Gone but never forgotten, George A. Romero had an impact on contemporary pop culture that is difficult to overstate. Other filmmakers, like George Lucas and Martin Scorsese, transformed genres; Romero all but created one. With that said, while the director’s legacy will forever be synonymous with the undead, any discerning genre fan would be remiss to ignore his many non-zombie offerings.
Today, we’re looking at it all. These are the 10 Best George Romero Movies…
10. Bruiser (2000)
Cast: Jason Flemyng, Peter Stormare, Leslie Hope, Nina Garbiras
Henry Creedlow works at a fashion mag called Bruiser for the short-fused, dictatorial Miles Styles. Henry spends much of his day fantasizing about killing himself and killing others, particularly his nagging wife Janine. After learning that Miles is shagging his wife and that his stockbroker best friend swindled him out of a stack of money, Henry wakes up the following day to learn that his face has mysteriously been rendered white and featureless. Soon, like a mime with bloodlust, Henry violently dispatches with pretty much everyone in his life.
This was and seems to still be a vastly misunderstood George Romero movie, because at first glance it seems to break away from all of the things that George Romero is good at. Instead of a broad and sweeping commentary of our society, George instead looks within our own minds and what finally taking revenge upon the world truly does to a man. If anything, Bruiser is a grand and sweeping tragedy about a man who truly feels he has no other outlet and is blinded by his thirst for revenge and for his need to feel validated. That’s why this is such a departure for the director, because it is such an intimate film. But it deserves to be seen, and it is quite frankly, one of his finer works as he guides us through the life of a man that we have all felt like at some point or another.
9. Monkey Shines (1988)
Cast: Jason Beghe, John Pankow, Kate McNeil, Joyce Van Patten
Allan Mann has got it all. He’s a healthy man with a hot bod girlfriend. But one morning on his jogging run a car hits him and changes his life forever. He becomes fully paralyzed, he’s slapped in a wheelchair, his girlfriend leaves him for his doctor and a bitchy nurse moves in with him. His bud Geoffrey, who’s doing research on monkeys to make them smarter stops over and decides to donate his smartest test subject, Ella (also trained to help paralyzed folks) to help Jason out a bit (and to advance his research). An intense bond grows between the monkey and Allan. But when Allan’s temper begins to flare up for no reason, people he wishes dead turn up just that way and dreams of running outside, seeing through Ella’s eyes invade his mind, he knows something isn’t right. There’s some monkey business going on here…
Monkey Shines is a superb adaptation of Michael Stewart’s interesting but rather pedestrian book of the same name. Indeed, apart from the incredibly thin secondary/victims characters, a slow start and a dream sequence where a monkey pops out of someone’s chest (likely a studio insert) this flick is pretty solid. When this movie was released, it had a really bad marketing campaign. The cover was a rip-off of Stephen King’s Skeleton Crew cover (an evil monkey holding cymbals). It was advertised like a monster movie (though, its emphasis was on drama and suspense… not horror) and went to the theaters unnoticed. Well, now you have a chance to discover it.
8. The Dark Half (1993)
Cast: Timothy Hutton, Amy Madigan, Michael Rooker, Julie Harris
Stephen King and George Romero have had a long association, although that association has resulted in only a few movies actually getting made: Knightriders (we’re being generous there, since King’s only involvement was a cameo appearance), Creepshow, Creepshow 2 (which Romero wrote and produced), Tales From The Darkside: The Movie (Romero wrote the screenplay for the Cat From Hell segment), and The Dark Half.
Writing under the name of Richard Bachman, Stephen King’s twisted musing on his own experiment with an alter-ego spawns this horror tale of a writer whose pseudonym takes on a deadly reality, heralding a vicious killing spree, with all the clues quite naturally pointing straight back at him. It should be noted that, in lesser hands, The Dark Half would have surely faltered. Mr. Romero did a great job creating King’s nightmare imagery, so that the more confusing story elements somehow seem plausible. In a way, the story suggests that reality itself is carried along by its own horrors, and that we are ultimately haunted (and in some cases, stalked and killed) by our own collective, creative urges.
7. The Crazies (1973)
Cast: Lane Carroll, Will MacMillan, Harold Wayne Jones, Lynn Lowry
George A. Romero returns to Night Of The Living Dead turf in this quirky end-of-civilization thriller. The paranoid scenario involves a government-engineered killer virus which is accidentally released into the water supply of Evans, Pennsylvania, driving most of the inhabitants stark-raving mad and forcing the declaration of martial law as the entire town is placed under quarantine. This does not sit well with the locals – even those who have not yet been contaminated who consider the military mobilization tantamount to war.
The underlying cynicism and despair about individual initiative and governmental intervention reflect the social insecurity of the period when The Crazies was released. The senseless prolongation of the war in Vietnam and the decay of urban centers gnawed at the public mood, leading not to renewed social activism, but to the self-defeating narcissism that typified the latter years of the ‘70s. Romero’s horror films have always illustrated a mood of entropy. The monsters he conjured may have been figments of his imagination, but they drew attention to very real horrors. And, at a time of reality-TV presidential campaigns and daily Zika virus scares, the fabricated panic of The Crazies feels more than a little close to home. Okay, that’s exaggerating a bit, but you get the point.
6. Knightriders (1981)
Cast: Ed Harris, Gary Lahti, Tom Savini, Patricia Tallman
George Romero’s modern-dress Le Morte d’Arthur fuses medieval chivalry and post-Easy Rider utopianism to glorious effect. A travelling troupe of jousters and performers are slowly cracking under the pressure of hick cops, financial troubles and their failure to live up to their own ideals. The group’s leader, King Billy, is increasingly unable to maintain his warrior’s rule while the Black Knight is being tempted away to LA and stardom, as they all have to ask why they were here in the first place.
