of its kind have. George essentially wrote the book on the modern zombie and its habits. He went on to direct a number of other films, including five sequels that continued the spread of the zombie epidemic. How would we cope with this enemy we can't kill since they are already dead?
If you don't have a gun to shoot them in the head, "beat 'em or burn 'em, they go up pretty easy." And this was the advice we were given by law enforcement types back in the late sixties. Back when that kind of thing was happening with relative frequency outside the movie theaters in this great land of ours. Some people chose to make Night of the Living Dead into social commentary. Certainly on its face, this is a monster movie first and foremost, but it's hard not to notice the signs of the times. The hero of that first film is an African American male, who ends up being mistakenly (?) shot through the head along with the shuffling skull gnawing plague beasts. And who comprises this herd of menacing dead folks? The shuffling mass that ends up in the first sequel, Dawn of the Dead, meandering around the local shopping mall, looking for a deal on a brain to eat. In this way, George anticipated the modern day food court. And he let us all consider our own consumer culture. Our American culture.
The industry he spawned in the wake of all that walking around dead is evident today. The way my son has anticipated the end with his own enumerated zombie apocalypse plan tells me that without George Romero, we might all be sitting around waiting around for the end without any sense of what we would do when the freshly dead start shopping for their next meal.
Thank you George. You shuffled about the Terra, sniffing for brains. Aloha.