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TRIBUTE: GEORGE A. ROMERO (3 of ?)

RIP George A. Romero

“They're coming to get you, Barbara.”
It's maybe one of the most famous, and chilling lines in horror. From one of the most groundbreaking movies in the history of horror cinema, Night of the Living Dead by director George A. Romero. We lost George this week, and it's a loss that has shaken the world of horror. If you are a newer horror fan, maybe you don't know the name, but you should. Maybe you're a fan of The Walking Dead, but not really a horror fan, well you should know Mr. Romero's name. The modern zombie only exists because of George A. Romero.
Before Romero, zombies were basically lumbering, undead servants. Their menace was limited to lurching about, choking, and throwing their victims. They were creatures of Caribbean folklore that might strike fear into the superstitious locals but not so much on the big screen. George Romero changed all that; he took the shambling undead and instilled them with one of our great taboos: cannibalism. Now Romero has famously said he had no intention of making a zombie movie, no thoughts of forever changing horror history. Whatever his intentions, that's exactly what he did. Over the years zombies have evolved and changed, brain-eating, running zombies, rage zombies, virus zombies, but none of that would have been possible without Romero. Every zombie film, from 28 Days Later to Return of the Living Dead, every TV show from The Walking Dead to iZombie, every video game from Resident Evil to Lollipop Chainsaw, every damn one can trace its existence back to Mr. Romero.
Romero was more than just Night of the Living Dead. He followed this game changer with another classic, Dawn of the Dead. Years later he continued with Day of the Dead. Then, when everyone thought he was finished, he launched his big budget Land of the Dead and then came back with the much maligned (unfairly, in my opinion) Diary of the Dead. Outside the zombie subgenre, he created horror classics such as Creepshow, Martin, and The Dark Half, cult favorites like Knight Riders and The Crazies, and the occasional misfire like Season of the Witch and Survival of the Dead.
But that's all about his movies. There have probably been a thousand articles, blogs, and news stories about Romero's movies and his importance to horror. There could easily be 1,000 more, most of them better than anything I could write about his legacy. Nah, I really want to talk about the man and my encounters with him. Now I won't lie and insult the hard core fans of the dead series. That's not fair to them. As much as I love his zombie classics, I was never the biggest fan by any means, and he wasn't my favorite director. However, if Romero did a movie, I watched it, and usually I enjoyed it. So I passed up a chance to meet him at least once. Mostly because I absolutely hated waiting in line, and at conventions George Romero always had a line. I'm glad I overcame that to meet the man once.
The first time I saw him in real life was at the Horrorfind convention in Hunt Valley, Maryland. It was around 2006 or 2007. I was sitting by the pool with friends late in the evening just after dark. We were joking, chatting and drinking adult beverages and someone noticed him and poked me. I looked and there he was. He was so much taller than I had imagined from seeing him on television and in photos. He towered above the person he was talking too, wearing, as best I can remember a dark green or teal shirt and slacks, and the vest, and the coke bottle glasses. He didn't look like a man who had changed horror forever. He looked more like a hippie with his long, graying ponytail, but you felt his presence. It was only a brief passing moment, but you knew you were in the vicinity of horror royalty. This was someone who redefined the genre.
I didn't “officially” meet him that year. It was a year or two later, at the Full Moon Tattoo and Horror Festival in Nashville, TN. I went with the full intention of meeting him, but once again the line was unbelievable. Rightfully so. And I talked myself out of it. Luckily, I really wanted to meet him, so I kept popping by. Finally. I found the line had gotten shorter, so I jumped in. Only to find the line was short because George had went out to lunch and a lot of people had wandered off. Oh, ye of little patience, yeah I was impatient, too, but I made myself sit there on the floor in line until finally we got the word he was back. The line quickly refilled and started slowly moving. When we finally got to the table, we realized the line moved slow because the man, the master, the godfather of horror, didn't rush his fans.
Finally we got up to the table (me and my new line buddies), and there he was. The same vest, same glasses and ponytail, but he was smiling, laughing, and looking at his fans with genuine affection. It was the same when we introduced ourselves to him. He laughed at our jokes, smiled and asked where we were from. I had picked out a photo of him and Simon Pegg. He was about to sign, and he stopped, pointed at Simon and said, “That young man is going places”. We shook hands and got a photo with him at his table. This was back before they were called selfies, and when most celebs, including George, didn't charge for photos.
I met George a couple other times, always with friends. Every time was like the first time. George A. Romero, the father of the zombie movie, always smiling, usually laughing, always looking at his fans with a genuine love and appreciation. That's how I will always remember Mr. Romero. As wonderful as his films were, he was so much more. That's what I will take with me.

Posted by Allen Alberson

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