Casual and hardcore horror fans alike are still in shock over the passing of George A. Romero on Sunday evening. It’s uncommon for the death of an influential celebrity to result in a resurgence in popularity, as his or her entire body of works is examined in retrospective; the passing of Romero is no exception. Blogs, websites, and social media have been inundated with tributes and retro reviews of his works (from his most famous to the most obscure).
Romero’s career doesn’t start and end with Night of the Living Dead (though if it did, it would still have been an immeasurable contribution to the horror genre). Night became a franchise with the original 1968 film followed by Dawn of the Dead in 1978; next came Day of the Dead in 1985 followed by Land of the Dead after a considerable hiatus in 2005. 2007’s Diary of the Dead was a found footage semi-reboot and Survival of the Dead, the most recent installment, arrived in 2009. His plans for Road for the Dead, a Mad Max style zombie saga, will be continued as a legacy film.
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The mythologies created by Romero’s films remain at the core of just about every zombie film that came after it. While popular and lasting innovations like immortality and a desire to eat brains were established in 1987’s Return of the Living Dead, they’re extensions Romero’s vision. 28 Days Later, while not technically a zombie film, was nonetheless vastly influential in the subgenre; many 21st Century filmmakers incorporated aspects the film’s rabid sickies to traditional undead shamblers—and the subgenre has never been the same.
Still, there are plenty of filmmakers who are making modern zombie movies with direct ties to Romero’s tropes, and this list is for them. Obviously, I won’t be including remakes of Romero movies, as the connection there is obvious. Have a read and let us know what you think in the Comments section. What are some other 21st Century horror movies with major Romero influences? Let’s discuss!
The Battery (2013, Directed by Jeremy Gardner)
Official Synopsis: Forced together by a zombie apocalypse, two former baseball players (Jeremy Gardner, Adam Cronheim) find their relationship becoming strained as they struggle to survive each day.
The Battery is a tribute to Romero both in terms of the mythologies it incorporates and the spirit with which it was produced. Night of the Living Dead was, after all, a very low-budget indie film that achieved through great acting, scripting, and direction. Similarly, The Battery achieves maximum chills on a shoestring. It’s a character-driven zombie flick that examines how a zombie apocalypse can strain interpersonal relationships.
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Fido (2007, Directed by Andrew Currie)
Official Synopsis: When a cloud of space dust causes the dead to rise as ravenous zombies, the ZomCon Corp. emerges to conquer the creatures and domesticate them to become menial workers and pets for humans. Now, in an idyllic town, a skeptical boy (K’Sun Ray) finds a best friend in his family’s new fiend, which he promptly names Fido (Billy Connolly). But Fido’s control collar malfunctions and the neighbors wind up on the menu.
Fido imagines what life might have become 5 years after the events of Night of the Living Dead in an alternate, Cold War dimension. Here, we see technology triumph over the undead plague; it’s better living through chemistry when every family on the block has their own personal zombie slave. Fido is a wicked black comedy which, like Romero’s films, explores what it actually means to be human.
Warm Bodies (2013, Directed by Jonathan Levine)
Official Synopsis: A terrible plague has left the planet’s population divided between zombies and humans. An unusual zombie named R (Nicholas Hoult) sees his walking-dead brethren attacking a living woman named Julie (Teresa Palmer) and rescues her. Julie sees that R is different from the other zombies, and the pair embarks on an unusual relationship. As their bond grows and R becomes more and more human, a chain of events unfolds that could transform the entire lifeless world.
Director Jonathan Levine set the bar for Rom-Zom-Coms (romantic, zombie-themed comedies) but Warm Bodies is more than just Night of the Living Dead for the Twilight generation. It strictly adheres Romero’s established concepts while postulating a re-humanization process, contrasted against a breed of super zombies called Boneys. Classic tropes and well-aligned innovations are a recipe for success in Warm Bodies.
Exit Humanity (2011, Directed by John Geddes)
Official Synopsis: A man (Mark Gibson) chronicles his battles with the walking dead in post-Civil War America.
A Civil War-era zombie horror might seem like a comic mash-up, but Exit Humanity is the real deal, using Romero’s mythologies as a parallel for the devastating effects of war. One of the most horrifying moments of Night of the Living Dead was when the little girl cannibalized her father. Exit Humanity also explores the horrors of a parent facing down his/her zombified progeny. This is a major aspect of the film, and it’s utterly gut-wrenching.
