Legendary filmmaker and zombie film pioneer George A. Romero has passed away in his sleep yesterday following a “brief but aggressive battle with lung cancer.” According to a statement made by his longtime producing partner, Peter Grunwald, Romero’s final moments were spent listening to the score of The Quiet Man (one of his favorite films) with his wife, Suzanne Desrocher Romero, and daughter, Tina Romero, at his side. He was 77 years old.
Romero directed a variety of horror and thriller films such as The Crazies, Martin, Creepshow, Monkey Shines, The Dark Half and Bruiser. But his magnum opus was his The Dead series, a loosely connected franchise of six films centering on different groups of people who are attempting to survive the outbreak and evolution of a zombie apocalypse. The series began with the 1968 film Night of the Living Dead which he co-wrote with John A. Russo (who would go on to create the Living Dead spinoffs). The film was controversial for its depiction of flesh-eating zombies but received acclaim for the same reason, as well as its socially aware subtext. Romero followed this up ten years later with Dawn of the Dead which moved the narrative inside of a shopping mall and built on the themes of the first film. This continued with 1985’s Day of the Dead and 2005’s Land of the Dead (both of which went full-on post apocalyptic), 2007’s Diary of the Dead, which was found footage, and 2009’s Survival of the Dead.
Romero has attempted to produce a follow-up 7th entry in the franchise, but had been unable to due to what he perceived as an oversaturation of the zombie genre. He later announced that he had plans for two further sequels that he planned to film back-to-back. Back in May, he confirmed that the 7th film would be titled Road of the Dead and that he would not be directing, the first time in the series. Instead, the film will be helmed by Matt Birman, who acted as second unit director on Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead and Survival of the Dead and describes the film as “Road Warrior meets Rollerball at a Nascar race, with significant inspiration from Ben-Hur.”
Last week, in what is ultimately one of his last interviews, Romero himself revealed a wealth of details about the upcoming film:
“It’s set in a sanctuary city where this fat cat runs a haven for rich folks, and one of the things that he does is stage drag races to entertain them. There’s a scientist there doing genetic experiments, trying to make the zombies stop eating us, and he has discovered that with a little tampering, they can recall certain memory skills that enable them to drive in these races. So it’s a demolition derby with zombies at the wheels, and of course the shit hits the fan in other ways. It’s really a romp; it’s great fun, with stunts galore. This one is really almost a comedy, though it’s got scares and spooky moments and all that. It’s more about suspense than blood. While there is gore, it’s not overt; there are no big, operatic sequences where people get torn apart. There’s slapstick in it, but it’s mostly stunts; it’s quite different. One character dies, for example, in a tragic way, but was once in NASCAR and is able to come back and drive. It’s that kind of looney-tunes. It’s really The Fast and the Furious with zombies.”
The film is currently seeking financing.
George A. Romero’s mark on horror and zombie cinema have solidified him as a legendary icon many times over. Although his loss deeply saddens us all, his work will love on in the hands of his friends, family and colleagues.