The Cinema of George A. Romero

The Cinema of George A. Romero: Knight of the Living Dead

tony williams
Series: Directors' Cuts
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: 2
Pages: 320
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/will17354
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  • Book Info
    The Cinema of George A. Romero
    Book Description:

    In this comprehensive portrait of horror's definitive director, Tony Williams ties George A. Romero's films to the development of literary naturalism and American culture, expanding the artist's creative footprint beyond his mastery of the "splatter movie" genre. Williams locates Romero's influences in the work of Emile Zola, the Entertainment Comics of the 1950s, and the novels of Stephen King, revealing the interdisciplinary depth of his seminal filmsNight of the Living Dead(1968),Creepshow(1982),Monkey Shines(1988), andThe Dark Half(1992). For this second edition, Williams reads Romero'sBruiser(2000) against his more recentLand of the Dead(2005) and takes a fresh look atDiary of the Dead(2007) andSurvival of the Dead(2009), two overlooked films that feature Romero's greatest achievements yet.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-85075-9
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. VII-X)
  4. Introduction to the First Edition
    (pp. 1-4)

    This book aims to introduce the reader to the films of George A. Romero along the lines of the Wallflower PressDirectors’ Cutsseries. By concentrating upon the features Romero has directed it will analyse them in the light of the social and historical circumstances affecting cinema from the late 1960s to the present day. However, this book differs from many of its predecessors in attempting to outline some relevant, but neglected, cultural and literary factors influencing the work of this director. As my previous studies concerning the American family horror film and the work of Larry Cohen have revealed,...

  5. Introduction to the Second Edition
    (pp. 5-8)

    Much has occurred since the first appearance of this book. Over the past seven years, the career of George A. Romero has risen like a phoenix from the ashes of a mostly moribund American cinema. Far from remaining in further inactivity and subjected to misguided descriptions of a talent who had long ago reached his peak as a result of different industrial production circumstances contrasting with those that existed at the beginning of his directing career, Romero has separated himself from a corporate dominated Hollywood studio system no longer sympathetic to the type of film he makes. He has relocated...

  6. CHAPTER ONE A Director and His Traditions
    (pp. 9-25)

    Although hailed as the director ofNight of the Living Dead(1968), a film popularly associated with initiating the gore and special effects syndrome affecting contemporary horror films such asScream(1997) andI Know What You Did Last Summer(1998), the name of George A. Romero really owes much to that relatively brief moment of independent commercial cinema of the 1960s and 1970s. Stimulated by the success ofEasy Rider(1969), many major studios invested and distributed early works of newcomers such as Dennis Hopper, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. The era also saw the emergence of a renaissance...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Night of the Living Dead
    (pp. 26-37)

    Night of the living deadhas long been associated with the derogative term ‘splatter movie’. It is now popularly regarded as the film which introduced gore and special effects into the contemporary horror film, a genre now almost entirely devoid of social meaning and dependent upon gratuitous sensationalism. However,Night of the Living Deadis much more than a mere horror film. As well as being a key work of independent low-budget cinema, it also combines several important cultural traditions such as the grotesque aspect of literary naturalism and the thematic traditions of 1950s EC Comics in terms of a...

  8. CHAPTER THREE There’s Always Vanilla
    (pp. 38-51)

    Until its recent re-release on video,There’s Always Vanilla(akaThe Affair) was a ‘lost’ film. Despite its status as the picture followingNight of the Living Dead, it was unavailable for many years and only officially available in brief extracts on the laserdisc version of its predecessor. Romero regards the film as both an artistic and commercial failure. After gaining recognition as the innovator of a new type of generic product, Romero did not wish to be stereotyped as a horror film director and attempted to show that he could make other types of films also. Despite its independent,...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Jack’s Wife
    (pp. 52-64)

    Likethere’s always Vanilla, Jack’s Wifebecame another of Romero’s ill-fated ventures that sought to break away from horror films. Although it touches on supernatural elements, they are less important than its affinity with issues raised explicitly in his previous film, namely a person’s unsuccessful attempt to break away from particular modes of individual and social entrapment and move towards a new form of existence. Shot in 1972 with a small crew on 16mm and later blown up into 35mm, the film suffered from budget problems affecting both production and post-production. After attempting to make a film originally budgeted at...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE The Crazies
    (pp. 65-79)

    As a moderately successful Romero film,The Craziesremains relatively neglected in terms of critical examination despite its theatrical re-release asCode Name: Trixieand subsequent reissues on video. Romero described it as a rushed film lacking cohesive structure. But he also believes that ‘it came close to representing for the first time, my film-making personality’ (quoted in Gagne 1987: 56). Robin Wood also regards it as ‘an ambitious and neglected work that demands parenthetical attention here for its confirmation of Romero’s thematic concerns and the particular emphasis it gives them’.¹The Craziesdoes contain the problematic flaws cited by...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Martin
    (pp. 80-89)

    Like other films afterNight of the Living Dead, Martinhad its share of technical problems, such as an inappropriate budget and a few unpolished acting performances in secondary roles. Some viewers often expect cohesive narratives and, in many cases, react against those films which deliberately engage in breaking down divisions between reality and fantasy. However, as John Woo remarked on one occasion, such products characterise the type of film the industry attempts to force upon viewers rather than stimulating them towards cinematically creative and imaginative possibilities.Martinis not unique in questioning convenient divisions between the worlds of fantasy...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN Dawn of the Dead
    (pp. 90-104)

    Laurel entertainment’s highly successfulDawn of the Deadnot only saw Romero’s return to the zombie motifs of his first feature film but also resulted in a synthesis of many ideas present inThere’s Always Vanilla, Jack’s Wife, The CraziesandMartin. The primary colours and camera angles featured in scenes shot at the Monroeville mall represent a more assured and deliberate utilisation of the visual world of EC Comics both in style and content.Dawn of the Deadis a film which links together the special effects endemic to the horror genre as well as significant social meanings Romero...

