George A Romero, Night of the Living Dead director, dies aged 77

George A Romero

LUCCA, ITALY – APRIL 07: American film Director, screen writer and editor George Romero poses for a photo after attending a press conference during the Lucca Film Festival 2016 on April 7, 2016 in Lucca, Italy. (Photo by Laura Lezza/Getty Images)

George A Romero, director of horror classic Night of the Living Dead, has died. He was 77.

In a statement to the Los Angeles Times, Romero’s producing partner Peter Grunwald said the director died in his sleep after a “brief but aggressive battle with lung cancer”.
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Night of the Living Dead, a micro-budget zombie film combining horror and social satire, which Romero co-wrote with John Russo, was released in 1968 and became a cult classic. It spawned a series: Dawn of the Dead (1978), Day of the Dead (1985), Land of the Dead (2005), Diary of the Dead (2007) and Survival of the Dead. The last was released in 2009.

Romero was born in the Bronx, in New York City, on 4 February 1940, to a Cuban father and a Lithuanian-American mother. He began his filmmaking career as a commercial director before finding his niche in horror. Indelibly associated with the zombie movie, he came to be seen as a master of the entire genre.

The label did not weigh heavy. In an interview with the AV Club in 2008, Romero said: “Everybody asks Stephen King how he feels about Hollywood ruining his books, and the first thing he says is, ‘The books aren’t ruined. Here they are, on the shelf behind me.’ And I sorta feel the same way. My stuff is my stuff. Sometimes it’s not as successful as some of the other stuff. But it’s my stuff.”

In a 2014 interview with NPR, Romero said he “never expected” his career to be defined by zombies. “All I did was I took them out of ‘exotica’ and I made them the neighbors,” he said, pointing to the success of his uncanny and chilling films that used terrifying effects, makeup and cuts to satirise consumerism, racism and other social horrors. “I thought there’s nothing scarier than the neighbors!”

The year before, Romero told the Daily Telegraph his films “may have started the ramp” in terms of zombie films being seen as money-making propositions.

“I used to be the only guy in the playground,” he said. “Now, my God. I do think the popularity of the creature has come from video games, not film.

“Zombieland, which was relatively recent, was the first zombie film to break $100m at the box office, and therefore got Hollywood interested. The [2004] remake of Dawn of the Dead did about $75m, so I think that may have started the ramp. And then Zombieland and now, of course, World War Z. But dozens of hugely popular video games have had a bigger impact.”

Romero operated on budgets that shrank in comparison to such profits: Dawn of the Dead cost $114,000 and Dawn of the Dead, its widely loved sequel, was made for just $500,000. He was a co-writer on the Zack Snyder-directed 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, which cost $28m and ended up taking several times more worldwide.

He also discussed with the Telegraph why he didn’t like The Walking Dead, the zombie TV hit that continues at the same time as a spin-off, Fear the Walking Dead, and which he described as “a soap opera with a zombie occasionally”.

King was among many tributes to Romero on social media on Sunday.