Quantcast George Romero Retrospective

(July 05) by Jsyn.

This summer, George Romero returns to his most well-known and loved genre with the zombie goodness of LAND OF THE DEAD. I'm looking forward to it as much as the next ghoul, but to think that Romero is a one-trick pony is totally unfair! He has consistently made great (or at least interesting) films throughout his career and influenced countless "new school" genre directors all over the world. NIGHT, DAWN, DAY and LAND OF THE DEAD may be the legacy for which he is forever revered in the dark hearts of horror enthusiasts everywhere, but his other films show the many different facets that make up this complex and diverse artist. Take a look...


THE CRAZIES. (1973): Panic, paranoia, large-scale disasters, and the military are favorite Romero themes recurring in many of his films. THE CRAZIES was a little rough around the edges, but hey... it was the seventies. It's easy see how it mirrorerd people's fears and suspicions of that day and age. I feel This one is directly responsible for 28 DAYS LATER , more so than his DEAD movies. A small Pennsylvania town is accidentaly infected with chemicals from a plane crash that makes the locals go nutty batshit berserk, and the Army is called in to "contain" the infection. I'm sure you can guess where this is headed. Because of the rough style in which it was shot, THE CRAZIES is either something you'll love or hate. Regardless, there is no denying the fact that it makes you "feel weird" when you watch it. And I'm sure that is exactly what George was going for when you think about it. This film is actually being remade with Romero's blessing by Brad Anderson, director of the underrated masterpieces SESSION 9 and THE MACHINIST!

MARTIN. (1977): An early Romero classic. His take on the vampire genre has a grounding in reality the same way as his zombie movies do. A young man named Martin is convinced he's a vampire. He dosent turn into a bat and have a crazy widows-peak, but he does kill lovely ladies and drinks their blood! This is a really interesting film, that feels more like a character study than a straight up vampire flick. Martin is obviously troubled, and through his eyes we see "romantic" killings. Sexy, passionate, the girls practically give themselves to him, just like the kind seen in other vampire movies. Then in mid-scene, the perspective jumps to the terrified victim, which is all struggle and screaming as Martin almost pleads with them to die. Thus the genius of Romero. At once cinematic and sweeping, while still retaining elements of his documentary-style unflinching eye. So is Martin TRULY a vampire? The ending scene courtesy of Tom Savini pretty much makes that a moot point. I'm pretty sure there is a new special edition DVD of this totally worth checking out.

KNIGHTRIDERS. (1981): Perhaps the most bizarre entry on Romero's resume. This was a fun albiet weird movie about a troupe of modern-day "knights" that joust on motorcycles. A young Ed Harris debuted (spectacularly) as the Good King Billy and even Tom Savini (???WTF???) got into the act, hamming it up, doing his best Burt Reynolds wearing a studded leather speedo (???DOUBLE WTF???) as the Black Knight Morgan. Both smart and silly at the same time, this feels very much like it was made maybe five years too late, being more suited for the Seventies. It had a really loose, cool "carnival" atmosphere which perfectly mirrored the subject matter. Lots of crazy motorcycle stuff and witty dialogue peppered throughout, and lots of character development. I have no idea where Romero got the inspiration to do this movie or why, but such is the mystery of ROMERO! Don't ask questions, just sit back and enjoy this one. I totally dug the fact that knights jousted on motorcycles. Rock!

CREEPSHOW. (1982): The first of his collaborations with Horrormeister Stephen King, CREEPSHOW was comic book adaptation literally lifted off the page. This anthology practically oozed with the lifeblood of the old EC Comics, respectfully borrowing imagery and tone from TALES FROM THE CRYPT and THE VAULT OF HORROR. Zombies, monsters, creepy-crawlies, murder most foul... this had it all! If anyone remembers the Wes Craven version of SWAMP THING, you'll notice some of those same visual comic-book elements in that movie as well. I'd even go as far to say that certain little touches pre-dated the stuff Robert Rodrigeuz did on SIN CITY by over twenty years! Still scary, still awesome.

MONKEY SHINES. (1988): Another kind of horror used to slyly illustrate another kind of social commentary: science gone awry! Boiled down to it's essence, the plot almost sounds like an episode of Family Guy: killer helper monkey. But in the hands of the Romero, it's a tense, dark thriller with a legitimate threat in that little simian. After an accident, a man is left crippled and hopeless. He is given a helper monkey, Ella, to assist in daily life and possibly even lift his spirits. Unknown to him, Ella is a genetically enhanced experimental monkey stuffed with human brain cells. Ella somehow bonds with her master, picks up on the handicapped man's anger and goes knife-happy. In my opinion this was the most "commercial" Romero film in terms of style, script and casting. MONKEY SHINES is a unique, straight-up thriller with experimental sci-fi elements and one of Romero's tighter films.

TWO EVIL EYES. (1990): Romero and Italian horror king Dario Argento adapt two Edgar Allen Poe stories for the big screen. They sort of teamed up once before on DAWN OF THE DEAD (ZOMBI overseas), and on this one they made it official. While not a critical or commercial success, TWO EVIL EYES is an interesting footnote for fans of either director and worth checking out. Originally, there were supposed to be four directors adapting Poe stories (John Carpenter and Wes Craven included!!!!) but scheduling did not work out and the other two had to drop out. It's really interesting to see two great directors concentrate their talents into a more compact, tighter timeframe... it makes a much more potent brew. Romero handled 'The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar' and Argento tackled 'The Black Cat'. It's unfair to compare one to the other, you really must take the film as a whole. Both had excellent casting (Adrienne Barbeau and Harvey Kiteil!) and effects by Tom Savini. While the film felt like more of an expanded CREEPSHOW (short stories between King and Poe are in some ways obviously similar) it showcased some great work by both directors. Ideally, TWO EVIL EYES could have totally blown away CREEPSHOW as FOUR EVIL EYES, but for that I guess we have the upcoming anthology tv series MASTERS OF HORROR to look forward to!

THE DARK HALF. (1993): Another Stephen King adaptation and arguably one of the best ones, in the horror genre anyway. George really stuck close to the source material, letting the original story seep onto the frames. This movie, I think, was an unfortunate casuality at the box office because of a combination of timing and the fact the audiences were becoming tired of Stephen King movies. After all, we had to endure SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK, GRAVEYARD SHIFT and THE MANGLER. That lack of interest led to THE DARK HALF becoming an underrated work, both for King and Romero. The casting was great (Timothy Hutton in dual roles!) and the look of the film was so creepy in certain spots. It was also intellegent and well-written, without having to cop-out to cheap exposition that plagues so many lesser King adaptations. This is more a "thinking man's" horror film more than anything else. This is one of my favorite Romero non-DEAD films and it's a shame it doesn't get more recognition.

BRUISER. (2000): Here's a really interesting one that is probably the most personal film Romero has done since MARTIN. It's the story of revenge, identity, anonimity, and consequence. An honest shlub is pretty much screwed by everyone in his life for being an honest shlub, and he wakes up one day to find that he literally has no face, identity, and better yet, conscience. This complete lack of self enables him to exact revenge and get medievel on the asses of all that have wronged him. There are some great things about this movie, such as the somewhat surrealistic cinematography... and some not-so-great things like, um, the script. It was a cool idea but somewhere it got lost along the way, which is a shame. Romero himself commented on the many rewrites and unfortunatley it really does hurt the film overall. But I'm still not gonna shoot the chicken over one bad egg.



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