RIP George A Romero

I can’t even believe I am writing this. Yes, I knew from pictures that George was getting old…but lung cancer? No idea.

I remember when I was a young horror fan, and I heard about the influential NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. I watched it due to the fact that so many hailed it as a classic. However, at the time my tastes leaned more toward super gory films, so I preferred DAWN OF THE DEAD and DAY OF THE DEAD over the black and white film, which seemed too tame to me.

Many years later, I put the movie into context, imagining what it must have been like to see it at the time it came out. Oh movie going public, how can we offend thee? Let us count the ways! (And for the three or four people out there who don’t know this movie, I am going to say: SPOILER ALERT AHEAD!!!)

*In the late 60’s while the Civil Rights Movement is in full swing, they cast Duane Jones…a black man…as the sensible, level-headed, intelligent protagonist. Romero always claimed it was just a coincidence, that Jones was cast merely because he gave the best audition and NOT because a black leading man would be a controversial move. While there certainly is evidence to support this claim (see Duane Jones knock it out of the park when he talks about his experience at Beekman’s Diner), I can’t help but feel the fact that he was black and the climate of the country at the time had SOMETHING to do with his casting.

*A brother comes back as a zombie and eats his sister.

*A daughter comes back as a zombie and devours her dad, then stabs her mom to death with a gardening trowel.

*Our hero has to kill the same little zombie girl.

*In the end, our hero dies.

That’s a hell of a lot of subversion for one movie!

Romero followed NIGHT with THERE’S ALWAYS VANILLA, probably one of his most rare films. Even in this digital day and age you would be hard pressed to find it. Judging from the reviews, I wouldn’t want to bother anyway. Another flop followed (SEASON OF THE WITCH), followed by THE CRAZIES. At the time, I thought CRAZIES was basically NIGHT with insane people instead of zombies. I watched it many years later and realized it has its own charms.

Then came what is my personal favorite Romero film, MARTIN. So much has been written about this movie that I’m not sure what else I can say. It’s about a young “vampire” who has to seduce his victims by doping them up and then has to get at their blood by slitting their arms open with razor blades. The movie alternates between the present and black and white footage, which could either be Martin’s memories of his vampiric past, or they are just fantasies based on what vampires are like in movies and books.

Of course, what came next was his magnum opus, the zombie film to end all zombie films, DAWN OF THE DEAD. Enjoy it as a wild, nasty splatter fest, or invest your brain a little and ponder the swipe Romero takes at consumerism and self-indulgence. Either way, this movie is where it’s at. It also features amazing early gore effects from newcomer Tom Savini. (He also did the effects for MARTIN and had a small role in both movies.)

Romero’s movies were always about social commentary. In most of them, people try to set up new societies that quickly become as volatile as the old ones. (Examples: KNIGHTRIDERS, DAWN OF THE DEAD, LAND OF THE DEAD) However, MARTIN is interesting in that it is about people clinging to OLD ways that don’t function anymore, without bothering to come up with new ones so they can adapt to the modern times.

Many other films followed the DEAD trilogy, which originally concluded with DAY OF THE DEAD but then resumed in 2005 with LAND OF THE DEAD. Many were hit or miss, such as MONKEY SHINES, TWO EVIL EYES (a collaboration with Italian horror hero Dario Argento), and his adaptation of Stephen King’s THE DARK HALF.

Many people view CREEPSHOW as a classic, but I think its five stories are too uneven to warrant such a label, and not for nothing but there is too much emphasis on revenge-based plots. Then there is the movie BRUISER, which is such a godawful mess that I am amazed Romero did not change his name on it. According to the internet, the movie has an overall rating of 67%. The movie has an interesting premise: a man who has no sense of his own identity wakes up one day to find the features of his face gone; in their place is a featureless mask. It is reminiscent of Franz Kafka’s METAMORPHOSES, but then Romero goes nowhere with it. I hung in there and watched the whole thing, hoping there would be some kind of payoff, but there wasn’t. There’s a scene when the main character kills his sleazy boss (who was also having an affair with the protagonist’s wife), and it should have been powerful and intense, but it was just…boring. I mean, there’s really no other way to phrase it!

