Oct. 31-Nov. 4. TIFF Bell Lightbox.
Few recent immigrants to Toronto have inspired as much affection as George A. Romero. Known for his warm, grandfatherly demeanour, the legendary cult filmmaker, who relocated here from Pittsburgh eight years ago, was swiftly welcomed into the collective bosom of the city’s horror-movie fans. Not even the steeply declining quality of Romero’s three locally shot zombie flicks—2005’s Land of the Dead, 2007’s Diary of the Dead and 2009’s Survival of the Dead—has done much to diminish that enthusiasm.
Consequently, there’ll be a lotta love in the room when the 72-year-old director joins Colin Geddes for an onstage conversation on Halloween at TIFF Bell Lightbox, an event that kicks off a tribute to the maker of many of the most influential American horror films, including the 1968 classic that essentially launched the zombie genre. That Night of the Living Dead (screening Nov. 3 at 5 p.m.) remains bolder than the vast majority of gore-fests it inspired is a testament to Romero’s ability to punctuate his vision of a world in which the dead feast on the living with images that reflect the social and racial unrest which wracked America in the 1960s. Romero’s savvy as a satirist would continue to be as pronounced as his penchant for gruesome eviscerations in 1978’s Dawn of the Dead (Nov. 3, 7:30 p.m.) and 1985’s Day of the Dead (Nov. 3 at 10:15 p.m.).
At the same time, the fame that Romero earned as the zombie movie’s founding father would become something of a trap. He often struggled to find willing financiers and appreciative audiences for the movies he made that did not feature a horde of lumbering, vacant-eyed extras. The Lightbox series has the best of these as well. With 1976’s Martin—the sly, sensuous, and thoroughly unnerving tale of a young man who believes himself to be an immortal bloodsucker—Romero would dismantle the clichés of the vampire genre with the same prowess he used to construct the zombie rulebook (it screens Nov. 1 at 6:30 p.m.). But whereas Martin and his 1973 viral-panic thriller The Crazies gradually attained the respect they were due as key works in American horror’s ’70s golden age, 1988’s Monkey Shines remains underappreciated (it plays Nov. 2 at 9 p.m.). Then again, most viewers can hardly be blamed for not knowing what the hell to do with a slow-burning shocker about the increasingly dangerous co-dependent relationship between a quadriplegic man and a genetically enhanced Capuchin monkey, which Romero delivers with a distinctly Hitchcockian brio. If only he’d been given more opportunities, perhaps the director could’ve done for psychotic simians what he did for the walking dead