The Last Horror Blog: Celebrate George Romero's 75th Birthday with These Non-'Living Dead' Films

The Last Horror Blog: Celebrate George Romero's 75th Birthday with These Non-'Living Dead' Films

Feb 05, 2015

George Romero

Horror icon and zombie-film legend George Romero turned 75 yesterday, so there’s no better time to celebrate the rich and varied career of one of America’s most beloved maverick filmmakers than with a retrospective of his work. However, instead of pointing out the obvious films everyone’s likely to watch this week (the Dead movies), I thought it would be more interesting to highlight some of the other films in Romero’s oeuvre. Sure, most of these aren’t quite on the same level as Dawn of the Dead – but lesser Romero still has plenty to offer to the discerning genre fan.

Happy birthday, George – here’s to hoping we somehow get another 75 years’ worth of films from you (without you having to come back as a brain-eating ghoul).

Season of the Witch

Not to be confused with the third film in the Halloween franchise (which features the subtitle Season of the Witch), or the Nicolas Cage film of the same name, Romero’s 1972 supernatural chiller was a marked departure from his zombie classic. Instead of telling a nihilistic tale about the dead bringing about the end of the world as we know it, Romero shifts gears to tell a smaller, more intimate story of neglect, witchcraft and murder.

The story revolves around Jan White, who plays a suburban housewife. Her husband ignores her, leading her to develop an interest in the occult—namely witchcraft. She has an affair and then eventually things start to get really crazy.

What makes Season of the Witch interesting is the way Romero is so subtle with the supernatural elements. It’s almost reminiscent of Kubrick’s The Shining in the way it presents a supernaturally charged situation with a lot of ambiguity. Season of the Witch often just feels surreal.

Casual fans may find the film a little quaint, but hard-core Romero fans should definitely seek out Season of the Witch if only to see how the filmmaker was evolving in the wake of Night of the Living Dead.

 

The Crazies

Romero didn’t relegate all his social commentary solely to his zombie films – he managed to infuse his 1973 feature The Crazies with a great deal of observation as well.

In the film, a rural Pennsylvania town is accidentally gassed by one of the government’s biological weapons. The result is that the townsfolk go nuts, and the government steps in to quarantine the town to keep the "disease" from spreading.

At its core, The Crazies is your typical counterculture film from the hippie days.

What makes it interesting and compelling is the way Romero presents the issues without ever taking a definitive side. Neither side is "perfect" in The Crazies -- and yet again, Romero seems to take an almost nihilistically bleak view of the world by refusing to align himself with either faction. The driving message, one that would recur time and again in Romero’s cinema, is that people have to get it together or else this is our fate. Interestingly enough, Romero still seems at least a little optimistic here—unlike his view in films like Day of the Dead

 

Martin

While everyone immediately thinks of zombies when George Romero’s name is mentioned, let’s not forget he made one of the greatest vampire films of all time as well. Martin is one the filmmaker’s most impressive – and most underrated – films.

Martin is the tale of a young man (John Amplas) sent to live with his older cousin Cuda (Lincoln Maazel). Cuda is convinced that Martin is an 84-year-old vampire because vampirism runs in the family. For his part, Martin may indeed be a vampire -- Romero keeps it all vague -- but the young man does kill people and drink their blood. He uses a straight razor instead of fangs, though.

What ensues is a tense film with numerous cat-and-mouse elements. The gradually decaying western Pennsylvania countryside seems to mirror the decay of the old values of men like Cuda and serves as a constant visual reminder of the Europe that spawned the vampire myth.

Martin is the film that really signaled Romero’s emergence as a genre auteur. A must-see film. 

 

Creepshow and Two Evil Eyes

Romero has had some interesting collaborations over the course of his lengthy career as well. Horror fans were thrilled at the idea of the Dead director working alongside Stephen King and Dario Argento.

Romero and King teamed up for Creepshow – an anthology-film homage to the classic EC horror comics of old. The terrifying tandem had at one time been linked to a big-screen adaptation of King’s The Stand, but it never came to be – and this was essentially the consolation prize. Romero and King do a great job of aping the style of those classic comics, mixing the macabre with the hilarious, and Creepshow remains a fan favorite to this day.

A few years later, Romero would team up with Suspiria filmmaker for an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe stories called Two Evil Eyes. Originally designed to feature four stories (including entries from John Carpenter and Wes Craven), scheduling conflicts led to a smaller project.

Romero’s entry, The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar, is the weaker of the two (Argento’s The Black Cat is filled with the director’s signature style and over-the-top gore, making Romero’s entry seem almost sedate in comparison) – but it’s still worth checking out if only to see what the director could do with classic horror fiction. 

 

Monkey Shines

One of the more divisive films in Romero’s nonzombie body of work, 1988’s Monkey Shines showcases what happens when an indie filmmaker like Romero winds up working for the studios. It’s an interesting exercise that never quite comes together.

Orion Pictures produced the film, which featured Jason Beghe as a quadriplegic man taken care of by a genetically enhanced monkey. Unfortunately for him, his helper monkey was less Mojo and more murderous – and the two square off in a tense fight for survival.

There are moments in Monkey Shines where the film shows flashes of promise – but they’re often countered by a series of long expository scenes that feel like filler. This is not Romero at the top of his game, but it is worth a watch just to see how Romero fared when working for Hollywood.

 

Knightriders

Maybe the most interesting film in Romero’s entire catalog, Knightriders is an audacious departure from the norm for the filmmaker. Gone are the ghouls, vampires and zombies audiences had come to associate with the director – replaced by a gang of Ren-faire wannabes that reenact jousting on motorcycles.

The high-concept piece regularly pays homage to Arthurian legend with Ed Harris leading the ragtag assembly of reenacters as they try to stick together in the face of pressures from the outside world and inside their own group.

It’s hard to imagine anyone making a film like Knightriders today – when even indie films seem to want to play it safe in terms of the stories they tell – but this is the movie I always come back to when someone insinuates that Romero was essentially a one-trick pony. There's more to Romero than just the walking dead that made him a household name amongst horror fans – and Knightriders proves that more definitively than any other film in his body of work.  

 

 

MORE FROM AROUND THE WEB:

Categories: Features, Buzz Bin, Geek, Horror
blog comments powered by Disqus
Advertisement

Facebook on Movies.com