Director George A. Romero in 2011.

Image: Marco Ugarte/AP/REX/Shutterstock

The man who kicked off the popularization of the modern zombie genre, director George A. Romero, has died at the age of 77. 

His death was first reported on Sunday by the Los Angeles Times. Romero died in his sleep after suffering complications from lung cancer, according to a statement given to the paper Romero’s producing partner, Peter Grunwald. 

Romero was best known for his cult classic film Night of the Living Dead, which debuted in 1968 and went on to influence some of the biggest directors in horror and Hollywood in general. 

Although Romero didn’t start the zombie genre, his film’s impact on filmmakers tackling the idea of humanity fighting for survival against hordes of undead in a post-apocalyptic setting has the most resonance with many directors. However, hardcore horror fans know that it was the book I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson, that is the true origin of the modern zombie movie, a fact that Romero himself has acknowledged in the past. 

And while a film based on that novel (The Last Man on Earth) debuted several years before Night of the Living Dead, it’s Romero’s take that continues to be praised as the touchstone for all modern zombie fare, from World War Z on down to The Walking Dead

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