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The Cinema of George A. Romero

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

tony williams
Series: Directors' Cuts
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    The Cinema of George A. Romero
    Book Description:

    The Cinema of George A. Romero: Knight of the Living Dead is the first in-depth study in English of the career of this foremost auteur working at the margins of the Hollywood mainstream in the horror genre. In placing Romero's oeuvre in the context of literary naturalism, the book explores the relevance of the director's films within American cultural traditions and thus explains the potency of such work beyond 'splatter movie' models. The author explores the roots of naturalism in the work of Emile Zola and traces this through to the EC Comics of the 1950s and on to the work of Stephen King. In so doing, the book illuminates the importance of seminal Romero texts such as Night of the Living Dead (1968), Creepshow (1982), Monkey Shines (1988), The Dark Half (1992). This study also includes full coverage of Romero's latest feature, Bruiser (2000), as well as his screenplays and teleplays.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-85030-8
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. 1-3)

    This book aims to introduce the reader to the films of George A. Romero along the lines of the Wallflower Press Directors’ Cuts series. 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. CHAPTER ONE A Director and his Traditions
    (pp. 4-20)

    Although hailed as the director of Night of the Living Dead (1968), a film popularly associated with initiating the gore and special effects syndrome affecting contemporary horror films such as Scream (1997) and I 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 of Easy 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...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Night of the Living Dead
    (pp. 21-32)

    Night of the Living Dead has 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 Dead is 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...

  7. CHAPTER THREE There’s Always Vanilla
    (pp. 33-46)

    Until its recent re-release on video, There’s Always Vanilla (aka The Affair) was a ‘lost’ film. Despite its status as the picture following Night 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,...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Jack’s Wife
    (pp. 47-58)

    Like There’s Always Vanilla, Jack’s Wife became 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...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE The Crazies
    (pp. 59-73)

    As a moderately successful Romero film, The Crazies remains relatively neglected in terms of critical examination despite its theatrical re-release as Code Name: Trixie and 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’.¹ The Crazies does contain the problematic flaws cited by...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Martin
    (pp. 74-83)

    Like other films after Night of the Living Dead, Martin had 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. Martin is not unique in questioning convenient divisions between the worlds of fantasy...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Dawn of the Dead
    (pp. 84-98)

    Laurel Entertainment’s highly successful Dawn of the Dead not only saw Romero’s return to the zombie motifs of his first feature film but also resulted in a synthesis of many ideas present in There’s Always Vanilla, Jack’s Wife, The Crazies and Martin. 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 Dead is a film which links together the special effects endemic to the horror genre as well as significant social meanings Romero...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT Knightriders
    (pp. 99-113)

    Shot after the financial success of Dawn of the Dead on his biggest budget so far, Knightriders represents 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, Knightriders resembles Coppola’s The Conversation (1974), Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and The Age of Innocence (1993), and Jessica Lange’s Country (1984). These all represent projects in which individual talents attempt to break away from generic and star vehicles to produce creative statements free from...

  13. CHAPTER NINE Creepshow
    (pp. 114-127)

    Scripted by Stephen King, Creepshow deliberately 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 of The 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 since Night of the Living Dead....

  14. CHAPTER TEN Day of the Dead
    (pp. 128-140)

    To date, Day of the Dead remains 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 through the area exterminating zombies. However, the surviving zombies find some weapons accidentally left...

  15. CHAPTER ELEVEN Monkey Shines
    (pp. 141-155)

    Partly due to financial and industrial problems that resulted in compromises affecting the final version of Day 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 Shines is 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...

  16. CHAPTER TWELVE One Evil Eye and The Dark Half
    (pp. 156-170)

    After the release of Monkey Shines, Romero virtually lapsed into silence with the exception of his contribution to the Dario Argento-produced two-part film, Two Evil Eyes and The Dark Half. The creative era of the American horror film to which he contributed much had now declined into insubstantial slasher films such as the Friday the 13th series and the trivial Nightmare 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...

    (pp. 171-177)

    In his posthumously collected series of essays, Theodor Adorno regarded the real function of art as not involving a denial of the real world. He believed that:

    Art undergoes qualitative change when it attacks its traditional foundations … and becomes a qualitatively different entity by virtue of its opposition, at the level of artistic form, to the existing world and also by its readiness to aid and shape that world. Neither the concept of solace nor its opposite, refusal, captures the meaning of art.¹

    Although a vast difference exists between Adorno’s aesthetic theory and the films of George A. Romero,...

  18. APPENDIX ONE: The Romero Screenplays and Teleplays
    (pp. 178-186)
  19. APPENDIX TWO: Chronology
    (pp. 187-189)
  20. NOTES
    (pp. 190-201)
    (pp. 202-207)
    (pp. 208-211)
  23. INDEX
    (pp. 212-216)