  13. CHAPTER EIGHT Knightriders
    (pp. 105-119)

    Shot after the financial success ofDawn of the Deadon his biggest budget so far,Knightridersrepresents Romero’s most personal film to date. It is also a creative product of an industrial system often allowing stars and directors to engage in their most cherished projects after box-office success. Seen in this light,Knightridersresembles Coppola’sThe Conversation(1974), Scorsese’sThe Last Temptation of Christ(1988) andThe Age of Innocence(1993), and Jessica Lange’sCountry(1984). These all represent projects in which individual talents attempt to break away from generic and star vehicles to produce creative statements free from...

  14. CHAPTER NINE Creepshow
    (pp. 120-133)

    Scripted by stephen King,Creepshowdeliberately attempted to appropriate cinematically the visual style of EC Comics. The film promised to be the beginning of a collaboration between the two authors which would eventually lead to a film version ofThe Stand.¹ Romero and King both knew that the EC comic tradition had been a significant influence on American popular culture both in terms of alternative images of the Cold War era and its satirical and subversive views of a conformist world.² As Ron Hansen noted, Romero shared EC’s ironic treatment of fantastic situations ever sinceNight of the Living Dead....

  15. CHAPTER TEN Day of the Dead
    (pp. 134-146)

    Until the release ofLand of the Dead, the 1980s seemed to suggest thatDay of the Deadwould have been the last episode in the original, allegorically-inclined unpublished story George A. Romero wrote many decades ago under the title of ‘Anubis’. It was initially composed in three movements which roughly corresponded with the themes contained within his cinematic zombie trilogy. The first movement involved a group of people taking refuge in an isolated farmhouse as the zombie plague begins. They all end up eaten. The second movement begins some six months later with a civilian and military posse moving...

  16. CHAPTER ELEVEN Monkey Shines
    (pp. 147-161)

    Partly due to financial and industrial problems that resulted in compromises affecting the final version ofDay of the Dead, Romero officially ended his involvement with Laurel Entertainment (see Gagne 1987: 147–70). He now wanted freedom to pursue other projects. Although Romero maintained his base in Pittsburgh, he still hoped for that optimistic union between his mode of independent film-making and Hollywood industrial support.Monkey Shinesis the product of this ideal. Financed by a major studio (Orion) but shot in Pittsburgh with the involvement of as many of his creative team as possible, the film also represents his...

  17. CHAPTER TWELVE One Evil Eye and The Dark Half
    (pp. 162-176)

    After the release ofMonkey Shines, Romero virtually lapsed into silence with the exception of his contribution to the Dario Argento-produced two-part film,Two Evil EyesandThe Dark Half. The creative era of the American horror film to which he contributed much had now declined into insubstantial slasher films such as theFriday the 13thseries and the trivialNightmare on Elm Street saga. Like Romero’s zombie trilogy these films promised and delivered gore in abundance. But, unlike the director’s more challenging films, they contained little narrative meanings other than sheer exploitation. Supposedly, Romero’s association with a stimulating era...

  18. CHAPTER THIRTEEN From Bruiser To Land of the Dead
    (pp. 177-194)

    It is an inescapable and unfortunate characteristic of any film industry that a director becomes indelibly associated with a particular genre, especially one in which he made his name. While John Woo is now mainly known as an action director, despite wishing to diverge into other fields and make a musical, Romero will always be linked with the zombie movie in the industrial and popular mind, a format he has been most instrumental in developing. Despite his creative versatility and his production of different types of films such asKnightridersand Bruiser, Romero will find it difficult to escape the...

  19. CHAPTER FOURTEEN Diary of the Dead
    (pp. 195-214)

    On its release,Diary of the Deadencountered more adverse circumstances than those facingLand of the Dead. Evidently, Romero did not intend to repeat himself, nor was he going to surrender to the Hollywood studio system.Land of the Deadhad a bigger budget, studio support, theatrical distribution, and planned DVD release (including scenes not featured in the original version such as Cholo dealing with a suicide in the vicinity of Kaufman’s apartment).¹ By contrastDiary of the Deadwas treated shoddily by the Harvey Weinstein Company. Written and directed by Romero and co-produced by his partner, Peter Grunwald,...

  20. CHAPTER FIFTEEN Survival of the Dead
    (pp. 215-233)

    As i write, Romero’s sixth entry in his zombie series is circulating on DVD in England. It gained a VOD (Video on Demand) release in North America at the end of April followed by a limited theatrical exposure in May. The mode of distribution resembles that of its predecessor, intimating that this latest instalment in Romero’s zombie saga is not regarded as good box office in an age of undemanding and undiscriminating audiences. Internet sites reveal divided opinions among bloggers. They range from those who respect the film’s intentions and others who regard it as another disappointment from a director...

  21. Epilogue
    (pp. 234-238)

    At the present moment, no conclusion can be written about the work of George Romero, in thankful contrast to the first edition. He has moved to a different location, where he can creatively continue his own type of cinema that reflects not only the best of that independent commercial cinema of the 1970s but also one that reflects unconsciously the influence of many traditions, both past and present. His films reveal the tragic absurdity of a twentieth-century condition recognized in the novel of Joseph Conrad by Thomas Mann, who commented that ‘the striking feature of modern art is that …...

  22. APPENDIX ONE: The Romero Screenplays and Teleplays
    (pp. 239-248)
  23. APPENDIX TWO: Chronology
    (pp. 249-252)
  24. NOTES
    (pp. 253-270)
  25. FILMOGRAPHY
    (pp. 271-278)
  26. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 279-284)
  27. INDEX
    (pp. 285-310)