Ranking George A. Romero’s ‘Dead’ Films From Worst To Best
George A. Romero turns 77 today and to celebrate we thought we’d revisit his iconic ‘Dead‘ series and rank them, from worst to best.
Often considered the “Godfather of the Dead” Romero revolutionized the zombie genre with his 1968 film Night of the Living Dead. Zombies were a completely different beast before Romero’s film, before Night zombies were associated with voodoo and only rose out of the ground to carry out the demands of a development priest, he transformed them into insatiable killing machines who existed for no purpose other than to consume the flesh of the living.
Romero’s early films paved the way for the flood of zombie movies, television shows, comics books and video games that have appeared to reach critical mass in the last ten or so years. While he may be the most celebrated director of zombie movies and the person who is single-handedly responsible for reinventing the zombie genre that doesn’t mean that all his films are without flaws. Here we go looking into his best (and worst) films over the years:
Survival of the Dead (2009)
Easily the most forgettable of Romero’s films (so much so that we had to watch the trailer just to remind ourselves what it was about) Survival of the Dead is the tale of feuding families on an isolated island attempting to survive the zombie apocalypse. Survival is the first film in the franchise to feature a character from a previous instalment in a major role with Alan van Sprang’s Sarge “Nicotine” Crockett who was last seen robbing our heroes in Diary of the Dead. The film faced mostly negative reviews and currently holds a remarkable 29% score on Rotten Tomatoes. While the film features plenty of gore and some interesting deaths it doesn’t come across as nearly as smart as many of Romero’s previous films.
Survival of the Dead did help launch the career of a certain actor who would become famous for his role in the most popular zombie shows to ever exist. Yep, that’s right, the horse at the end of Survival is the same horse from the pilot of HBO’s The Walking Dead. We were surprised too. Who knew this film actually had any redeeming qualities? Not us, that’s for sure.
Sadly Romero hasn’t made any more films since Survival of the Dead (though he did write a comic for Marvel in 2014 called Empire of the Dead which continues the Dead franchise and features vampires!). We’re eagerly awaiting his next film though it has been eight years since Survival was released and we haven’t heard news of any new projects yet.
Diary of the Dead (2007)
Riding on the wave of popular found footage films which have dominated horror cinema the turn of the century Diary of the Dead goes back in time to give us a first hand account of the beginning of the zombie outbreak. Turning the clocks back to focus on the start of the zombie epidemic was as much a artistic choice as a practical one. After his experience working with the major studios on Land of the Dead Romero decided to return to his roots and film Diary as an independent flick.
With a considerably smaller budget than it’s predecessor the idea of continuing the story beyond what we’d already seen in Land seemed far-fetched so instead we got a much smaller story set during the early days of the outbreak. While many wouldn’t hesitate to call Diary a “reboot” of the Dead franchise Romero prefers to call it a “rejigging of the myth” and is meant to be viewed as a side-story that takes place around the same time as Night of the Living Dead.
Diary of the Dead continues Romero’s trend of injecting social commentary in his films this time aiming his sights squarely at the media. Using the found footage style to make a statement about new forms of media the characters constantly refer to bloggers and alternative sources of news for the latest and most genuine information often citing the mainstream media as being untrustworthy and refusing to show what it really going on. The constant need to film everything that is happening around them is justified by the claim that they need to show “what is really happening.”
Day of the Dead (1985)
The finale of Romero’s original Dead trilogy (Romero wouldn’t make another zombie film until 2005’s Land of the Dead) Day of the Dead is most memorable for bringing us “Bub”, the intelligent zombie and pet project of Dr. Logan (Richard Liberty). Dr. Logan (or “Frankenstein” as he’s known to his peers) has been carrying out tests on zombies in an underground bunker while the world outside goes down the proverbial sink. Bub is his most prized work to date, a zombie that has remembered fragments of its past life and has been taught to perform rudimentary tasks and (we’re told) not to eat human flesh! Things don’t go to plan though when the hot-headed military leader Captain Rhodes (Joseph Pilato) takes offence to Logan’s experiments and orders them killed. Needless to say, he doesn’t make it out alive.
