We received the sad news today of the passing of George Romero, one of the icons of the Horror genre. In the coming weeks and months, we’ll see dozens, maybe hundreds, of articles analyzing his movies, looking at the life of the man himself, and looking at his impact on film and the Horror genre.
What many people forget though, is that Horror is a very subjective, and personal experience, and that’s the view I want to take on Romero’s passing. I want to share the way the man and his work impacted me.
To start, I’ve always been a Horror fan. I saw Gremlins in the theater at just four years old and immediately rooted for the monsters. I saw Child’s Play, I saw Critters, I watched all the classics. They were really just fun movies for me though, none of them inspired any sense of fear or even nervousness.
I was also a latch-key kid. My mom left for work long before the crack of dawn, and made sure I was up hours before I had to catch the bus for school, and that was when I first experienced George Romero.
It was late October, I was 13 and I was flipping through the channels at 5 AM. One station I always trusted was the Sci-Fi channel. They played classic Horror movies at 5 AM every day back then, so I settled in.
It turned out to be George Romero’s 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead. I was glued to it. Even in black and white, the blood and shadows played with my head. Everything the characters did made sense, they were all the things I could think of for what made sense to respond to their situation. So when everything they did failed, I failed. Then morning came. I felt relief and elation for Ben when he made it, only to have my heart drop when other survivors dropped him without hesitation.
For a seventh grader, that hit home like nothing else. It was something I knew, something everyone knows, that sometimes you work hard, and seem to succeed, only to have everything ripped away and be left with nothing. But to actually SEE it portrayed in such a way on television like that made it real in a way few things feel when you’re 13.
It probably didn’t help that right after that I had to walk by myself, half a mile to my bus stop with only one dingy, yellow street lamp for light and a nice thin layer of fog.
That was the first time a movie really freaked me out. I was going through the house on commercial breaks, checking locks, making sure the lights were on, and peering out the windows into the darkness of the neighborhood. It also made me extremely jumpy on the walk to the bus stop.
Night of the Living Dead showed me what Horror movies could really do when they were artfully crafted. They could be more than just fun little monster movies. They can affect you on a much deeper level, make you feel things you’re not used to and that you don’t want to feel. They give you that rush of adrenaline from the fight or flight response, even though you’re safe, cozy, and warm in a theater or your own home.
This movie was likely the turning point in my life with regards to Horror. It turned something that was just fun into something deeper and stronger. It’s the reason I write Horror now, watch Horror movies and TV shows all the time, read Horror novels and play Horror video games. It turned something that was merely an interest into a way of life. (And I can probably blame it for my twisted sense of humor, too.)
For all that, thank you George. We’ll miss you.