George Romero's death on Sunday at age 77 inspired tributes from scores of directorial peers and acolytes praising the pioneering horror director. For Guillermo del Toro, who earlier on Sunday called Romero "one of the greatest ever," the filmmaker's contribution to cinema transcended the genre he helped conceive.
"George created an entire subgenre in cinema," del Toro tells Rolling Stone. "He singlehandedly forged the tale of the cannibalistic undead Zombies.
"Before him, the Zombie existed mainly as a vague Afro-Caribbean myth about the powers of Voodoo and such," he adds. "What George did is give us, in them, a dark mirror in which we can reflect socially; to learn what in them remain us and what it is to be human. George was an iconoclast, an untamed mind and a liberal thinker who used horror to illuminate the darkness around us."
Romero died following a "brief but aggressive battle with lung cancer" while listening to the score of the 1952 film The Quiet Man, his producing partner Peter Grunwald told the Los Angeles Times. In addition to Romero's revered, influential Zombie Trilogy – 1968's Night of the Living Dead, 1978's Dawn of the Dead and 1985's Day of the Dead– the director also helmed horror films like The Crazies, Creepshow and Monkey Shines.
Virtually every horror director has pointed to Romero's work as an influence on their own. "Hard to quantify how much he inspired me & what he did for cinema," horror director Eli Roth wrote in a series of tweets. "Romero used genre to confront racism 50 years ago. He always had diverse casts, with Duane Jones as the heroic star of [Night of the Living Dead]. Very few others in cinema were taking such risks. He was both ahead of his time and exactly what cinema needed at that time. You can trace a direct line from NOTLD to Get Out. And ... Romero created the modern zombie. The infectious bite. Shoot the head. Everything."