Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Master of Horror: George Romero

Time for another entry in my ongoing review of the "Masters of Horror" that people seem to revere as horror gods. Today I am going to tackle one that I think might stir up some controversy: George Romero. I like zombie movies quite a bit, but this is the father of the modern zombie movie. Can he stack up?

*Again, this isn't a complete filmography, that is here.*

Night of the Living Dead (1968): As is the theme with most of these "Masters", he starts right off with a bang. This is the single best zombie movie of all time. It's gritty, raw, engaging, and socially pertinent. The fact that it was made on a shoestring budget in black and white still amazes me. It looks a bit dated, but what do you expect? It's inspired all kinds of filmmakers and movies since its inception and it's the reason people know Romero's name.

The Crazies (1973): A good sophomore effort, The Crazies allowed Romero to prove he could do movies other than zombie movies. It was a nice little cult flick in the 70s and still has the ability to get people hooked today. It is being remade (the remake is due out next year), so that's usually a good sign for a movie. The movie has its flaws, but it's quite enjoyable and can still shock people even now.

Martin (1977): I happened to see this movie once a few years ago (a friend found it and rented it randomly) and I must admit I didn't pay attention to it very much. It wasn't bad or anything, I just wasn't drawn into it. What I saw from it was good but not really riveting. I think I need to revisit it, but it seems to me to be quite good. I would ask for other people to chime in with what they think of it in the comments.

Dawn of the Dead (1978): What can I say about this movie that hasn't already been said? It's a classic, from beginning to end. It's nearly as good as Night of the Living Dead. In fact, the only reason it's not as good is because it didn't come first. It's beginning to show its age a bit now, but still very good by any standards.

(1982): Creepshow is a personal favorite of mine. It hearkens back to the days of the pulp comic. Co-written with Stephen King, it's a fun ride through some campy yet creepy stories. It's a riot to see King as the farmer overgrown by a killer moss or seeing Leslie Nielsen stalked by a drowned ghost. I remember seeing this on TV as a kid and had to pick it up on DVD one day to see if I liked it as much now. The answer is yes, I do like as much now. It's a blast to watch something like this every once in a while.

Day of the Dead (1985): I know that many will disagree with me on this one, but I don't like this movie. This is where Romero's zombie movies jumped the shark for me. They went from clever, nuanced criticisms to blatant, overwrought commentaries. As Night dealt with issues of race and Dawn laid into consumerism, Day tries too hard to comment on the armed forces and the struggle for power therein. It just didn't work for me and I felt it was overrated. It's unfortunate to say because I want to like it, but I can't do it. Also, it had a talking zombie. Nope, didn't like that.

Monkey Shines (1988): I thought this movie was pretty forgettable. A guy with a helper monkey doesn't resonate with me as particularly creepy. It wasn't that I disliked this movie, it was that I just didn't care. A resounding "meh" for Monkey Shines.

The Dark Half (1993): Again, Romero teams up with Stephen King, but this time it wasn't nearly as good. Creepshow had a lot of fun and heart put into it, but The Dark Half just isn't that compelling of a story (especially a King story). I wouldn't recommend watching this because the movie just isn't really that great. It's pretty blase when compared to Romero's earlier work, but it's okay.

Bruiser (2000): Romero took some time between movies this time and it didn't really seem to help. Bruiser is an interesting concept, but a poor execution. It doesn't feel like Romero really liked it as much as some of his previous movies. At least with things like The Dark Half and Monkeyshines, it felt like he had fun making them. Bruiser felt kind of stale and forced. But at least he came back after that with a return to the zombie movie, right? After this, he made...

Land of the Dead (2005): Romero returns to the world of zombies! Hooray! If only I could cheer this movie. Again, any subtlety is lost and the idea of social commentary is put in the forefront, instead of cleverly lurking in the shadows. You may as well have spray painted "Social Classes Are Bad!" all over the sets of this movie. Most of the acting was pretty bad and zombie make up didn't even look very good. It was a disappointing movie for me. Again, I don't like the idea of the zombies that are learning, especially zombies with weapons. See this article over at Freddy In Space for a good example of what this movie looked like.

Diary of the Dead (2007): Okay, we get it, Romero likes zombie movies. This time he decides to comment on modern press tactics and how we are obsessed with violence as a society. Again, it felt like there was too much pressure to do social commentary and not enough to make a good movie. It didn't totally miss the point, as there were some redeeming scenes in the movie, but the whole handheld camera perspective is starting to get clich├ęd now (though it can still be done well like Quarantine or Cloverfield). This movie was better than Land, but overall still felt pretty bad.

So the final tally for Romero is: 4 good movies, 3 okay movies, and 4 bad movies. For me, I don't think Romero is necessarily a master, but I will still watch most anything with his name attached to it regardless. He's in production with another "... of the Dead" movie and of course, I will go to see it with high hopes (though I am not really that excited after the last couple). I like him, but I think he started to make too much of a point for commentary in his zombie movies and not enough on the stories themselves. It's too bad, but I still have faith he can churn out another good zombie flick. After all, he's the father of modern zombie movies.

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