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Pittsburgh, The 'Birthplace' Of The Undead, Celebrates 50 Years Of George Romero's Horror Films

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
Zombies from the local haunted attraction, ScareHouse, stand in front of the Byham Theater, where an annivesary screening of "Night of the Living Dead" will take place this weekend.

The undead made a rare daytime appearance Monday morning to celebrate the filmmaker considered to be the godfather of satirical horror. Fifty years after George Romeo’s "Night of the Living Dead" premiered in Pittsburgh, more than 30 organizations have created programming around its anniversary.

Romero grew up in the Bronx, NY, but moved to Pittsburgh to study at Carnegie Institute of Technology. He shot most of the 1968 cult classic in Evans City and the low-budget film was quickly elevated to a global phenomenon. Romero would go on to direct "Dawn of the Dead" and "Day of the Dead" in the apocalyptic series. He died in 2017.

As part of the “Romero Lives” collaboration, organizations including the Pittsburgh Film Office and the Puppetry Guild of Pittsburgh crafted events based on the filmmaker and the horror genre. University of Pittsburgh Center for African American Poetry and Poetics director Dawn Lundy Martin said upcoming conversations at the school will look at the intersection of race and Romero’s work.

“Also the impact that it has on horror filmmaking and horror writing by black people,” Martin said. “So bringing that legacy to the surface of the conversation.”

Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
University of Pittsburgh director of the Center for African American Poetry and Poetics Dawn Lundy Martin speaks to the crowd about upcoming events at the school focusing on the intersection of Romero's work, race and poetry.

Romero cast Duane Jones, who was black, as Ben -- the movie’s protagonist. Martin said the character wasn’t explicitly written to be African American, which points to Romero’s use of colorblind casting.

“He’s probably one of the first to do that,” Martin said. “What that does is it really reshapes what the film means, especially in the context of the 1960s, when there’s a lot of race-consciousness rising up amongst the American populous.”

Steve Tolin, who owns Tolin FX, said Romero inspired him to go into the movie business.

“He was not going to let the gatekeepers tell him what kind of art he could create and how he could shape the world,” Tolin said.

Of his impact on Pittsburgh, Suzanne Desrocher Romero, the filmmaker’s widow, rhetorically asked the crowd (and later directly to Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto) why there wasn’t a horror museum in the city.

Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Lori Cardille, actress known for her role in Romero's "Day of the Dead," and for being the daughter of broadcast personality Bill "Chilly Billy" Cardille, speaks to the crowd at the Romero Lives kickoff event on Monday, Oct. 1, 2018.

“It’s baffling to me,” she said. “I think we’re going to have to talk to a few people and see if we can get that done.”

She also announced the creation of the George A. Romero Foundation, a fund to support filmmakers, to be run with proceeds from the Romero Lives events. The month-long lineup includes a “living dead” festival, a zombie walk and horror writing workshops.