I always knew this day would come. No one is infinite. Everyone bends the knee to the God of Death at some point in their chain of existence. But this one is a little different.
Some find it silly that others take celeb deaths personally. I admit that I find it strange at times too. However, the lasting impression that our artists, filmmakers, athletes, etc. leave us is anything but silly. Their personal endeavors are shared for the masses to see. We live vicariously through these efforts, personalizing and rationalizing each moment. And in some ways, our idols live vicariously through us. Enjoying the moment of inception—the feeling of being brought back to the infancy of the efforts.
It is no secret that George A. Romero was my favorite filmmaker of all-time. I worshipped his entire filmography (no matter how inane or silly his efforts may have been) and was called a “Romero Apologists” due to these reasons. I’ve been discriminated against because of how young I am/was and basically told my opinions do not matter because I wasn’t there to watch the films when they were originally released in theaters. I guess I can apologize for the fact that my parents didn’t conceive me when they were preteens so I can see the world through older and more “wiser” eyes. I never and will never apologize for being a fan of his films. Every new Romero film was an opening into his fantastic world. A world he built and shaped via the era and time of our own world. A new Romero film meant that he was able to continue being a visionary and make his indelible mark on an impressionable audience.
I’ve been into horror films for quite a long time. I grew up during an era where DVDs were nonexistent, laserdisc was the next best thing, Beta was nowhere to be found, and VHS reigned supreme. My great-grandmother (RIP) was a film fanatic. Weekend trips consisted of VHS hunting at flea markets and swap meets as well as pit stops at nearly every video rental store in town. We amassed a HUGE collection. Literally over two thousand tapes of many genres…but mostly horror. Having this library of film at my leisure, I was able to peruse without a care and watch whatever I wanted. Shelves upon shelves of fantastic worlds awaited me. And I consumed with reckless abandon.
One of my earliest confirmed memories happened when I was 4 years old. Scanning our massive library, I happened upon 2 films that changed my life forever. I remember taking both films back with me to my room (the VCR was my “tablet”) and having a feeling of trepidation…like I was doing something wrong. These films were heavy with ambiguity. Although I had never seen them before, I knew I was going to be thrown into a cacophony of visionary insanity.
The first film I watched from that double feature was Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead which I had as a Thorn/EMI clamshell VHS. Silly and juvenile by today’s standard, this film was about as insane and maddening as you can get for a 4-year-old. The gore, demonic howling, tree rape…it was all there to brutalize the innocence of a toddler. I was freaked out. But I had a great time being thrown into those woods with the man I wanted to be when I grew up, Bruce Campbell. My sense of humor owes a lot to BC to this day.
The second movie of that night forever changed my perception of film, of humans, of make-believe, of life: George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead (Media Home Entertainment slipcase). I admit freely, as I should, that Romero’s social commentary flew by me at lightning speed. I had no idea what sort of idealism or political righteousness Romero was trying to convey…the film was a garish nightmare. Even the talky parts where visceral and haunting. I was grateful that my dad was nothing like Capt. Rhodes.
The film was slick with gore. I had never seen anything like it in all of my 4 years of existence (and to this day that premise still remains). One of the parts that stands out the most is Miguel’s death scene. Although I don’t believe it to be the most gruesome of the film, the tears he streams from his eyes as the zombies tear him apart were enough of a validation for me.
The images of Day of the Dead were imprinted into my consciousness for a long time that night. And as time went on, I grew a sweeping admiration for it. I watched it every chance I could get. I stumbled across Tom Savini’s Scream Greats a few years later. Watching the movie magic tricks that went into the film gave me chills. It didn’t take anything away from the universe I was immersed in. It made me want to watch it again!
Romero’s filmography was simultaneously purge by me as the years went on. I discovered nearly every one of his film before I was in the 2nd grade. My grandmother satiated my hunger for Romero by renting/buying as many of his films as we could find. Every swap meet/flea market trip became a Romero film hunt. The Zombies That Ate Pittsburgh was one of my earliest books as a kid (the other was Jeffrey Cooper’s The Nightmare on Elm Street Companion). I started collecting Fright Flicks (yes I ate the gum) and every Day of the Dead trading card was pinned to my wall in a sort of blood-spattered shrine. Even the doubles found their way! It got to where I was removing my Bo Jackson posters and VHS ads torn from catalogs to make room for an invasion of zombies.
Its a bit disheartening (but very elating as well) to think that horror films nowadays are trendy and a part of the every day norm. It was hard growing up as the kid who yelled out “The Devil’s Rain!” whenever it started raining at school, selecting The Toxic Avenger as the super hero I wanted to be at recess, or being called the weird kid for bringing my Freddy glove and Jason hockey mask to school for show and tell. Being bullied as weird or different was difficult. But when I immersed myself in the movies I loved…it didn’t matter. I had a place I could go where I was accept. Where the things I loved the most were created by people who were once (and possibly still are) just like me.
As time went on, my grandmother moved on to what I like to call, The Beyond (thanks Fulci). And with her passing, our collection fell into the hands of others. One by one, each tape was wrenched out of my hands and out of my life. I don’t have many tapes left from that era. But I have all the memories shared with my grandmother…and George. With Romero passing, it felt like losing a family member. Maybe akin to a great-uncle who liked to tell you scary stories and play tricks on you when the power went off.
I met George when I was 4 years old. And with his visions of hell on earth, my personality was forever molded. I am who I am today because of my love for Day of the Dead. I have the friends that I have, write the stories that I write, have the aspirations I carry, and shed these tears that I shed because of George.
I knew this day was coming. No one is infinite…except George.
RIP George…until you walk again.