Monday, July 17, 2017

George A. Romero and Martin Landau

Two screen legends with ties to the horror genre have passed away.

Director George A. Romero has left us at 77. Often referred to as the King of the Zombies or the Godfather of Horror, Romero scared the world silly with his horror-classic NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD in 1968. With its creepy black-and-white presentation and creepier atmosphere and performances, the film re-invented the term “zombie”, and with his clever subtexts on social issues, brought the horror genre into the legitimate world of cinema; literally paving the way for future scare-films such as JAWS and THE EXORCIST to be taken seriously by critics and awards voters. The film would establish the “walking dead” so firmly that every future film, parody, and TV series would derive, tribute, or rip-off what Romero created to this day.

His other directing credits included DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978), DAY OF THE DEAD (1985), THE CRAZIES (1973), MARGIN (1978), CREEPSHOW (1982), MONKEY SHINES (1988), and LAND OF THE DEAD (2005).

Born George Andrew Romero in the Bronx, he attended Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. One of his earliest professional works was directing a segment for TV’s MISTER ROGERS NEIGHBORHOOD, in which Rogers received a tonsillectomy.

Also passing away; actor Martin Landau at 89. Landau was already enjoying a lucrative and award-worthy career in TV and film when he was cast to play the role of an aging, dying, and troubled horror icon Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton’s ED WOOD in 1994. Basically playing a cranky old man whose best days were behind him, Landau found a vulnerable side in the nail-tough character, and he would be awarded an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor that year.

His Oscar for ED WOOD was not his first brush with the awards circuit. His first Academy nomination came for his role in TUCKER: THE MAN AND HIS DREAM (1988), and his second would come in 1989 for his work in CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS. He also had Emmy Award nominations for his work in TV’s MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE.

Landau made his first film appearance in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959). Other notable film roles included CLEOPATRA (1963), CITY HALL (1996), ROUNDERS (1998), EDtv (1999), THE MAJESTIC (2001), and CITY OF EMBER (2008). He would re-unite with Tim Burton to provide voice-work in the stop-motion animated FRANKENWEENIE in 2012. He was also well-known for his work in the TV series SPACE: 1999.

Born in Brooklyn, Landau worked as a cartoonist before auditioning for the Actors Studio in 1955. He was the head of the Hollywood branch of the Actors Studio until his death.


Romero and Landau may sit on the total opposite of each other in the horror genre; one created a new mythology behind the camera while the other portrayed a well-known actor, but they both have several things in common, beginning with adding extra layers of depth to the films they worked on. There is a neat irony to be had knowing that these two greats passed away within hours of each other, and that their two most-known and perhaps best works were presented in glorious black-and-white, even though they didn’t have to be. Perhaps somewhere in another place…Bela, George, and Martin are enjoying a scary laugh in shades of grey, while the rest of us enjoy the color they brought to cinema. 

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