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Shaun of the Dead (2004, Directed by Edgar Wright)
Official Synopsis: Shaun (Simon Pegg) is a 30-something loser with a dull, easy existence. When he’s not working at the electronics store, he lives with his slovenly best friend, Ed (Nick Frost), in a small flat on the outskirts of London. The only unpredictable element in his life is his girlfriend, Liz (Kate Ashfield), who wishes desperately for Shaun to grow up and be a man. When the town is inexplicably overrun with zombies, Shaun must rise to the occasion and protect both Liz and his mother (Penelope Wilton).
Not only is Shaun of the Dead an obvious parody of Dawn of the Dead, it’s a brilliant re-imagining and reinvigoration of Romero’s classic tropes. Shaun is also directly responsible for the 21st Century’s mainstreaming of the zombie subgenre. Once people saw the comedy inherent to the undead, they seemed more willing to explore the concepts darkest aspects.
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The Fog (2005, Directed by Rupert Wainwright)
Official Synopsis: The prosperous town of Antonio Bay, Ore., is born in blood, as the town’s founders get their money by murdering a colony of lepers. But the truth of what they did is concealed from subsequent generations. More than 100 years later, Elizabeth Williams (Maggie Grace), whose family lives in Antonio Bay, returns just as a statue in tribute to the founders is to be unveiled. When a mysterious fog rolls in, Elizabeth and her boyfriend (Tom Welling) soon discover it has vengeful supernatural powers.
While the idea of a Revenant, a ghost taking the form of a reanimated corpse, is a centuries-old concept, the portrayal of the ghosts in John Carpenter’s The Fog & Rupert Wainwright’s remake are deliberately reminiscent of Romero’s zombies. Their slow yet deliberate gate and rotting bodies wouldn’t be out of place in another zombie apocalypse. The Fog gives us an incredibly creepy visual and thematic melding of supernatural and physical aspects of the modern zombie.
Maggie (2015, Directed by Henry Hobson)
Official Synopsis: After his daughter (Abigail Breslin) is infected with a virus that transforms her into a zombie, a small-town farmer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) will stop at nothing to save her.
Henry Hobson’s Maggie could absolutely exist in Romero’s Living Dead universe; it also includes innovations that enhance the emotional core that anchored Romero’s work. The idea of a slow transition from living to zombie that doesn’t include death is a profound and engrossing twist, and it works perfectly in this story of a father losing his daughter. More than the other films on this list, Maggie incorporates viral elements, giving the film a tendril in medical science that adds to its authenticity.
Pontypool (2008, Directed by Bruce McDonald)
Official Synopsis: When disc jockey Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) reports to his basement radio station in the Canadian town of Pontypool, he thinks it’s just another day at work. But when he hears reports of a virus that turns people into zombies, Mazzy barricades himself in the radio booth and tries to figure out a way to warn his listeners about the virus and its unlikely mode of transmission: the English language.
Pontypool recreates the sense of urgency that made Night of the Living Dead such a shocker; the film takes place in a single location over a single day, giving it the same compact, self-contained feeling. It also recreates Nights sense of claustrophobia as unseen zombie hordes clamor to get inside. The mode of transmission postulated in Pontypool is intensely cerebral and original, creating a complex riddle that makes the film worthy of multiple viewings.
Freaks of Nature (2015, Directed by Robbie Pickering)
Official Synopsis: A teenager (Nicholas Braun), a vampire (Mackenzie Davis) and a zombie (Josh Fadem) join forces to battle an alien invasion in their once-peaceful town.
Pure horror bubble gum, Freaks of Nature imagines a town where humans, zombies, and vampires live side-by-side in a state of uneasy peace. It’s a comedy, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t metaphors for classism and racial divides. All differences are put aside, though, when an alien presence threatens them all. As opposed to Warm Bodies which is sweet and teen-friendly, Freaks of Nature is raunchy as hell—and I like it!
Get Out (2017, Directed by Jordan Peele)
Official Synopsis: Now that Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), have reached the meet-the-parents milestone of dating, she invites him for a weekend getaway upstate with Missy and Dean. At first, Chris reads the family’s overly accommodating behavior as nervous attempts to deal with their daughter’s interracial relationship, but as the weekend progresses, a series of increasingly disturbing discoveries lead him to a truth that he never could have imagined.
Jordan Peele stated that Night of the Living Dead was a major influence on Get Out, specifically the protagonist’s struggle against racism during an even larger horror event.