It was the night of April 4, 1968, and George A. Romero was driving to New York City from Pittsburgh on a mission: In the days to come he was to meet with film studios in hopes that one might buy the horror film he was lugging in his trunk, “Night of the Flesh Eaters.”
None of the studios was interested, but Romero still managed to get his $114,000 film in front of audiences that year. And though critics panned the picture, retitled “Night of the Living Dead,” moviegoers were mesmerized — packing theaters, hitting the drive-ins in droves and making Romero the father of the modern movie zombie. Romero’s “Living Dead” franchise went on to create a subgenre of horror movie whose influence across the decades has endured, seen in movies like “The Purge” and TV shows like “The Walking Dead.”
Romero died Sunday in his sleep after a “brief but aggressive battle with lung cancer,” according to a family statement to The Times provided by his longtime producing partner, Peter Grunwald. He was 77.
Romero died while listening to the score of one his favorite films, 1952’s “The Quiet Man,” with his wife, Suzanne Desrocher Romero, and daughter, Tina Romero, at his side, the family said.
Romero will be remembered best for co-writing (with John A. Russo) and directing “Night of the Living Dead,” which showed later generations of filmmakers such as Tobe Hooper and John Carpenter that generating big scares didn’t require big budgets. “Living Dead” spawned an entire school of zombie knockoffs, and Romero’s own sequels were 1978’s “Dawn of the Dead,” 1985’s “Day of the Dead,” 2005’s “Land of the Dead,” 2007’s “Diary of the Dead” and 2009’s “George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead.”
To get that first film made, however, Romero turned to a resourceful team of Pittsburgh TV-commercial producers. For distribution,…