I first discovered Romero's first film when I was in the 3rd grade around 1979. I was browsing book titles at the school book fair and had the novelization of Star Wars in my hand. I was about to plop down my $3 for the book when an issue of Weird Tales caught my eye. Now I may be a little fuzzy but I'm pretty sure it was Weird Tales. I flipped through the magazine and quickly came across a still shot that made me stop a moment. What were these people doing shambling across the porch of an old house? They looked like they were trying to get into the house. I remember reading the caption on the black and white still and seeing the word "zombie" and the title "Night of the Living Dead". I decided that Star Wars would be taking a back seat to this little magazine that I had discovered, thus cementing my love for Horror and not Science Fiction. I love both by the way but Horror caught my heart first.
I then rented Dawn of the Dead, which took a few tries since it was not rated and the lady at the store wasn't keen on me renting it. I was finally able to snag a copy home when one of the teenagers was manning the front desk and thought it would be cool to let a kid rent a zombie flick. Again Romero obliterates your brain within the first 10 minutes. The world has gone to hell and Romero has set the tone for the rest of the entire film.
I don't remember what store I found it in but Document of the Dead (1985) completely blew me away when I rented it around the same time that Day of the Dead (1985) had been released to home video. This documentary is the best documentary on Romero in my opinion. It follows him around the shooting of Dawn and of Day of the Dead. It also offers a look into Romero's early work on television commercials and some of his other films that at the time I wasn't familiar with. I had seen The Crazies (1971) before seeing this documentary but hadn't heard of Season of the Witch (1973) or Martin (1977). Of course now I was prompted to hunt them down and hunt them down I did. This documentary really showed me who George was. Who would have thought this scarf wearing, chain smoking, jovial man was responsible for so much zombie mayhem I had seen on my TV screen? Seeing this side of the man made me like him even more.
Over the years more Romero movies would hit the theater screens. Monkey Shines (1988), Two Evil Eyes (1990) and The Dark Half (1993). Things got quiet through the rest of the 90's though. Romero was slated to direct a film adaptation of the hit video game Resident Evil but that fizzled out and it went on to someone else. Romero returned to the big screen with Bruiser (2000) but the film didn't receive a big release but found it's place on home video and remains a very interesting and odd film even by Romero standards. Finally in 2005 Land of the Dead hit the screens and was a nice return to zombie form for Romero. More zombie films would come afterwards but with limited theatrical run and mostly straight to DVD, Diary of the Dead (2008) and Survival of the Dead (2010). Each film had Romero's stamp on it. Romero's use of social commentary and his ability to pit human against human as the main threat is unmatched.
I've tried not to present a play by play on each Romero film and believe me it's a hard task because all his films have had some kind of effect on me. Somehow I left out Creepshow (1982)! That is one of Romero's greatest non zombie films. But the bottom line is this; George Romero was an innovative film maker. A man who loved film and loved being part of every aspect of film making. His films have had an impact on me in some way or another. I will always thank him for that. While I never ventured farther than my own video camera, I enjoyed putting little fun short horror films together with my friends as a teenager. Every time I looked through the lens I envisioned myself as being Romero. I would try and remember some of the things Romero would do and try to emulate that somewhat. When I think about it, I'm pretty sure I failed at it. HA HA! But the influence was there.
With that I just want to say thank you George. May you rest in peace.