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Star of Romero's 'Martin' remembers director as 'full of laughter and good humor'

| Monday, July 17, 2017, 3:27 p.m.
John Amplas starred in George Romero's 'Martin'

As much as he is credited for popularizing the zombie genre in movies, George Romero never used the term, says an actor and professor who knew him well.

"They were always 'the living dead,' " says John Amplas, 68, of Mt. Lebanon.

Amplas, founding member of The REP, Point Park University's professional theater company, as well as its associate artistic director and a professor in the Pittsburgh school's theater department, made six films with Romero between 1976 and 1993.

Romero, 77, died Sunday following a battle with lung cancer, according to a statement from his family.

His classic film "Night of the Living Dead" and other horror films turned zombie movies into social commentaries and saw his flesh-devouring undead spawn countless imitators, remakes and homages.

"He is obviously the godfather in that regard and deserves that title and deserves the mastery," Amplas says.

Amplas made his film debut in 1978 as the star of Romero's "Martin," about a young man who believes he is a vampire.

"I was 27 and had just finished my last year at Point Park College," Amplas recalls.

"I was familiar with his work, but I was not a follower. With 'Night of the Living Dead,' of course, they made their splash," he says. " 'Martin' was a different type of movie, not a typical horror film. One thing I liked about George — all of his films were based on an original idea, often touching on the social climate of the day.

"I thought George has always been at his best when he was the writer, director, editor. It's not a power move, just a smart, creative move on his part. The guy has no ego," he says.

Amplas began teaching at Point Park University in 1982.

"What (Romero) provided me with was experience that then I could use for myself in terms of acting and directing," he says.

Amplas believes Romero would have liked to expand more beyond his "living dead" characterizations.

"But here is what he did do. He created 'Hollywood on the Mon' here for us. (He helped) lay the foundation for all of the film work Pittsburgh has gotten over the last 30 to 40 years. That's a major part of his legacy," Amplas says.

"His sets were always full of laughter and good humor. ... George was kind of quiet on set, but always smiling. If I did a good job, he'd just look at me and say, 'Yeah, man.' That was the high praise. Then we would move on. ... He called ("Martin") his favorite, and that made me feel good," he says.

Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5401 or mpickels@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MaryPickels.

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