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Horror icon George A. Romero passes away at 77 years old

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A staple of the horror community for roughly 50 years and the inventor of the modern zombie as we now know it, George A. Romero passed away yesterday evening after losing his battle with cancer.

Late on Sunday, it was confirmed that Romero passed away after a short, intense battle with lung cancer. The film icon leaves behind a legacy that suitably fits his larger than life character, with his work remaining as important to the horror genre now as it was on release nearly 50 years ago. Manager Chris Roe released a statement in light of the tragedy, announcing:

“Legendary filmmaker George A. Romero passed away on Sunday July 16, listening to the score of The Quiet Man, one of his all-time favorite films, with his wife, Suzanne Desrocher Romero, and daughter, Tina Romero at his side.”

“He died peacefully in his sleep, following a brief but aggressive battle with lung cancer, and leaves behind a loving family, many friends, and a filmmaking legacy that has endured, and will continue to endure, the test of time.”

Recognised as the grandfather of gore and the master of all things undead, Romero truly breathed new life into the zombie film with his cult creation Night of the Living Dead (1968). Previously known as living victims of Voodoo in classics such as White Zombie (1932) and I Walked with a Zombie (1943), the undead monsters were never depicted as the cannibalistic corpses we now know and love until Romero sunk his teeth into the trope and turned it into something spectacular.

Night of the Living Dead was originally seen as too gory for the heavily censored audiences of the 60s - garnering disapproval from many critical sources. But like a weed amongst the flowerbeds, the ugly portrayal of life vs. death persevered and grew stronger with a fanatic cult audience. Horror film never knew it needed Romero until he came along, and his mark on the industry has been an everlasting one, changing our perception of monsters, and ourselves, ever since.

With a budget of $114,000, the film made $30m at the box office and was followed by five sequels and two remakes – as well as kickstarting Romero’s career. Since the late 1960s, Romero has churned out plenty of cult classics, working with Stephen King on comic-book anthology film Creepshow (1982) and the small town bioweapon breakout in The Crazies (1973), which was remade with Romero’s aid in 2010.

His other films include jousting motorcyclists in Knightriders (1981), housewives turned coven sisters in Season of the Witch (1972), and a quadriplegic man ruled by his helper monkey in the incredibly creepy Monkey Shines (1988).

The only film to surpass his breakout horror flick Night of the Living Dead was its sequel, Dawn of the Dead (1978), which also received a remake in 2004. The Dead franchise is definitely Romero’s most impressive and expansive work that he leaves behind, with not only an entire genre crafted from his dark imagination, but a stark social commentary woven in between the bloodthirsty cadavers.

A black protagonist in his first film survives being devoured in a zombie outbreak, only to be shot by his mistaken rescuers. A claustrophobic capitalist nightmare – a.k.a. a shopping centre – acts as the setting for the second film, plagued by aggressive consumerism as much as by the walking dead. It would be safe to say that from these examples alone, Romero had opinions on who the real monsters were in his films.

In any case – the master of the undead has certainly left a legendary filmography in his wake. If his movies are anything to go by, we can be certain that his death doesn’t mark the end for George A. Romero. His work will continue to live on and inspire generations of horror fans by its sheer importance to the history of the genre, as well as his latest collaborative writing effort coming to screens later this year, in Day of the Dead.

As bizarre as it may seem to the man that brought zombies to our screens: Rest in peace, Mr Romero.

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