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Ranking George A. Romero’s Movies From Worst to Best (#4 -1)

April 18, 2022 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Day of the Dead Bub Image Credit: UFDC

The George A. Romero Movie Countdown: #4-#1

A new George A. Romero short film has apparently been found and it recently screened for free on the internets (check out the story on Bloody Disgusting here). I missed it, but since it was revealed that the movie, called Jacaranda Joe, actually exists, it will eventually get some sort of wider release. The Amusement Park was once thought lost, but it eventually did a short festival run and was released wide on Shudder last year. So you have to believe that, at some point, Jacaranda Joe will show up on Shudder or something like that.

This story makes you wonder what other potential “lost” Romero projects are out there. Are there more Romero short films from over the years just waiting to be found and seen?

Well, this is it, the final part of the George A. Romero Movie Countdown. It’s been months in the making, but it’s finally here, the final four movies. I have a few new megalist ideas in the pipeline, so be on the lookout for one of them to pop up in the near future.

The first three parts of this megalist are below, just in case you missed them or want to read them again:

The George A. Romero Movie Countdown: #17-#13

The George A. Romero Movie Countdown: #12-#9

The George A. Romero Movie Countdown: #8-#5

And now, the George A. Romero Movie Countdown list concludes. What appears in spots #4 through #1?

The George A. Romero Movie Countdown: #4-#1

Image Credit: Scream Factory

4- Knightriders: Knightriders may be Romero’s weirdest movie, and at the same time his most heartfelt. A sort of drama about a travelling company of performers who appear as a kind of medieval society (they all ride dirt bikes, though, instead of horses), the movie features Ed Harris as Billy, the leader of the group. Billy takes his role as leader and king super seriously and truly believes that he is who he plays. At the same time, Billy is distraught over how his group is perceived by the public (Billy complains to his wife that too many people look at him as a kind of sideshow similar to Evel Knievel), how the group perceives what it is they do (lots of them look at the group as a business and entertainment instead of as an artistic calling), and just the world at large. Morgan (Tom Savini, doing a terrific job) plays the villain in the group’s performances and wants to take over and do things his way. So the main conflict of the story is Billy and Morgan sort of fighting over what vision of the group should prevail, with other members of the group choosing sides (Romero’s eventual wife Christine Forrest is awesome as Morgan’s girlfriend Angie). There’s also a subplot involving a guy that wants to hire Morgan to do his own travelling group. The movie is almost two and a half hours long, which is somehow way too long and just right. Romero stages some fantastic dirt bike jousting and action scenes, and by the end you start buying into Billy’s vision of the group even if you can’t stand him. Knightriders is also fun for Romero nerds spotting actors who appeared in other Romero movies, with Ken Foree and Scott Reiniger of Dawn of the Dead, John Harrison and Taso Stavrakis (also Dawn of the Dead. Harrison would compose the score for Day of the Dead and direct Tales from the Darkside: The Movie, the movie based on Romero’s syndicated TV show of the same name), John Amplas (starred in Martin and played a scientist in Day of the Dead), Joe Pilato (Captain Rhodes in Day of the Dead), and Patricia Tallman (Barbara in the Night of the Living Dead remake directed by Tom Savini). And this is the movie that established the Romero-Stephen King relationship as King appears as an audience member along with his wife Tabitha. From what I’ve read online Knightriders was generally a hit with critics but not so much with audiences and it was the last time Romero would direct something that wasn’t horror or fantasy related. The movie eventually found an audience later on through cable and home video. This movie’s lackluster box office makes you wonder that if it had been a hit would Romero have tried to make more non-horror movies. I think he definitely would have tried.

Image Credit: Scream Factory

3-Day of the Dead: The third movie in Romero’s original “zombie trilogy” had originally been conceived as a sprawling, action packed mega movie (Tom Savini once described the original script as “Raiders of the Ark with zombies”), but because the producer/distributor wouldn’t allow Romero to make an unrated movie for the amount of money it would have taken to make the original script, Romero had to cut down and reconfigure his idea for a third zombie movie into something else, something considerably smaller. So instead of another zombie romp like Dawn of the Dead, what Romero made with his reconfigured Day of the Dead is a claustrophobic, somewhat paranoid, down and dirty gore fest that manages to straddle the line between wallowing in misery and expressing an odd hope for the future. 95% of the movie takes place in an underground military base, where a group of scientists and contractors try to co-exist with a group of soldiers while also trying to figure out how to stop the zombie apocalypse that has essentially destroyed the known world. The movie is filled with top notch performances from a terrific cast, not to mention absolutely jaw dropping practical gore effects from Tom Savini and his crew that still stand up today (the zombie bites are nasty as hell, and the moments where we see guts spill out of body cavities are brilliantly disgusting). Lori Cardille is conic as Sarah, the badass female scientist, as are Terry Alexander as the helicopter pilot John and Jarlath Conroy as the Irish radio operator McDermott (they are just so great as a group). Joe Pilato does a great job as Captain Rhodes (“I’m running this monkey farm now, Frankenstein, and I want to know what the fuck you’re doing with my time!” is one of the greatest lines in horror history), as do Gary Klar and Ralph Marrero as Rhodes’s lackeys Steel and Rickles. Richard Liberty is hilariously weird as Dr. Logan, the lead scientist, and Howard Sherman is amazing as Bub, the domesticated zombie. This is another Romero movie that was not well received by audiences when it came out (it wasn’t “fun” like Dawn of the Dead and Return of the Living Dead, which also came out in 1985) and it didn’t really find acceptance until people watched it a million times on home video. I loved it the first time I saw it on VHS and continue to enjoy it years later. It’s easily Romero’s most technically savvy and accomplished zombie movie. It’s darkness and meanness can take some getting used to, especially after watching it after Dawn of the Dead, but Day of the Dead needs to be recognized as a major cinematic accomplishment and a classic horror flick through and through.

