George Romero was an independent who never took no for an answer. He pulled himself out of the advertising and TV ghetto and created a niche for himself, beholden to nothing but his own stylistic whims and fancies. He invented zombies and zombies, for lack of a less hackneyed way of putting it, invented me.
After watching and becoming obsessed with "Dawn of the Dead," I wrote zombie short stories in class, I made it my goal to watch every zombie film ever made, taught a class in high school on their cultural importance to some of my friends, and have made two zombie films. Romero's Pennsylvania, so thoroughly catalogued in his early features, was my Pennsylvania. I wanted to be part of that continuum, to play cinematically in his sandbox, because he made dark, unyielding critiques of the American condition, but he made it look so unabashedly fun. Filmmaking was an adventure and I wanted to take part. I've watched "Dawn of the Dead" more times than I can count on one hand and it's made an enormous impact on every aspect of my life.
I saw Romero's final film in Philadelphia, the setting of "Dawn's" harrowing opening sequences. My girlfriend threw up in the parking lot afterwards so clearly Romero's powers hadn't diminished in his old age. Critics tore it to pieces and Romero never directed again, perhaps fearing he'd outlived his relevance. "Survival of the Dead" is not a film that looked or felt like anything else being made in 2009, and for that we should be grateful. He didn't remind me of anyone but himself, the fearless innovator tearing up swathes of cinematic landscape. I'll miss him everytime I pick up a camera, remembering who I was when I first found his films, like a beacon directing me toward the life I've lived.