The brilliance of Knightriders — and it is a brilliant film, even though no one paid it much attention upon its release — is that Romero clearly identifies with King William, yet doesn’t lionize him. Like Romero’s better-known horror movies, Knightriders admires human industriousness while remaining sour about humanity. Like the wannabe vampire in Martin, King William is dangerously indifferent to how the straight world regards him. And like the little fortresses that the zombie-fighters construct in Night Of The Living Dead, Dawn Of The Dead, and the other Dead films, the pseudo-medieval society of Knightriders is inevitably undone by louts and opportunists. Unlike Romero’s other films, Knightriders sounds notes of optimism, but Romero still acknowledges throughout — with no small amount of self-criticism — that King William’s prickliness may be preventing him from achieving something truly noble.
5. Day Of The Dead (1985)
Cast: Lori Cardille, Joseph Pilato, Terry Alexander, Jarlath Conroy
Day Of The Dead is the third in Romero’s classic “dead” trilogy. While he had, to date, produced three more zombie films, Day Of The Dead is considered something of a closing note on Romero’s epic zombie apocalypse saga – perhaps the other three acting as appendices. Either way, it’s a strong little film which holds together quite well. It will never be as iconic as the two earlier films produced – The Night Of The Living Dead and Dawn Of The Dead – but it still feels like a fitting companion piece.
Set in a now completely overrun world of the dead, a small band of human scientists and soldiers hunker in an underground bunker and try to figure out how to live with the zombies rather than destroy them. Things don’t work out well. And the film’s climax, in which the zombies gain access into the bunker and get to finger-ripping, eye-gouging work, is a thing of visceral, and viscera-packed, beauty.
4. Creepshow (1982)
Cast: Hal Holbrook, Leslie Nielsen, Adrienne Barbeau, Leslie Nielsen, Carrie Nye, E.G. Marshall, Viveca Lindfors, Ed Harris, Ted Danson, Jon Lormer, Elizabeth Regan
EC Comics, to those who aren’t aware, was a force to be reckoned with in the 1950s. They had such titles as Crime Illustrated, Weird Fantasy, and Shock Illustrated. What they were best known for though, and ended up getting in trouble for, were such titles as Tales From The Crypt and The Vault Of Horror. It is within these horror comics that Stephen King and George Romero found the inspiration for the anthology film Creepshow.
Five tales of terror are presented. The first deals with a demented old man returning from the grave to get the Father’s Day cake his murdering daughter never gave him. The second is about a not-too-bright farmer discovering a meteor that turns everything into plant-life. The third is about a vengeful husband burying his wife and her lover up to their necks on the beach. The fourth is about a creature that resides in a crate under the steps of a college. The final story is about an ultra-rich businessman who gets his comeuppance from cockroaches. Everyone has their favorite moment, what’s yours?
3. Martin (1978)
Cast: John Amplas, Lincoln Maazel, Christine Forrest, Tom Savini
Everyone always associates George Romero with his zombie flicks, but if you were to ask the director, he’ll say the dark character study Martin is his favorite work. Martin is a young man who believes that he’s actually an aged vampire who must drink blood in order to live. Since he has no fangs, Martin must resort to razor blades to draw blood. A regular caller to a local radio talk show, Martin is encouraged by the ratings-conscious host to persist in his vampiric behavior. Despite his random bloodletting, no one takes Martin too seriously except his grandfather, who knows all too well that a vampire curse has befallen the boy.
So, is he a vampire, or isn’t he? This is the question in this forgotten Romero masterwork. What if a “real” vampire has nothing to do with bats, crosses, garlic and chic black capes? What if the whole “sunlight thing” is just fantasy and vampires are merely immortal beings that need blood to survive, with no special powers at all? Then again, what if there is no such thing as a vampire at all and severely imbalanced and murderous behavior is just that, and any fantasies of being an immortal night-stalker have no more basis in reality than an unrequited love for Jodie Foster or Nikes and Kool-Aid in preparation for Hale-Bopp aliens? Interesting stuff…
2. Night Of The Living Dead (1968)
Cast: Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea, Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman
“They’re coming to get you, Barbara,” jokes Johnny to his sister at the beginning of George Romero’s classic, which pretty much kick-started the entire zombie genre. Little does Johnny know that they’re coming for him too, as he becomes the first zombie attack victim (although the film famously never uses the actual word “zombie”).
In short, Night Of The Living Dead is a national treasure; shot on a shoestring budget in and around Evans City, Pennsylvania, the zombie classic stands as a crucial milestone for independent cinema, an untouchable gem amongst horror purists, and an intelligent, thought-provoking time capsule from the Civil Rights era. Not bad for a movie about corpses devouring humans. Oh, and that ending. Damn, it still hurts.
1. Dawn Of The Dead (1978)
Cast: Ken Foree, Gaylen Ross, Scott Reiniger, David Emge
That’s right, Dawn Of The Dead is in fact better than Romero’s predecessor, the equally brilliant Night Of The Living Dead. By a small margin, but still superior. Dawn was made 10 years after Romero’s first foray into zombie terrain, and the filmmaker decided to change things up. It drops all the characters and the setting of the original (which if you’ve seen Night is no real surprise) and picks up at a point where the zombie apocalypse is very quickly growing out of control, despite the apparent containment of the epidemic at the end of the first film.
Moving from shock horror to more of an action/horror vibe, along with plenty of dark comedy and satire, Dawn’s famous shopping-mall setting gave Romero plenty of ammunition for more of his patented observations on the non-zombie real world. Well, the technically non-zombie real world, anyway. Plus, this time we get full-color head-exploding action! Yeah buddy.
Let us know your favorite Romero movie in the comment section below.