The Pocket Essential: George A. Romero (2008) – By Cary Conley

George Romero has always been hit-and-miss with me. For every terrific movie he’s done, he’s also come up with an absolute stinker. Still, the man behind Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead (all instant classics in my book) as well as the original The Crazies, Martin, and Creepshow, is a genre hero in my book. While I didn’t much care for Land of the Dead, I thought Diary of the Dead was a good move and Survival of the Dead was fun, low-budget popcorn if not on a par with the original trilogy. So it was that I snapped up a cheap copy of this Pocket Essential on Romero’s films.

The authors, Tom Fallows and Curtis Owen, have essentially written a guide which includes a discussion of each of Romero’s films in chronological order. Beginning with a short general summary of Romero’s major films and a mini-biography, the authors then turn their attention to each film in turn, starting of course, with 1968’s seminal Night of the Living Dead. For each film, the writers offer a brief synopsis, stories about how the film was made, commentary on the visual style as well as the special effects used in the film, and a short analysis of each film along with a rating on a scale of 1 to 5. Since Romero is well known for adding pertinent socio-political context into his films, there is also a discussion of these themes in each entry.

While there isn’t much new information about Romero’s major films for the Romero enthusiast, there are some good pieces of information about the lesser films. The authors’ writing style is easily understood and not terribly academic, so the analysis of each film is accessible for the average reader and not as dry as many books are that analyze film. While I didn’t necessarily agree with every opinion the authors had on each film (I still don’t care for Bruiser or Monkeyshines but I did enjoy Diary of the Dead), I did generally agree with the authors’ opinions and comments. In some cases, their analysis was interesting enough to make me want to reevaluate some of Romero’s films that I may have dismissed the first time while some comments helped me to better understand what Romero was attempting to do with other films. By and large, the analysis, stories, and commentary were interesting and entertaining.

The book takes the reader up to 2007’s Diary of the Dead, but the authors aren’t done yet. They include a chapter of major films that were influenced by Romero, including Zombie, Return of the Living Dead, 28 Days Later, and Shaun of the Dead, among others. To wrap things up, the last chapter is entitled "No More Room in Hell" and enumerates all of Romero’s "lost" projects that were never made for one reason or another. Some sound very interesting indeed, such as Diamond Dead, which is billed as a "horror-comedy-musical about a resurrected heavy metal band." The likes of David Bowie, Johnny Depp, and Marilyn Manson (as Jesus Christ!) were contemplated. There is also a list of references as well as a bibliography for those who just can’t get enough of Romero.

The book is short and a quick read, even for me–and I am a notoriously slow reader. For most, it would make a fun and interesting weekend read, and if you weren’t interested in some of the films, you could skip those sections and not really miss anything. Overall, I found The Pocket Essential George A. Romero to be a quick and easy read, with plenty of "making of" tales and interesting analysis.