A cinema renegade and proud Hollywood outsider despite his influence on the horror genre and popular culture at large, George A. Romero left behind a body of work far stranger and more fascinating than most of his contemporaries. Having created the modern concept of the zombie and ushered in an age of more extreme horror cinema with his seminal Night of The Living Dead, Romero was largely unable to escape the shambling ghouls he first popularized.
Though he'd return to the same well time and time again (releasing six "of the dead" films from 1968-2009), Romero also produced some massively underappreciated and thought-provoking work outside of zombie cinema. From post-modern vampire films to anti-establishment domestic dramas and straightforward thrillers, below are the non-zombie films of George A. Romero, ranked.
When a young model (Judith Streiner of Night of the Living Dead) hits it off with a mysterious drifter (Ray Laine) the two engage in a romantic dalliance that’s threatened by their totally polarized attitudes towards life.
Romero himself is said to have liked There’s Always Vanilla the least of all his films, referring to it as a “total mess.” Though it’s working hard to capture the anti-Vietnam counter-cultural spirit and middle-class malaise of the time, there’s something haphazard and uninspired about the whole endeavor. Thank heavens Romero turned his back on drama for horror, because The Graduate this ain't.
Featuring two horror tales directed by the slightly past their primes Romero and Dario Argento, Two Evil Eyes is an interesting though somewhat unsatisfying two-thirds of what might have been a solid anthology. Both halves are loose adaptations of stories by Edgar Allan Poe, with Argento’s rendering of "The Black Cat” slightly edging out Romero’s extremely padded “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar”.
Romero’s final non-zombie effort is a slasher riff with some of his most stark sociopolitical subtexts ever translated to film. When the frequently put-upon Henry Creedlow (Jason Flemyng) awakens in Kafka-esque fashion to find that his own face has been replaced with a blank, white mask that strips him of his identity, he goes on a violent rampage to exact vengeance upon the world that’s beaten him down.
This sour exploration of modern alienation takes capitalism to task for the way it enforces conformity. Unfortunately, Romero’s script overstates its intentions with pat dialogue, and the way the film shakes out is far less interesting than the ideas it may contain. Still, points for one of the eeriest masks ever to appear onscreen.
Based on one of Stephen King’s most self-reflexive novels, The Dark Half stars Timothy Hutton as Thad Beaumont, a famous novelist who publishes both under his real name and a nom de plume, George Stark. After the news breaks that he and Stark are the same person, Hutton stages a mock funeral for his alter-ego but is soon disturbed by a streak of murders that seem inspired by Stark’s books. When he and his wife (Amy Madigan) realize that not only has Stark somehow become real but that he’s out for revenge, they seek the assistance of the local sheriff (Michael Rooker) to help stop the mayhem.
A clumsy, sluggish, and surprisingly violent bid for mainstream appeal, The Dark Half is frequently considered one of Romero’s least impressive efforts, though it’s amassed a small cult following in recent years.
An early work in which Romero's flair for the supernatural collides with his interest in the domestic, Season of The Witch concerns a housewife (Jan White) who seemingly has everything she could want. But, when a neighbor introduces her to the world of witchcraft, she sees a way to escape the crushing monotony of her average suburban life, setting her on a path to destruction.
Originally titled Hungry Wives and marketed as a sexploitation flick, this is an inward-focused character study that remains largely overlooked. Though thematically similar to There’s Always Vanilla, Romero introduces horror elements to this domestic drama altogether more seductive package, exploring the mind of a woman who’s all too eager to loosen her suburban shackles for captivity in another sphere. Mercilessly satirizing the middle class, patriarchal structures, gender roles, and our overwhelming desire to fit in, Season of the Witch is something of a forgotten step in the right direction from early on in Romero’s career.
One of Romero’s strangest efforts sees Ed Harris as Billy, the leader of a gang of jousting bikers who make their living performing at renaissance fairs. Soon, their fame and popularity begin to grow and the influence of commercialism starts to strain the group. As the group’s star biker begins to receive outside offers and the villainous Morgan (Tom Savini) gears up for a final battle, Billy does everything he can to keep the spirit of chivalry alive.
As absurd and silly as the film can be, there’s a complex humanism beating beneath it with a side-order of fabulous motorcycle stunt work. Also, knowing Romero, who consistently had trouble getting his films made, Knightriders is something of a screed against selling out and a celebration of staying true to yourself, making it a bloated, though stirring oddity.
When a plane crashes in a rural town, a biological weapon onboard is released and infects the local community with a virus that turns them into cold-blooded killers. As the government attempts to contain the contamination and the army butts heads with scientists over the most humane solution to the crisis, a small group of survivors battles to fend off the infected.
Something of a dry run for his masterpiece Dawn of the Dead, Romero’s The Crazies is still an important and influential film in its own right, the socio-political themes of which can be found in the DNA everything from 28 Days Later and The Walking Dead.
After a terrible accident leaves an athlete paralyzed from the neck down, he’s gifted a trained, hyper-intelligent monkey named Ella to assist him around the house. Unfortunately, Ella is the result of scientific experiments to boost primate intellect, and she and Allan’s healthy relationship quickly takes a dark turn.
Though there’s little in Monkey Shines for one to mull over intellectually (it was Romero's first studio effort) it’s well-crafted and a hell of a lot of fun. The slow-burn pace is, at times, practically Hitchcockian, and Boo's performance as Ella is one of the most remarkable non-human performances in film history. Sure, Beghe is hammy-verging-on-awful as the lead, but there’s something about the go-for-broke wildness of the film that helps it all hang it all together. With a jaw-droppingly cruel climax and some unforgettable kills and imagery, Monkey Shines is a thriller with bite.
John Amplas stars as Martin, a young man who believes himself to be an 84-year-old vampire. Lacking fangs or seductive powers, Martin uses sedatives to drug women before cutting them with razor blades and ingesting their blood. Eventually, Martin moves in with his uncle (Lincoln Maazel), who shares in his belief and makes an effort to prey only upon ne’er do wells and criminals. But Martin’s dedication to responsible feeding can only last so long…
A grimy post-modern vampire story that would be echoed by Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction over a decade later, Martin is thematically weighty as an examination of mental illness and the nature vs. nurture debate, but its most effective as a queasy character study of a disturbed outsider. Romero's least-seen and celebrated masterwork.
One of the most famous, beloved, and influential horror anthologies of all time, Creepshow spins five terrifying yarns based on E.C. comics. From a script by Stephen King, who also appears in one of the segments, Creepshow masterfully toes the line between fright and delight with a cartoonish sense of style and humor. With garish, multicolored lighting and a pop-art sensibility that seems to bring the magazines its channeling to vivid life, Creepshow is a horror classic that truly lives up to its tagline as: “The Most Fun You’ll Ever Have Being Scared!”