Ranking George A. Romero’s Zombie Movies

3. Day of the Dead

Bub Day of the Dead
Source: Yahoo

So good they remade it twice, Day of the Dead‘s lack of success at the time of its release is almost a crime. The third film in the original trilogy, Day‘s financial failures weren’t anything to do with Romero, but rather that it came out at the wrong time. After Michael Jackson had a dance routine with the undead, the public interest just wasn’t there.

Set underground and revolving around what seems to be one of the last remaining pockets of humanity, Day of the Dead is the most sombre and sobering film in the Dead series. We’re supposed to be living in this hell with the struggling survivors, not laughing with them. Day does a superb job of showing the mental deterioration that the toil of simply surviving brings, which is evidenced most by the utterly bastardly Captain Rhodes. One of horror’s greatest villains, Rhodes is a campy, impossibly unempathetic figure of authority whose comeuppance became one of the most iconic scenes in horror history.

As captivating as Rhodes is, the real stars of the film are altogether more likable. Lori Cardille’s Dr. Sarah Bowman was a precursor to Sigourney Weaver’s strong female lead in Aliens and is seen by many as the beginning of a positive change in the way we portray women on the big screen. Sherman Howard also puts in an iconic performance as Bub, the zombie who prefers to use his brain instead of eating them, with his conversation with his aunt being just as shocking and memorable thirty years later.

However, what sets Day of the Dead apart most from its Dead peers is the makeup and prosthetics used for the undead. Tom Savini, who had been a part of the series from the beginning, showed how much he had learnt over three decades to create some terrifying, realistic zombies that no other artist has been able to match, apart from one. Greg Nicotero, the guy behind The Walking Dead‘s excellent zombies, had his start on Day, serving under Savini on the production of Day of the Dead. He paid homage to Bub in an episode of the zombie television phenomenon.



2. Night of the Living Dead

Night of the Living Dead
Source: YouTube

Where it all began. Night of the Living Dead might seem laughably tame to some now, but if you can look past the dated effects and sometimes hammy dialogue, what made it such a phenomenon at the time of its release is obvious. It completely changed the game.

For the first time ever, reanimated flesh eaters were shown on the big screen, and America lapped it up. Taking elements of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend novel while also adding what would become his distinctive spin on the story, Romero and his peers unwittingly created a phenomenon and an entirely new sub-genre. Not bad for a film that was originally envisaged as a horror comedy featuring teenage aliens.

Shot on a shoestring budget, the financial limitations didn’t stop the film from becoming a classic. As basic as they are, imagine being in the audience for the film’s initial screenings and not being disturbed by the effects. The bone gnawing and bloodletting won’t have appealed to the average housewife on the sixties, but for those with a strong disposition, Night was a masterpiece, and it still is.

Set in a secluded farmhouse which serves as a refuge for a group of survivors with clashing personalities, Night‘s true horror lies in how quickly people turn against each other rather than anything shambling outside. Racial tensions in America were at a high, so too were they in Night – Karl Hardman’s Harry Cooper serves as an allegory of the paranoia sweeping through the States while his African-American rival’s fate says all it needs to about the country’s prejudice.

It’s difficult to find any scenes in Romero’s debut that aren’t memorable in one way or another. From Tom and Judy’s death and subsequent meal for the undead to the nightmarish murder of a mother by her own daughter, Night of the Living Dead is an iconic piece of cinema through and through.

Unluckily for Romero but luckily for the rest of us, an administrative error meant that Night of the Living Dead is copyright free, so if you somehow haven’t watched it, the whole thing’s legally available on YouTube. However, it’s copyright status means that plenty of chancers have tried to cash in on the film’s name with their own terrible versions. Only Tom Savini’s, who created the effects for the original film, version is one you should seek out.



1. Dawn of the Dead

Dawn of the Dead 1978
Source: thatwasabitmental.wordpress.com

In this writer’s opinion, Dawn of the Dead is not only the best George A. Romero zombie film and the best zombie movie ever released, but also the greatest horror movie ever made. Watching it a young age had more of a profound effect on shaping my movie tastes than anything else, and I’m sure I am not alone.

From the helicopter beheading to an unfortunate elevator journey, Dawn of the Dead is full of unforgettable moments, no matter how aged and rough around the edges it becomes. Just like its predecessor, Dawn‘s showing the effects of time, but if Casablanca is as revered today as it was when it was released, George A. Romero’s masterpiece should be seen in the same light.

Continuing on from the macabre scenario of Night of the Living Dead, Dawn showed that a ten-year break from the series had served Romero well, helping him to hone his vision and themes to the finest degree. His camerawork, editing and writing had all evolved to create something that captivated America even more than Night, inspiring a generation of horror maestros in the process.

The location for most of the film’s action, a shopping mall, is instantly recognisable and one that allows Romero to rail against consumerism. Monroeville Mall initially serves as a playground for our group of survivors before becoming something resembling a tomb, which says everything that needs to be said about Romero’s thoughts on our buying culture.

Dawn of the Dead possesses the best characters of the Dead series, not just because of their personalities, but also because of what they represent. From the cocky Roger to the stern Peter, all of the characters in Dawn represent a microcosm of the USA as a whole, evidencing that Romero’s zombie movies are anything but just blood and guts.

The film has had a long-standing cultural impact that isn’t limited to the silver screen. Its soundtrack, perfectly composed by Goblin, has been sampled by Gorillaz and its setting served as the inspiration for Capcom’s Dead Rising. Its 2004 remake, while not having half the storytelling nous of its source material, was a shot in the arm for the zombie sub-genre and acted as the instigator for the craze we’re still in today.

Not bad at all for a film that was originally called “occasionally laughable, otherwise sickening or boring” by critics in 1978.


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