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Tribute: George A Romero’s films about the undead were actually about America’s living

The American director, who died on July 16, infused fresh blood into the zombie film and inspired countless imitators.

American filmmaker George A Romero (February 4, 1940-July 16, 2017) has died at the age of 77, after fighting a “brief but aggressive battle with lung cancer”, according to his manager Chris Roe. Romero, a stalwart of modern horror filmmaking, directed 16 films in a career spanning four decades. His feather in the cap was the Living Dead series, which created the tropes for and defined the modern zombie film genre.

Romero’s zombie films are particularly revered for the way they commented on American society through a B-movie perspective.

The Living Dead series began with the low-budget, black-and-white, independently produced Night Of The Living Dead (1968). The movie was a marked departure from previous productions: its zombies were flesh eaters as opposed to undead souls ambling around under the spell of sorcerers or aliens.

Most importantly, the zombies were white, middle-class people who, after being reanimated, began to terrorise their neighbours. This was a turnaround from films that drew from the Haitian zombie tradition and featured black characters. Through Night Of The Living Dead, featuring a black protagonist who is shot dead by a white policeman, Romero looked at deeply embedded racism embedded in America.

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Night Of The Living Dead.

His next zombie film Dawn Of The Dead (1979) is the most well-known installment in the series. The action shifts from rural Pennsylvania to a suburban shopping mall outside Philadelphia. Since Night Of The Living Dead, almost all of Pennsylvania has been taken over by zombies. If Romero criticised race relations in Night Of The Living Dead, he took on American consumerist culture in Dawn Of The Dead. Hordes of zombies run wild in the shopping mall where they have gathered almost instinctively. Like Night Of The Living Dead, the second installment also featured wanton violence, with a generous dose of gore courtesy Tom Savini.

Romero’s subsequent Living Dead films went on to marry his critique of American society with the elements of the zombie film genre that he either devised or improved upon.

Dawn Of The Dead.
Dawn Of The Dead.

Romero’s zombie movies spawned numerous remakes and imitations. But he was displeased with modern zombie fare, which he felt lacked a satirical edge and focused on pure action or horror. He famously called the AMC series The Walking Dead a “soap opera with a zombie occasionally”.

The director also did not take kindly to fast-moving or running zombies and the fact that they departed from their undead origins and were instead a result of a viral epidemic or biological experiment, even though he had explored the very idea in one of his better non-zombie films, The Crazies (1973).

While it was not commercially successful, The Crazies was a competent horror film that extended the us versus them dynamics that were an integral part of his debut feature.

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Martin.

The 1978 film Martin (Romero’s favourite among all his films) looks at society’s reaction to the titular 17-year-old hero who believes he is a vampire. Martin (John Amplas) wants to be free while his granduncle Cuda (Lincoln Mazzel) treats him like an old-world Nosferatu and forbids him from being his age. The local disc jockey calls Martin “The Count”, and Martin becomes a sensation in his neighbourhood.

Romero departed from the horror genre in Knightriders (1981), which looks at the trials and tribulations of a travelling motorcycle troupe. The next year saw the release of his delightfully schlocky anthology film Creepshow, written by ace horror author Stephen King. In the ’90s, Romero’s biggest contribution was Two Evil Eyes, based on Edgar Allan Poe’s stories, which he co-directed with Italian giallo maestro Dario Argento.

Romero also appeared in his films in cameos. The one outside production in which he played a small role was Jonathan Demme’s Silence Of The Lambs (1991). Romero plays a Federal Bureau of Investigation officer keeping an eye on the dreaded cannibal Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins).

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Dawn of the Dead.
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Ten awesome TV shows to get over your post-GoT blues

With those withdrawal symptoms kicking in, all you need is a good rebound show.

Hangovers tend to have a debilitating effect on various human faculties, but a timely cure can ease that hollow feeling generally felt in the pit of the stomach. The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale has left us with that similar empty feeling, worsened by an official statement on the 16-month-long wait to witness The Great War. That indeed is a long time away from our friends Dany, Jon, Queen C and even sweet, sweet Podrick. While nothing can quite replace the frosty thrill of Game of Thrones, here’s a list of awesome shows, several having won multiple Emmy awards, that are sure to vanquish those nasty withdrawal symptoms:

1. Billions

There is no better setting for high stakes white collar crime than the Big Apple. And featuring a suited-up Paul Giamatti going head-to-head with the rich and ruthless Damien Lewis in New York, what’s not to like? Only two seasons young, this ShowTime original series promises a wolf-of-wall-street style showcase of power, corruption and untold riches. Billions is a great high-octane drama option if you want to keep the momentum going post GoT.

