George A Romero was among a handful of horror pioneers that emerged in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Along with Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper, and Don Coscarelli, Romero helped usher in a new era of horror. Though Romero’s filmography was quite extensive, he’s arguably best known for his groundbreaking ‘Dead’ movies. With Night of the Living Dead, Romero completely re-imagined the ‘zombie’ movie. Following Night, Romero would direct five sequels over four decades. Each movie mixed visceral zombie horror with potent social commentary. For this edition of The Chopping Block, we take a look at how Romero’s ‘Dead’ movies stack up to one another.
6 – Survival of the Dead (2009)
Survival of the Dead, Romero’s final ‘Dead’ movie, is a bad movie. Not a bad Romero movie. And not a bad ‘Dead’ movie. Just a plain bad movie. After five movies in his ‘Dead’ franchise, Romero finally seemed to be out of ideas. However, on an interesting side not, this is the first ‘Dead’ movie to connect directly to an earlier sequel. Diary of the Dead’s deserting National Guardsmen escape to Plum Island off the US coast. Though they’ve escaped the zombie-infested mainland, they now find themselves caught between two feuding Irish families. One of those families is keeping their ‘dead’ alive, waiting for a cure.
This is the first ‘Dead’ movie that felt unnecessary.
Nothing about Survival of the Dead works. Nothing. It’s a cheap-looking movie with dull, unlikable characters, and poor pacing. Some of the zombie moments are effective, but lapses of logic are what mostly haunt the movie. Why are there two families with strong Irish accents living off the coast of America. Worst of all, this is the first ‘Dead’ movie without a clear theme or subtext. This is the first ‘Dead’ movie that felt unnecessary.
5- Diary of the Dead (2007)
Diary of the Dead proved to be a rather divisive entry when it was released. For some fans, the thought of Romero adopting the found-footage format was disappointing. After all, Romero was supposed to be the innovator, not the follower. And on a single viewing, Diary of the Dead feels like a ‘middle-of-the-road’ found-footage horror. movie. But there lots of interesting ideas bubbling under the surface of this Romero movie. Let’s face it, most found-footage movies struggle to justify why their characters keep filming. But that’s the whole point of Diary of the Dead. That is, Romero explicitly examines our need to document. In addition, Diary of the Dead touches on how even the things we record may not be ‘true’ accounts. Though it’s still a weaker ‘Dead’ movie, Diary of the Dead is thematically more relevant today than when it was released.
4 – Day of the Dead (1985)
Putting Day of the Dead below Land of the Dead may be a controversial choice. The last of Romero’s original ‘Dead’ trilogy, Day of the Dead remains an excellent zombie movie. Look no further than the recent dreadful remake for proof Like Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead has no direct connection to the earlier movies. But the 1985 sequel maintains Romero’s sense of doom and dread. Moreover, the practical zombie gore effects beat just about anything you’ll see in recent movies. And just like Romero’s ‘Dead’ movies, Day of the Dead is thematically rich. The tensions between military and science was extremely relevant with the rise of the military-industrial complex in Reagan-era America. With anti-intellectualism arguably on the rise today, Day of the Dead still remains relevant.
3 – Land of the Dead (2005)
Twenty years after Day of the Dead, Romero finally returned with a new ‘Dead’ movie – Land of the Dead. The time away from the franchise was obviously good. For the belated fourth movie, Romero introduced several new elements, enriching the series’ mythology. Thematically, Land of the Dead, with its focus on class division, was dripping with subtext. In fact, its story of wealthy elite safely living in a high-rise apartment complex called Fiddler’s Green, while the poor face the ongoing danger of the ‘Dead’ on the streets seems eerily prescient now. In addition, Land of the Dead probably has the best cast of any of the movies in the series. Dennis Hopper is a blast, and the Dead Reckoning’s crew is a memorably motley cast of characters. The evolution of the ‘Dead’ also builds nicely on Day of the Dead, adding an additional layer to the movie.
2 – Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Night of the Living Dead is one of the greatest horror movies of all time. Romero’s directorial debut created the ‘zombie’ movie as we know it today. Moreover, Romero helped shift horror from ‘old school’ Gothic to the grittier roots that would follow in the 1970s. The fact that it’s not at the top of this list speaks volumes of Romero’s handle on the genre. Even on what’s clearly a shoestring budget, Night of the Living Dead is a relentlessly tense and disturbing movie. Countless horror movies have imitated Romero’s ‘siege’ formula. And its ending made a bold statement on race relations that would have touched nerves in 1968. Arguably, Romero invented the ‘zombie as social allegory’. You can also credit this movie for giving us one of the most iconic lines in horror history.
1 – Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Yes, Night of the Living Dead is a ground-breaking movie. But Dawn of the Dead is Romero’s epic masterpiece. It both broadens Romero’s post-apocalyptic world while also whittling it down to the struggles of a handful of survivors. All of the characters and their relationships are compelling. On the one hand, Dawn of the Dead explores obvious public fascination with a social order that has ceased to exist. Who wouldn’t want to live inside a shopping mall? Yet Romero also uses his setting and shuffling ‘Dead’ to critique our excessive consumerism. The movie’s final showdown is an almost untouchable gorefest, bolstered by some of Tom Savini’s best work. Twenty five years after Dawn of the Dead’s release, Zack Snyder directed a surprisingly good remake. But as good as the 2004 remake turned out, it doesn’t come close to Romero’s crowning achievement.