While horror movie fans may best remember George A. Romero as the creator of “Night of the Living Dead,” to Pittsburghers, he’s also known as the force behind the local movie industry.
His widow Suzanne Romero, who is the founder of the George A. Romero Foundation, says after the success of “Night of the Living Dead,” the filmmaker wanted to keep making movies in the Pittsburgh area.
“George really liked to work with familiar faces,” says Romero. “And so he loved the intimacy and the independence that that provided for him, and Pittsburgh was his home. It was the place where he could blossom as an artist.”
Countless horror fans and Pittsburgh natives know that George Romero began filming in the Pittsburgh area after graduating from Carnegie Mellon University. In addition to “Night of the Living Dead,” the Bronx native filmed “Dawn of Dead” and “Creepshow” in Monroeville — with “Dawn of Dead” being filmed in the mall there.
Romero says that Pittsburgh locals are always excited to talk about her late husband’s works because they feel a sense of pride in how iconic the movies are in the film industry.
“It is now becoming a horror mecca at the end of the day because you’ve got all these folks who will deposit their work so that scholars and students and researchers can come to the university and study horror,” says Romero. “I just think it’s fabulous. It elevates the [horror] genre, and it’s good for Pittsburgh and George Romero.”
Pitt is not alone in recognizing the city’s place as a horror hub. Point Park University has offered a course called Zombie Cinema and the Rise of American Anxiety for the last four years.
Professor Matthew Pelfrey, who teaches the course, says students analyze the deeper meaning of Romero’s zombie films and what they say about America — as well as how they inspire other local filmmakers.
“It tells [filmmakers] them they don’t necessarily have to go to L.A. or somewhere else to have a career,” says Pelfrey.
Suzanne Romero says Hollywood used to consider horror movies “second-class citizens.” That sentiment is shared by Marty Schiff, a Point Park professor who also was a friend of the filmmaker.
“Horror films were always considered the sort of fringe genre. It wasn’t really a mainstream thing until the last 20 years,” says Schiff.
Schiff says many people are working in the local movie sector because Romero created and promoted Pittsburgh.
“I think the horror fan base is very loyal, and I just think that everybody considers George the person that started it all, and he started it all here in Pittsburgh,” says Schiff. “That’s why the city embraces it. It’s just another thing to be proud of in Pittsburgh, as far as I’m concerned.”
Prosthetic makeup artist and actor Tom Savini is perhaps one of the best-known Pittsburghers who built a career after working with Romero. In Monessen, the Douglas Education Center’s George A. Romero’s Filmmaking Program offers an associate degree for budding filmmakers.
“There are so many people that work in the industry today that continue to be successful because of George,” says Schiff.
The Romero foundation was created to continue his legacy.
“We want to elevate and cherish George Romero and also assist in preserving his work,” adds Romero. “Also, we want to provide infrastructure and support for independent filmmakers and provide them with scholarships, mentorships, fellowships and initiatives that provide us with some of the things that help independence.”
“Night of the Living Dead” is showing at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 28 and Saturday, Oct. 29, for $10 at Carnegie Science Center’s Rangos Giant Cinema and at 2:05 p.m. and 7:05 p.m. on Halloween at Row House Cinema for $12.57.
Next month, Film Pittsburgh will close the Three Rivers Film Festival with a special 40th-anniversary screening of Romero’s 1982 classic, “Creepshow.” Co-sponsored by the George A. Romero Foundation, the film screens on Wednesday, Nov. 16, at 7 p.m. at the Harris Theater.