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2. Westworld

What do you get when the makers of the Dark Knight Trilogy and the studio behind Game of Thrones collaborate to remake a Michael Crichton classic? Westworld brings together two worlds: an imagined future and the old American West, with cowboys, gun slingers - the works. This sci-fi series manages to hold on to a dark secret by wrapping it with the excitement and adventure of the wild west. Once the plot is unwrapped, the secret reveals itself as a genius interpretation of human nature and what it means to be human. Regardless of what headspace you’re in, this Emmy-nominated series will absorb you in its expansive and futuristic world. If you don’t find all of the above compelling enough, you may want to watch Westworld simply because George RR Martin himself recommends it! Westworld will return for season 2 in the spring of 2018.

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3. Big Little Lies

It’s a distinct possibility that your first impressions of this show, whether you form those from the trailer or opening sequence, will make you think this is just another sun-kissed and glossy Californian drama. Until, the dark theme of BLL descends like an eerie mist, that is. With the serious acting chops of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as leads, this murder mystery is one of a kind. Adapted from author Liane Moriarty’s book, this female-led show has received accolades for shattering the one-dimensional portrayal of women on TV. Despite the stellar star cast, this Emmy-nominated show wasn’t easy to make. You should watch Big Little Lies if only for Reese Witherspoon’s long struggle to get it off the ground.

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4. The Night of

The Night Of is one of the few crime dramas featuring South Asians without resorting to tired stereotypes. It’s the kind of show that will keep you in its grip with its mysterious plotline, have you rooting for its characters and leave you devastated and furious. While the narrative revolves around a murder and the mystery that surrounds it, its undertones raises questions on racial, class and courtroom politics. If you’re a fan of True Detective or Law & Order and are looking for something serious and thoughtful, look no further than this series of critical acclaim.

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5. American Horror Story

As the name suggests, AHS is a horror anthology for those who can stomach some gore and more. In its 6 seasons, the show has covered a wide range of horror settings like a murder house, freak shows, asylums etc. and the latest season is set to explore cults. Fans of Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange are in for a treat, as are Lady Gaga’s fans. If you pride yourself on not being weak of the heart, give American Horror Story a try.

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6. Empire

At its heart, Empire is a simple show about a family business. It just so happens that this family business is a bit different from the sort you are probably accustomed to, because this business entails running a record label, managing artistes and when push comes to shove, dealing with rivals in a permanent sort of manner. Empire treads some unique ground as a fairly violent show that also happens to be a musical. Lead actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard certainly make it worth your while to visit this universe, but it’s the constantly evolving interpersonal relations and bevy of cameo appearances that’ll make you stay. If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ll enjoy a peek into the world that makes it happen. Hey, even if you aren’t one, you might just grow fond of rap and hip hop.

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7. Modern Family

When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

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8. The Deuce

Headlined by James Franco and Maggi Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is not just about the dazzle of the 1970s, with the hippest New York crowd dancing to disco in gloriously flamboyant outfits. What it IS about is the city’s nooks and crannies that contain its underbelly thriving on a drug epidemic. The series portrays the harsh reality of New York city in the 70s following the legalisation of the porn industry intertwined with the turbulence caused by mob violence. You’ll be hooked if you are a fan of The Wire and American Hustle, but keep in mind it’s grimmer and grittier. The Deuce offers a turbulent ride which will leave you wanting more.

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9. Dexter

In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

Available starting October

10. Rome

If you’re still craving an epic drama with extensive settings and a grandiose plot and sub-plots, Rome, co-produced by HBO and BBC, is where your search stops. Rome is a historical drama that takes you through an overwhelming journey of Ancient Rome’s transition from a republic to an empire. And when it comes to tastes, this series provides the similar full-bodied flavour that you’ve grown to love about Game of Thrones. There’s a lot to take away for those who grew up quoting Julius Caesar, and for those looking for a realistic depiction of the legendary gladiators. If you’re a history buff, give this Emmy-winning show a try.

Watch Rome Now

For your next obsession, Hotstar Premium has you covered with its wide collection of the most watched shows in the world. Apart from the ones we’ve recommended, Indian viewers can now easily watch other universally loved shows such as Silicon Valley and Prison Break, and movies including all titles from the Marvel and Disney universe. So take control of your life again post the Game of Thrones gloom and sign up for the Hotstar Premium membership here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.