Remembering George Romero

You always remember your first.

George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead was the horror movie gateway drug for this author, age 11 or so, on a Halloween night long ago, chopped to bits on Buffalo’s Fox affiliate WUTV yet still retaining its indelible impact. Sure, frights had come before (Dr Who’s creepy score, those saltshaker Daleks, and Christopher Plummer skulking about London’s East End hunting for Jack the Ripper) but this film was intentionally sought out for its scares, by a kid looking to earn his stripes in what’s become a lifelong obsession — horror.

Night was the perfect cinema accompaniment to the perverse joys found earlier within the pages of HP Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King (if your childhood differed, you really missed out).

The film was the ideal portal to transcendent frights— violent, but not excessively so (but just enough to leave you wanting more), black and white to tame the terrors ever so slightly for someone that young, and a confounding message that resonated, even though one didn’t exactly know why.

Romero’s canonical Dead movies can be ordered and re-ordered every which way, with as many unresolvable (and correct) arguments as to which is best and why. They’re the stuff of bar night arguments, worthy of any GOAT sports parley. They can be endlessly watched and re-watched without losing one iota of impact, and there’s not many films like that, especially in horror.

Creepshow, though flawed, was a rite of passage for many…The Crazies, since eclipsed by far better exemplars, nonetheless instilled a love of bio-hazard films. And for a guy who is best known for giving zombies their due, George Romero’s Martin is one of the Top 3 vampire films ever.

Most directors’ creative output diminishes over time. And his was no exception. But without Romero’s efforts, horror films would’ve likely continued to get the short shrift, critically speaking.

To paraphrase Stephen King re: Night of the Living Dead, George Romero “play[ed] a number of instruments, and he play[ed] them like a virtuoso.”

RIP sir, and thank you for all you’ve done. We owe you so, so much.

Burial Ground

burial-groundTitle multiplicity is in full effect here: the wackier the movie, the more likely a title mouthful. Burial Ground is known by its original handle, Le Notti del terrore, Nights of Terror, but also Zombi Horror and The Zombie Dead. (That last one seems a bit redundant unless you’re splitting definitional hairs; Zombies could be considered “undead.”)

In Peter Normanton’s The Mammoth Book of Slasher Movies, the author claims it’s “one of the many films released as Zombi 3.”

Whichever way you slice it this 1981 Italian horror, like others of its ilk, leans heavily on mysticism and the lingering curse of long-dead cultures.

Directed by Andrea Bianchi, best known for 1975’s Nude per l’assassino aka Strip Nude for Your Killer (again, it’s kinda implied that if you strip, it’s in order to be nude) in terms of plotting, Burial Ground makes Demons look like Chinatown.

Still, there’s enough ineffable Italian weirdness to carry the day.

Here, an anthropology professor – fertile employment ground when it comes to horror films, if not in real life – conjures up some ancient Etruscan curse at a Roman estate and pays the price.

Through some mechanism conveniently omitted, three couples are invited to the villa and are set upon by the maggot-riddled shuffling undead, one of whom looks like the restless spirit of the Abominable Dr. Phibes.

burial_ground_movieBut it’s the wackadoodle oedipal text/subtext of Burial Ground that’s made the film so memorable to horror fans. You see, one of the women (played by Mariangela Giordano) has a “teenage” son, Michael, played by little person (!) actor Peter Bark/Pietro Barzocchini.

And, to paraphrase The Bard, what a piece of work is this man! He gropes/fondles his way through the movie (“mama, mama!”) and gazes gazely forlorn stares…

It’s Michael who takes an otherwise tawdry Night of the Living Dead clone and elevates it to legend status.

“The earth shall tremble, graves shall open!”

***1/2 (out of 5)