Whatever else you might say about George Romero, it’s hard to accuse the guy of just repeating himself. After making his reputation as progenitor of the zombie movie in 1968 with Night of the Living Dead, a bleak, Vietnam-era American nightmare, he upped the ante in 1978 with the blatantly satirical Dawn of the Dead, a critique of consumer culture that shifted easily between slapstick farce and the grimmest of horror-movie imagery. His 1985 follow-up, Day of the Dead, was hobbled by budgetary problems, but it offered an ambitious and ultimately depressing perspective on the Reagan-era military-industrial complex.
After too many years away from the
camera, George Romero, in his advanced years, is enjoying a vigorous
second wind. It’s Romero, of course, who defined the contemporary
zombie movie (even though he still insists that he wasn’t aware, at
the time, that his I Am Legend-inspired Night of the Living Dead had
anything to do with zombies), and as zombie movies have grown ever
more commercial and crass, it’s Romero’s legacy — exemplified in the
great Dawn of the Dead and culminating in 1985’s Day of the Dead —
that they’ve been systematically departing from. Romero proved he
still had some stuff with Land of the Dead, in 2005, which dramatized
issues of class in the U.S. against a backdrop that was simultaneous heavily
suggestive of the Iraq War. It was the biggest budget he had ever
worked with, and to some degree the new, ultra-low-budget Diary of
the Dead represents his retreat from Hollywood sensibilities.