In a letter on his personal website, “Baby Driver” director Edgar Wright shared some fascinating memories of “Night of the Living Dead” director George Romero, who died yesterday after a brief battle with lung cancer. The highly beloved and influential “father of zombie movies” was a major inspiration for Wright, who came to prominence with “Shaun of the Dead,” a zombie comedy that announces its heavy Romero influence in its very title. “I was a true devotee to all things Romero,” said Wright. “To us, his was the only opinion that mattered.”
Wright recalled in vivid detail the first time he spoke to Romero on the phone, when he called to tell Wright “Shaun of the Dead” was “an absolute blast.” That became the only promotional quote they used for the film. “I frequently think back to this…as the moment my life truly changed and the world got smaller,” said Wright. Later, Wright and co-writer Simon Pegg were thrilled to meet their idol when the duo shot brief cameos in “Land of the Dead” (2005). “Meeting the man himself was just amazing, as anyone who knew him will attest how funny, smart and genial he was.”
On his website, Pegg emphasized Romero’s contributions to horror and cinema: “George A. Romero invented the modern zombie… It was George’s idea to combine elements of voodoo legend with a voguish fascination for cannibalism and the mythic communicability of lycanthropy and vampirism. It is from George’s epoch defining mash up, that everything else derives… Everything that came after ‘Night of the Living Dead’ owes a debt of gratitude to George. I don’t think it is said enough or acknowledged by those who have adopted his ideas. The remakes, the rip offs, the pastiches and the tributes all stand on the shoulders of this giant.”
Wright recalled one moment that shed light on Romero’s feelings on being considered a “genre” filmmaker:
“The day after we shot our cameo, I do remember something else that George said. We had coffee in a Toronto hotel with him and he asked me and Simon what we were doing next. I replied that we were making a police action comedy. ‘Oh, not a horror, then?’ he replied, ‘So you’re getting out.’
This was a telling statement, as there was always the sense that George had interests in film that stretched beyond the realm of horror. But even if he was pigeonholed somewhat in the genre realm, one of the reasons that his work resonates still is because of fierce intelligence and humour behind it. His zombie films alone are the work of a major satirist, being highly vivid socio-political metaphors and sometimes better records of the years in which they were made than countless serious dramas.”
But the anecdote that gives the most intimate sense of Romero’s sense of humor was his “very droll and typically modest response” to Wright’s congratulating him on the news that he would be receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
“I fully appreciate that some day in the future one of my kids might be walking along Zambeezie Street in L.A. and wonder why his or her father has his name embedded beneath the dog shit,” Romero wrote. “Thousands of people, stepping over that same dog shit, if they can decipher the time-crusted lettering, will ask, “Who the fuck is George Romero?” Only you and my children will know. Thank you for knowing.”
You can read the full letter here.