Calling Survival the least of the Romero zombie cannon isn't a slam against the film, it's just a fact. But really, it's hard to compare it to the others. Because Survival was just an excuse for Romero to sort of remake the classic western The Big Country...with zombies. Shot in Canada with an all-Canuck cast (led by Twin Peaks' Kenneth Welsh, who's great), Survival is a more buoyant affair, less concerned with carnage than creating a sense of cheeky adventure. It's also the only Romero ghoul film to carry over a character (Alan van Sprang) and continue the previous entry's timeline. An austere, strange rural horror drama whose only real drawback is its over-reliance on poor digital effects for many of its gory money shots.
The first and to date only time a big studio sank money into a Romero zombie film (due to the success of the previous years zombie hit Resident Evil, no doubt), Land is a re-written version of the Dead Reckoning script that had long been planned as the 4th "Dead" movie. Much of the DNA of that script survives. Shot in Canada with a decent budget and a pack of "name" actors including Dennis Hopper and John Luguizamo, the recognizable faces add baggage to the tale and sort of take you out of the drama. That, and the movie has a dense societal structure that, because of a brief running time, isn't fully fleshed out or explored. Still, Eugene Clark's liberated Big Daddy zom and Romero's razor sharp script make Land endlessly re-watchable and it gets better and better as it ages.
Romero goes indie again after the bloat of Land and it feels good to have him back for this strange, moody, mock-dock zombie shocker. Essentially starting the "zombie apocalypse" drama again from frame one, Diary sees a bunch of film students trying to evade the living dead in their Winnebago while also filming the carnage for what they hope will be a feature documentary. We are treated to that footage, which has oddly been assembled (and scored!) while our last survivor is holed up in an editing suite at the movie's climax. Amateur performances help Diary achieve a sense of organic urgency, Romero's "eye in the sky" criticisms are on point and the entire film is effectively downbeat, a real "art" horror film and a sharp satire from the master that was sadly misunderstood by many and suffered woeful marketing at the hands of the Weinsteins.
In the endless battle for original Night of the Living Dead partners John Russo, Russ Streiner and Romero to try to rescue some of the lost revenue from their original film, the lads fashioned this deluxe full-color remake, directed by Tom Savini and penned by Romero. Following the basic chain of events as the original but throws in a few new twists. No matter how you feel about attacking a sacred cow, NOTLD '90 is a great zombie movie, with purposely melodramatic performances, solid leads in Tony Todd and Patricia Tallman and a real sense of dread. Famously, the ample gore was mostly trimmed to receive an R rating, with fans still clamoring to see the legendary uncut version. Savini proved himself an effective director here, though he was aided no doubt by Romero's helping hands. Great, weird electro-twang score by Paul McCullough.
Romero himself - and many of his fans - prefer Day to Dawn, though that appreciation took some time to develop. When Day was released in 1985 it had stiff competition from more gonzo gore ghoul films like Re-Animator and Return of the Living Dead and its talky nature didn't sit well with either fans or critics. Even today, the film feels both claustrophobic and histrionic. But there's no denying Lori Cardille's towering performance as Sarah, a scientist who goes from wanting to study the ghouls to fighting for her very survival against both the living and the dead. And of course, Savini's show-stopping special FX are still astonishing, pushing this film deep into Unrated territory and never, ever looking back. Oh yeah...and Bub (Howard Sherman), the little zombie that could, is great.
One of the most important "happy accident" horror movies in history, Romero and his partners at The Latent Image industrial film company in Pittsburgh stole the essence of Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend and added bits of the classic western siege movie Rio Bravo to create a film that leveled audiences then and still has the power to terrify today. Though there is a strong socio-political undercurrent to the film that would define Romero's future work, George insists it was all by default, a subconscious reflection of the times in which he was living.
Italian horror God Dario Argento co-financed and essentially kick-stared this decade-later sequel to Romero's Night of the Living Dead. The deal was Argento could re-cut the film for the Italian market and George could use all or part of the Goblin score he had commissioned. The result is at least three versions of this, Romero's masterpiece, in existence, each slightly different, all excellent. Dawn is an epic gore opera, a mesmerizing war film, tragedy, satire, bloodbath and allegory that defined exactly what we'd expect (and imitate ad nauseum) from zombie entertainment. This is not only the greatest zombie movie ever made, it's one of the greatest films ever made full stop, with Romero, FX wizard Tom Savini and a game cast (Ken Foree is majestic) all at the peak of their innovative powers.