George A. Romero’s 1968 horror classic Night of the Living Dead created the zombie genre as we know it, inspiring six Romero-directed sequels, countless other films which essentially operate in the same universe, and, of course, the Walking Dead TV show. But the filmmaker, who died Sunday at the age of 77, was happy to admit that he regarded the film as a “one-off” when he and co-writer John Russo originally dreamed up their apocalyptic tale of reanimated corpses.
“I hadn’t developed any rules,” Romero told this writer in 2010. “I mean, I really thought it was a one-off. I thought, Well, we’re going to make this film and then we’ll move on to something else. I wasn’t really focused on rules. I also had them eating insects and things that I then steered away from. Starting with the second film (1978’s Dawn of the Dead), I said, ‘Well, I have to lay down some rules, because I might wind up having to make more of these.’ Which I have!”
Romero also explained why no one in Night of the Living Dead refers to the film’s walking corpses as “zombies.”
“I never thought of my guys as zombies, when I made the first film,” he said. “To me, zombies were still those boys in the Caribbean doing the wetwork for [Bela] Lugosi. I just wanted some sort of phenomenon that would be a game-changer so that I could have my human characters fail to react appropriately. [Laughs] I never called them zombies. I never thought of them as zombies. It was only when people started to write about the film and take it a bit seriously that they started to call them zombies. So I called them zombies when I made the second film 10 years later.”