George Andrew Romero (February 4, 1940 – July 16, 2017) was an American director, writer, editor, and actor, best known for his Dead Series of five horror films featuring a zombie apocalypse theme and commentary on modern society.
Romero was born in New York City borough of The Bronx, to a Cuban-born father of Spanish parentage and a Lithuanian American mother. His father has been reported as born in A Coruña with his family coming from the Galician town of Neda, although George A. Romero once described his father as of Castilian descent. His father worked as a commercial artist. Romero attended Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University. After graduating in 1960, he began his career shooting short films and commercials. One of his early commercial films, a segment for Mister Rogers' Neighborhood in which Mr. Rogers underwent a tonsillectomy, inspired Romero to go into the horror film business. He, along with nine friends, formed Image Ten Productions in the late 1960s, and produced Night of the Living Dead (1968). The movie, directed by Romero and co-written with John A. Russo, became a cult classic and a defining moment for modern horror cinema.
Other inspiration for Romero's filmmaking, as told to Robert K. Elder in an interview for The Film That Changed My Life, was the film The Tales of Hoffmann.
"It was the filmmaking, the fantasy, the fact that it was a fantasy and it had a few frightening, sort of bizarre things in it. It was everything. It was really a movie for me, and it gave me an early appreciation for the power of visual media—the fact that you could experiment with it. He was doing all his tricks in-camera, and they were sort of obvious. That made me feel that, gee, maybe I could figure this medium out. It was transparent, but it worked."
Three films that followed were less popular: There's Always Vanilla (1971), Jack's Wife / Season of the Witch (1972) and The Crazies (1973) were not as well received as Night of the Living Dead or some of his later work. The Crazies, dealing with a bio spill that induces an epidemic of homicidal madness, and the critically acclaimed arthouse success Martin (1977), a film that deals with the vampire myth, were the two well-known films from this period. Like many of his films, they were shot in or around Pittsburgh.
In 1978, Romero returned to the zombie genre with Dawn of the Dead (1978). Shot on a budget of just $500,000, the film earned over $55 million worldwide and was named one of the top cult films by Entertainment Weekly in 2003. Romero made a third entry in his "Dead Series" with Day of the Dead (1985).
Between these two films, Romero shot Knightriders (1981), another festival favorite about a group of modern-day jousters who reenact tournaments on motorcycles, and the successful Creepshow (1982), written by Stephen King, an anthology of tongue-in-cheek tales modeled after 1950s horror comics.
From the latter half of the 1980s and into the 1990s came Monkey Shines (1988), about a killer helper monkey, Two Evil Eyes (1990) (aka, "Due occhi Diabolici"), an Edgar Allan Poe adaptation in collaboration with Dario Argento, The Dark Half (1993) written by Stephen King, and Bruiser (2000), about a man whose face becomes a blank mask.
Romero updated his original screenplay and executive produced the remake of Night of the Living Dead directed by Tom Savini for Columbia/TriStar in 1990. Tom Savini is also responsible for the makeup and special effects in many of Romero's films including Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Creepshow and Monkey Shines. Romero had a cameo appearance in Jonathan Demme's Academy Award-winning The Silence of the Lambs in 1991 as one of Hannibal Lecter's jailers.
In 1998, he directed the live-action commercial promoting the video game Resident Evil 2 in Tokyo, Japan. The 30-second advertisement featured the game's two main characters, Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield, fighting a horde of zombies while in Raccoon City's Police Station. The project was obvious territory for Romero; the Resident Evil series has been heavily influenced by Romero's "Dead" projects. The commercial was rather popular and was released in the weeks before the game's actual release, although a contract dispute prevented the commercial from being shown outside Japan. Capcom was so impressed with Romero's work, it was strongly indicated that Romero would direct the first Resident Evil film. He declined at first — "I don't wanna make another film with zombies in it, and I couldn't make a movie based on something that ain't mine" — although in later years, he reconsidered and wrote a script for the first movie. It was eventually rejected in favor of Paul W. S. Anderson's version.
Universal Studios produced and released a remake of Dawn of the Dead in 2004, with which Romero was not involved. Later that year, Romero kicked off the DC Comics title Toe Tags with a six-issue miniseries titled The Death of Death. Based on an unused script that Romero had previously written as a sequel to his "Dead Trilogy," the comic miniseries concerns Damien, an intelligent zombie who remembers his former life, struggling to find his identity as he battles armies of both the living and the dead. Typical of a Romero zombie tale, the miniseries includes ample supply of both gore and social commentary (dealing particularly here with corporate greed and terrorism — ideas he would also explore in his next film in the series, Land of the Dead). Romero has stated that the miniseries is set in the same kind of world as his 'Dead' films, but featured other locales besides Pittsburgh, where the majority of his films take place.
Romero, who lives in Toronto, filmed a fourth "Dead" movie in that city titled Land of the Dead. The movie's working title was "Dead Reckoning". Its $16 million production budget was the highest of the four movies in the series. Actors Simon Baker, Dennis Hopper, Asia Argento, and John Leguizamo star in the film. It was released on June 24, 2005 by Universal Pictures (who released the Dawn of the Dead remake). The film received generally positive reviews.
Romero is divorced from Christine Forrest, whom he met on the set of Season of the Witch. They have three children together. Romero currently lives in Toronto with his wife, Suzanne Desrocher, whom he met while filming Land of the Dead. They married in September 2011 on Martha's Vineyard.
He took up Canadian citizenship in 2009 along with his native U.S. citizenship.
Romero ranked his top ten films of all time for the 2002 Sight & Sound Greatest Films Poll (2002), including The Brothers Karamazov, Casablanca, Dr. Strangelove, High Noon, King Solomon's Mines (1950), North by Northwest, The Quiet Man, Repulsion, Touch of Evil, and The Tales of Hoffman. Romero listed the films in alphabetical order, with special placement given to The Tales of Hoffman, which he cited as "my favorite film of all time; the movie that made me want to make movies."
In Breath of Fire, there is a subplot revolving around a town called Romero being plagued by zombies during nightfall (an obvious reference to Romero and his zombie films).
He also wrote a script for Resident Evil, but it was rejected for an unknown reason.
- Night of the Living Dead (1968)
- There's Always Vanilla (1971)
- The Crazies (1973)
- Jack's Wife / Season of the Witch (1973)
- The Winners (1973, television series)
- O. J. Simpson: Juice on the Loose (1974)
- Martin (1977)
- Dawn of the Dead (1978)
- Knightriders (1981)
- Creepshow (1982)
- Tales from the Darkside (1984, television series)
- Day of the Dead (1985)
- Monkey Shines (1988)
- Two Evil Eyes (1990)
- The Dark Half (1993)
- Bruiser (2000)
- Land of the Dead (2005)
- Diary of the Dead (2008)
- Solitary Isle (TBA)
- Island of the Dead (TBA)