While known by many as the mind behind Night of the Living Dead, Romero created more than just zombie splatterfests. What set the filmmaker apart was his ability to inject social satire into his work while retaining the visceral scares and ghoulish visions horror fans love.
In celebration of Romero's life, we rounded up some of his greatest works. Below, you’ll find six of his best films, from the iconic to the criminally underrated.
Rest in peace, George—and thanks for the bloody good times!
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Romero’s first movie is also his most successful, most famous, and most beloved. Night of the Living Dead popularized the idea of the living dead, which was, at the time, largely associated with Haitian folklore.
Night of the Living Dead is also famous for its protagonist. Even today, it's uncommon to see a black man as the hero of a horror film. Romero critiqued the Vietnam War, the media, the government, and American race relations in one truly terrifying film.
The Crazies (1973)
In the five years before Romero got back to the zombies, he took some very interesting detours. The Crazies is, in some ways, a zombie-style movie. Like Night of the Living Dead, it includes one group of sick (or dead) people attempting to bring down the protagonists. The original leans heavier on the social critique, while a 2010 remake, written but not directed by Romero, goes more for the horror and gore. Pick your poison.
1978 was a good year for Romero. Martin is the story of an idiosyncratic vampire who doesn’t really believe that he is a vampire. He just has a sickness that compels him to drink human blood, that’s all. His granduncle could not disagree more. He believes that Martin is Nosferatu. Things quickly go south, as Martin gets hungrier and more interested in “the sexy stuff”, in his words.
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
The first sequel to Night, Dawn of the Living Dead is considered a horror classic. Some critics even prefer it to its predecessor. The makeup and special effects in this movie take a huge step forward—while the exploding ‘headshot’ is one of the most beloved horror sequences in history.
Day of the Dead (1985)
Romero got a much, much bigger budget for the third installment of the Living Dead series, giving this film even better effects and sets. Tom Savini, the prosthetic and makeup specialist for many of Romero’s films, won a second Saturn award for Day of the Dead’s incredibly detailed zombies. In this installment, scientists are attempting to tame the zombies. When they fail, things get ugly.
Monkey Shines (1988)
Perhaps the weirdest of Romero’s movies, Monkey Shines is also one of the most divisive. Corporate changes to Romero’s script made the film very different from his intentions, including a tacked on happy ending. Monkey Shines features a man who has lost the ability to walk and a monkey that can read his mind—primarily, the violent and base instincts in the young man’s mind. Although it’s a bit overlong due to studio interference, Monkey Shines is a creepy film that manages to make a very cute monkey very scary.
These films provide a glimpse at what made Romero a horror movie titan. Remakes of his films surface regularly, and promise to continue after his death. Even now, another Romero-written film, Road for the Dead, is supposedly on its way. Clearly, the man's influence will be felt—and enjoyed—for years to come.
Featured photo: Wikimedia Commons. Other photos: Still from "Night of the Living Dead" via Wikimedia Commons; Still from "The Crazies" via Cambist Pictures; Still from "Martin" via Obsidian Film, Still from "Dawn of the Dead" via Laurel Group Inc.; Still from "Day of the Dead" via Laurel Entertainment Inc.; Still from "Monkey Shines" via Orion Pictures.