George Romero is the undisputed king of the zombie genre and one of the most influential horror directors of all time, with five 'Dead' films already unleashed on the public and another, Survival of the Dead, on the way.
But in the oeuvre of Romero films, man does not die by zombie alone. There are also vampires, ghosts, fanged monsters, murderous doppelgangers, goop from outer space, government conspiracies and even medieval knights on motor bikes!
So as we celebrate the modern horror maestro’s 70th birthday, let’s take a look at 7 essential zombie-free Romero movies.
The Crazies (1973)
One of Romero’s most underrated films, The Crazies tells the story of a toxic chemical spill that turns the population of a small Pennsylvania town into raving homicidal maniacs. The few fortunate citizens that manage to escape the contamination find themselves hunted by a secret military unit determined to wipe out all remaining evidence of the spill, including any survivors. A remake is headed to theaters this month from Overture Films.
This is Romero’s non-zombie masterpiece, an elegant deconstruction of the vampire myth. Is Martin really a vampire, or just a lonely, young man who aspires to be one (albeit one who uses razor blades instead of fangs)? You’ll be guessing right to the end, as Romero’s stylish direction forces you to sympathize with Martin, even as the shocking attack sequences leave you gasping. A must see.
The strangest entry in the Romero catalogue is still quite entertaining, as we enter the unusual world of a modern day troupe of traveling entertainers who dress up as medieval knights and joust on motorcycles to the delight of locals…but the disdain of corrupt city officials. Ed Harris leads the cast as the “King Arthur” of the troupe, whose grip on reality slowly slips away as the real world (and real money problems) close in.
The celebrated collaboration between Romero (fresh from the success of Dawn of the Dead) and writer Stephen King. The project started as an adaption of King’s opus The Stand, but when that production fell through, they turned their attention to their shared passion for EC Horror comics, and together came up with this loving homage of goofy horror stories, visually styled like a comic book, and highlighted by the great monster-in-a-box episode, The Crate.
Monkey Shines (1988)
After an accident turns an athletic college student into a bitter paraplegic, he develops a strange and intimate relationship with a mentally enhanced monkey given to him as a helpmate by his scientist friend. However, it turns out that his friend is more “mad” than “scientist”, and soon the monkey begins to act on the vengeful thoughts of his master in surprising and grisly ways. Not always successful, but there are scenes of violence and terror that still pack a punch, and Romero’s direction has you simultaneously feeling sorry for the poor animal even as he brutally dispatches with his master’s tormentors.
The Dark Half (1993)
One of Romero’s biggest budget productions is an extremely faithful adaption of the best selling (and slyly auto-biographical) Stephen King novel. Our hero is author Thad Beaumont who writes under two names: serious novels under his real name, and a line of hugely successful but extremely violent pulp fictions under the pseudonym “George Stark”. But when Beaumont decides to officially retire Stark, the pseudonym suddenly comes to terrifying, murderous life and the bloodbath begins. Timothy Hutton does a nice job as both the mild mannered Beaumont and the sadistic, scene-chewing Stark. It is no coincidence that King himself used to write a series of pulp fiction horror books under the pseudonym “Richard Bachman”.
A most unusual film, but a real gem for all Romero fans. Bruiser is the story of a mild mannered man abused by everyone around him, especially his two-timing wife and overbearing boss. After attending a masquerade party, he wakes up to find the blank white mask he wore the night before permanently affixed to his face. With his identity erased, our hero takes the opportunity to exact terrifying revenge on all who wronged him. The faceless hero/villain makes for an arresting visual in one of Romero’s most strange and thought-provoking movies.