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Pittsburgh writer credits 'genius' George Romero as inspiration

| Sunday, July 16, 2017, 11:15 p.m.
FILE - In this Sept. 9, 2009, file photo, director George Romero arrives for the screening of the film 'Survival Of The Dead' at the 66th edition of the Venice Film Festival in Venice, Italy. Romero, whose classic 'Night of the Living Dead' and other horror films turned zombie movies into social commentaries and who saw his flesh-devouring undead spawn countless imitators, remakes and homages, has died. He was 77. Romero died Sunday, July 16, 2017, following a battle with lung cancer, said his family in a statement provided by his manager Chris Roe. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini, File)

Thomas Sweterlitsch of Greenfield, a screenwriter and the author of the novel “Tomorrow and Tomorrow,” says Romero is his creative inspiration.

“I think his films are the reason I write novels. The first novel I ever tried to write was a zombie novel, set in Pittsburgh — it was a huge failure as a novel but taught me how to write, how to finish a project. The whole thing was just full of Romero references, I was so impressed by those films.”

He said Romero's cinematic impression on Western Pennsylvania stands the test of time.

“It's impossible to go to the Monroeville Mall and not imagine hordes of zombies around you, imagining which department stores you could hide in, which hallways might offer escape. He was a brilliant artist.

“The Pittsburgh connection was always there, even in his later film ‘Land of the Dead,' the whole story takes place in Pittsburgh, even though the city is never named, the geography is there, the rivers,” Sweterlitsch said.

“Artistically, he was a genius. … When ‘Night of the Living Dead' came out, it was genuinely horrifying to audiences at the time because of its slow-creep tension and the startling violence, but he does something completely extraordinary at the end of the film: where most movies would have ended happily, or come to some peaceful conclusion, Romero substitutes a series of stark black and white stills, so that this horror movie suddenly feels like a piece of photojournalism, as we learn that the main character, a black man, the hero of the entire movie, was mistaken for one of the zombies and shot dead by a band of country cops. The movie is a commentary on race in America, a commentary on the horror of Vietnam War coverage, and I've read articles equating the shambling zombies with the American working class, and the decline of manufacturing. ‘Dawn of the Dead' was a very different movie, colorful and almost fun, but the critique was no less pointed as the zombies shambling through a suburban mall become stand-ins for the mindless habits of American consumer culture.”

Rege Behe is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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