Our Loss: 2 Who Will Scare Us No More

In movies, and their small-screen counterparts, lines crisscross all the time.

After six seasons of warnings, it appears that winter has come to Westeros on “Game of Thrones,” the much anticipated seventh season on HBO of an alternate-world clash of kingdoms, dragons, warriors and family.

Winter means that the White Walkers are on their way — a streaming army of the undead, armed to the teeth.

While he had nothing to do with “Game of Thrones,” George Romero, the man who practically invented movie zombies, passed away July 16 at the age of 77. In 1968, he gave the world a jolting, gruesome, low-budget movie called “Night of the Living Dead,” a black-and-white, relentless march of zombies overrunning the land. It became a cult hit and, after the much more acclaimed “Dawn of the Dead,” it was official. We were on the way to where we are today: up to our body parts in zombies (e.g., “The Walking Dead” on AMC, Brad Pitt’s “World War Z” and the White Walkers on “Game of Thrones”).

Romero was fond of his zombies, who couldn’t help but be what they were, but he also did a vampire movie called “Martin” in 1978. He did not like vampires, and considered them villains.

Martin Landau, the film, stage and television actor who starred in the television version of “Mission: Impossible” before Tom Cruise ever hung from an airplane, died July 15 at age 89. Though he acted in classic films, he was, as he said himself, trapped in B-movie-land for a time.

Landau also donned the count’s cape for a touring production of “Dracula” that hit the Kennedy Center in 1984. It’s probably not the performance for which he will be most remembered, although in some ways it never left him. It was an occasion; the play looked straight out of Bela Lugosi and Edward Gorey, and Landau played what could have been a send-up straight and spooky and with intensity.

That intensity was on display when The Georgetowner interviewed him over coffee at the now defunct Hamburger Hamlet. He had a lean and handsome face, which two feet away over burgers was somehow intimidating. He had also had a sharp intelligence about theater and movies and the differences between them for an actor.

Still, you knew it was Dracula. When I saw the news, that’s the first thing I thought of: Dracula in a cape.

He was much more than that, of course. The bouts of B movies were brought on by a sudden departure from “Mission: Impossible” by him and Barbara Bain, his wife at the time, after three seasons. Much to his chagrin no doubt, he had a part in a film called “The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island.”

He returned and rose to a certain prominence as the superb actor that he was when given the opportunity, appearing in Francis Ford Coppola’s “Tucker: The Man and His Dream” and Woody Allen’s “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” in which, as a flawed, crooked businessman, he shared a moving brotherly scene with the wonderful Jerry Orbach.

Early in his career, he had a menacing part in Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest,” starring Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint. He also was a part of the Taylor-Burton “Cleopatra” epic.

And there was Tim Burton’s “Ed Wood,” in which he gave a thickly human, unforgettable performance as Lugosi himself, down on his luck as a Hollywood second-stringer. That — forever always — got him an Oscar for best supporting actor.

Romero gave us films without zombies — “Knightriders,”  “Creepshow,” “The Crazies” and so on. But, rightly, Romero was called “Father of the Zombie Movie.” It’s the memory of lurching undead heading toward a big mall as if it were home that sticks.

There was more to come — “George A. Romero Presents: Road of the Dead” — and why not? That road is well trodden, but he put the first erratic footsteps on it. His son Cameron is directing a “Night of the Living Dead” prequel called “Origins.”

But winter had come for Romero. Among the many heartfelt tributes on social media, more than one fan asked, “What if he’s not dead?”

What if.


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