Be sure to track down and check out The Making of George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead by Lee Karr, an in-depth look at the making of the movie. The book, the best movie book I’ve ever read, will likely change your perception of Romero, Howard Sherman, and producer Richard Rubinstein, not to mention the movie making process (Karr maps out every day of filming for Day of the Dead and goes into great detail about how the movie was made). Great stuff.

Image Credit: Anchor Bay

2-Dawn of the Dead: The second Romero zombie movie is probably the most iconic zombie movie ever made, with the possible exception of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Mostly taking place inside of a real shopping mall in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, Dawn of the Dead is both an exciting, action packed, gory romp and an expert satire on consumer culture in the 1970’s and beyond. The movie stars Ken Foree and Scott Reiniger, two badass Philadelphia SWAT officers who team up with local TV news helicopter pilot Stephen (David Emge) and TV news producer Fran (Gaylen Ross) and try to escape the ongoing zombie apocalypse by taking over and living inside of an abandoned shopping mall. At first, living in the mall is great as it has everything they need to survive. But living inside the mall eventually grows tiresome and eats away at their souls. The theatrical version is easily the best of the three “full” versions that exist, but Romero and zombie movie nerds have no doubt seen and love the other two versions (the “Cannes cut,” sometimes referred to as “the director’s cut,” runs at 139 minutes and is filled with new scenes and extended scenes compared to the theatrical cut, and the “Argento cut,” known as Zombi, is 118 minutes and is almost an action movie with how quickly it plays). The music, a mix of library tracks and tracks by the band Goblin, is one of the greatest horror soundtracks of all time (the main theme by Goblin and the Gonk library track are two of the most well- known bits of music from this movie). And Tom Savini’s gore effects are still powerful today, although he topped them in Day of the Dead. From the various head shots seen throughout the movie to the “machete through the head” sequence to the “zombie gets the top of his head cut off by a helicopter blade” sequence, horror nerds still celebrate this movie to this day and rightfully so (fans still go on pilgrimages to the Monroeville Mall and walk around the mall while listening to the soundtrack, not to mention go on guided tours by people who appeared in the movie). It is eternal. Fuck the remake.

How do we not have a definitive book about the making of Dawn of the Dead? You would think there would be at least one by now. I’m sure a book could settle, once and for all, if the “negative ending” where everyone dies was actually filmed.

Image Credit: Lions Gate

1-Martin: On one level, Romero’s Martin is about a disturbed young man, Martin (John Amplas), who thinks he’s a vampire. As such, he starts stalking and murdering people, mostly women because that’s how he’s able to “feed” on blood. But Martin understands that he isn’t a “typical” vampire like in the movies or in books as there’s nothing supernatural or “magical” about him at all. He has the occasional “vision” where he is a typical vampire, but it’s unclear what those visions are; are they delusions or are they sort of repressed memories? At the same time, Martin’s need for blood starts to dissipate the closer he gets to women, mainly a housewife he has an affair with (Mrs. Santini, played by Elyane Nadeau). So was that his big issue from the beginning, he couldn’t relate to women so he had to destroy them? Martin is also a movie about social decay, as the movie takes place in a city that’s in economic upheaval, Martin could be seen as a victim of the world crashing down around him. Martin is also the target of his much older cousin Cuda (a brilliant Lincoln Mazel), a religious fanatic who believes that Martin is a real deal vampire and threatens to ram a stake into his heart if he finds out that he killed anyone. The “old world” clashing with the “new world” and nothing good coming out of it at all. I actually like both ideas and think that it’s best to read the movie as all of those things happening at the same time. It makes the movie sad as opposed to scary, although the movie will creep you out on some level (the opening scene on the train, where Martin attacks an unsuspecting woman is technically superb and disturbing as hell). Martin is the first movie collaboration between Romero and Tom Savini, as Savini did the effects and acted as Arthur, Christina’s boyfriend (Christina is played by Romero’s future wife Christine Forrest. She’s great in the movie, too). Romero also appears as a priest (Romero could act when he wanted to. He’s amazing as the kind of hippie Father Howard). And Richard Rubinstein shows up, too, in a brief cameo that, for some reason, to me, is hilarious.

It was recently reported back in November, 2021 that Romero’s original three-and-a-half hour version of Martin was discovered and that it will be restored (check out the story here). This 3.5 hour cut is allegedly Romero’s preferred version of the movie, which makes me wonder just what the heck is in this much longer version (Martin as we understand it is a little over 90 minutes, which is a perfect length). Does it actually improve on the original version or is it “just different”? I can’t wait to find out.

If we never get to see this much longer version of Martin, though, I’m fine with the version that we have. It’s Romero’s best effort as a director.


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