However, these missteps are minor complaints…mere footnotes in the career of a man who defined a significant subgenre of horror. Best of all, he did it on his own terms. Romero didn’t need Hollywood; he had Pittsburgh. He wasn’t just an inspiration to people in the horror genre; he was a guiding light for ALL indie filmmakers.

Thanks to your amazing body of work, your light still shines on, George.

The Origins of REDemption Part 1

As you can tell by the title, this is going to be in multiple parts. I have been torn between whether I should go into the background in blog form or via our Official REDemption YouTube Channel, but I guess it should be here. After all, it can get quite lengthy. No one wants to sit at their computer and watch a “talking head” for that long!

At any rate, the story begins back in 1993-1994. I took English AP with a wonderful teacher named Linda Fowler. (For every year of school, my English teachers were always my favorite…except for junior year, when the curriculum was British literature. I can’t explain why, but back then I just didn’t enjoy that period.) The class wasn’t strictly English work: we also mixed in some learning about various schools of art, like Surrealism.

This was my first exposure to a man named Max Ernst, whose art had a profound impact on me. I found him to be more talented than the granddaddy of Surrealist painting, Salvador Dali. To some that might be sacrilege; to me, it’s simply a matter of personal preference. While I did enjoy Dali’s work, Ernst’s hit me on an emotional level.

At that point in my life, my artistic expression had been limited strictly to writing. I used to draw when I was younger (elementary school age), but as I got older, I abandoned that. The only time I drew in middle school was when I was in art class. When I got to high school and I did not have to take art, I stopped drawing completely.

Max Ernst’s work inspired me to give drawing another shot. I set about composing many bizarre, surreal images using regular and colored pencils. In fact, the other day I was cleaning out a desk at home and found several of them. (I think some pictures are in order!)

So you may wonder, “How did Max Ernst inspire you to write a zombie comic?” Well, I’m getting there.

After a brief explosion of Surreal creativity, the fire died down a little for me. I wanted to keep drawing, but I didn’t feel any inspiration to create anything whacky or nightmarish anymore. Then I thought, “Why not draw something that actually tells a coherent story?”

This wasn’t that farfetched of an idea for me. I believe it was in 8th or 9th grade when, after reading Frank Miller’s THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, I really wanted to draw a comic book. So I came up with a character who was a blatant rip-off of Batman and drew several “issues.” (I bet I have these embarrassing things lurking around somewhere too!)

As an interesting aside, I wanted to mention that here we stumble upon something else that has been a key feature of every form of artistic expression in which I have engaged: when I first start out, I always rip off whoever inspired me to get into it in the first place. With writing, my initial novel attempts ripped off Stephen King. (There was a vampire story a little too similar to ‘SALEM’S LOT, and another story about cyclical evil in a small town that was very close to IT.) In music, I wrote a lot of overly complex, meandering songs that completely aped the Smashing Pumpkins.

Anyhow, I don’t remember where the idea came from, but I decided to compose a “mini-trilogy” comic, which I called “Of Forces Beyond.” The name implies that the story might feature some kind of Lovecraftian monster from beyond our dimension, but it doesn’t, so I can’t explain the name. It sounded good, so I stuck with it.

The story concerned a group of four American soldiers in Vietnam. In the opening they get into¬†a firefight, which they win. Upon examining the corpses of the enemy, they realize these soldiers have injuries that are much older than the wounds they just earned in the shootout…FATAL injuries. In other words, they just had a battle with men who should have already been dead.

Some time later, they are ambushed again, and one member of the group gets killed. However, shortly after this second fight is over, their killed comrade RISES UP FROM THE GROUND and attacks them. They shoot him…stab him…bludgeon him…but he keeps coming at them, until one member of the group puts a bullet through his head, and he drops like a stone. (Any good horror fan will recognize a Romero inspiration there: “Kill the brain, and you kill the ghoul.”) From this point on, the surviving soldiers become obsessed with discovering just what the hell is happening.

I drew the comic in 3 “acts” or parts. Each one was 8 pages long. Looking back on it, I didn’t do too bad. I’m no Johnny Carruba, but I did pretty good just the same. *wink*

Well, that’s enough history for now. Please, go back to the main page and enjoy the show!

 

~~~~~Steve G.