Day of the Dead doesn’t play up the social commentary as much as Romero’s previous films but what we get instead is a film built upon raw human emotion. A group of people forced to live together under incredible circumstances while the outside world seems to crumble around them. It sounds like the pitch for the world’s worst reality television show but it also happens to be one of the best zombie films ever made.
Tom Savini returns to ensure that Day is as chocked-full of gore as its predecessor. There is enough gore in this one to make even the most desensitized horror fan squeamish. Highlights include watching Captain Rhodes ripped to shreds as he tries to escape the compound.
Land of the Dead (2005)
The first film to be made after Romero’s original Dead trilogy Land of the Dead features the director’s signature social commentary but with a bigger budget and special effects. Set inside a walled city in the middle of the zombie apocalypse Land takes a jab at class society and the divide between rich and poor in America. While the poor live in squalor on the outskirts of the city with only an electric fence and a river to defend them against the zombie hordes outside the rich live in luxury in a guarded compound called Fiddler’s Green at the centre of the city.
Land of the Dead is the most expensive of Romero’s films and the only one to be distributed by a major studio. The extra budget shows both in terms of the special effects and cast. The film features some familiar faces such as Dennis Hopper who plays the ruthless city leader Paul Kaufman but also smaller stars such as Asia Argento (Slack) the daughter of Dario Argento, famous Italian director, long time fan and frequent collaborator of Romero’s.
Significant elements from Romero’s previous film, Day of the Dead, carry over into Land including the idea of zombies becoming intelligent. Land introduces us to the first truly sentient zombie: “Big Daddy” who commands and army of the undead to attack the city after learning that they can walk under water, and thus completely bypassing the city’s defences. Oh, and he also knows how to use an assault rifle now, as if zombies weren’t scary enough already!
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Night of the Living Dead was Romero’s first entry in the zombie canon and arguably the most influential. It transformed the face of the zombie movie and horror cinema forever. No longer were zombies the product of voodoo magic, raised from the grave to fulfil a sinister purpose, zombies were now reanimated corpses that shambled across the Earth with no purpose other than the insatiable desire to consume human flesh.
As with all good Romero films that followed Night was chock-full of social commentary. With the anti-war movement turning public opinion against the War in Vietnam and the Civil Rights Movement making serious gains across the country too many Americans it felt like the end of an era. America was on the brink of collapse and Romero brought their fears to life in horrifying detail.
Probably the most striking element of Night happened completely by accident. The film is noticeable for having a black lead (in the form of Duane Jones who plays Ben) at a time when lead roles were reserved for white actors. According to Romero they never intended to cast a black actor and had written the part as if they were white. Ben’s death at the end of the film was made extra poignant by the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. which happened only months prior to the release of Night of the Living Dead.
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
The pinnacle of George A. Romero’s work. Dawn of the Dead took everything Romero had built in Night of the Living Dead and improved on it. The stakes, the gore and the social commentary were all bigger this time around. With Dawn Romero took aim at rampant consumerism setting the film inside an abandoned shopping mall.
Legendary special effects artist Tom Savini brought the undead to life in Dead giving us several memorable images and set pieces. Perhaps the most memorable scene comes quite early on when a zombie is given an impromptu lobotomy by a helicopter propeller while the gang stop to refuel on their way to the mall. Savini also cameos as a machete wielding member of the biker gang appropriately named Blades (who would make a cameo in Land of the Dead as a zombie).
And who can forget that score? Composed by Italian prog rock band Goblin (who also wrote the score for co-producer Dario Argento’s surreal masterpiece Suspria) the score is probably one of the highlights of the film and gives it a foreboding yet playful feel.
Dawn of the Dead hasn’t been surpassed since and despite a plethora of imitators and copy-cats (including an action-orientated remake in 2004) still stands out as one of the pinnacles of the zombie genre. Dawn‘s lasting appeal is a testiment to Romero’s skills as a writer and director and has rightly earned him his title of Master of Horror.
That’s our list. Do you agree? Think another Romero film is deserving of the top spot? Let us know in the comments below!