(NEW YORK) — George A. Romero, whose 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead, kicked off the modern zombie genre, has died. He was 77.
Romero’s producing partner, Peter Grunwald, told the Los Angeles Times in a statement that Romero died Sunday after a “brief but aggressive battle with lung cancer.”
Night of the Living Dead‘s low budget aesthetics — it was made for $140,000 and filmed on nights and weekends with handheld cameras — influenced a generation of horror filmmakers. Tobe Hooper, producer and director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, told Vanity Fair in 2008 that he decided to try making a horror movie after seeing Night of the Living Dead.
The movie’s perhaps accidental political overtones — with its casting of an African-American lead actor who not only leads the resistance to the zombie apocalypse but in the end is shoot after he’s assumed to be one of the zombies — also created a new model for horror movies still echoing today in films like Jordan Peele’s Get Out. Romero said he cast star Duane Jones not because he was black — the character in the original script was white — but because he had the best audition
“When it came out, Night of the Living Dead was powerful s***,” director John Landis told Vanity Fair. “When the law enforcement show up at the end and say, ‘Shoot him in the head,’ it was very real and current.”
Romero, who was born in the Bronx, New York, in 1940 and graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh in 1960, went on to direct a number of zombie sequels in addition to other horror films. But Night of the Living Dead — which was added to the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in 1980 and added to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry in 1999 — remains Romero’s immortal work.
“Just heard the news about George Romero,” tweeted Eli Roth, director of the Hostel movies. “Hard to quantify how much he inspired me & what he did for cinema. Condolences to his family.”
Greg Nicotero, one of the executive producers of The Walking Dead, posted a picture of himself with Romero on Instagram writing, “There are so many things to say about this man, my friend, my mentor and my inspiration. For what he gave us all with passion and fire, his unrelenting spirit will live forever. Blessed that I was honored to present him this award late April in Pittsburgh where IT ALL F****** STARTED!!!! Never ending love to him and his family.”
Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s Joss Whedon tweeted, “No one mined the zombie metaphor like Romero. (After he invented it.) No one has come close. RIP & thank you to a Great Film Artist.”
Jordan Peele tweeted a still of star Duane Jones in Night of the Living Dead with the simple message, “Romero started it.”
Director Guillermo del Torro tweeted, “Romero has passed away. Hard to find words right now. The loss is so enormous.”
Writer Stephen King tweeted, “Sad to hear my favorite collaborator — and good old friend — George Romero has died. George, there will never be another like you.”
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