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Celebrate the Life and Work of George Romero This Week

A preview of the week-long tribute to the late filmmaker, plus reviews and more movie news.

photo: shutterstock

George A. Romero didn’t set out to redefine horror.

As the late filmmaker drove from Downtown Pittsburgh to Evans City to make the film that would become “Night of the Living Dead,” he had no intention of commenting on late-’60s racial tensions. He did not envision traducing contemporary society by trapping it in a shopping mall. He could not conceive of the indelible, lasting metaphor he would create in Butler County.

He simply wanted to make a scary movie. And at that task — and all those others he did not yet anticipate — he succeeded.

The sweep of Romero’s unlikely and unconventional career, which will forever be tied to the city of Pittsburgh, has been thoroughly documented by the numerous tributes and remembrances that have appeared since his death in July. Now, then, is a fine time to simply revisit Romero’s work; we’ve paid tribute, considered his impact and charted the course of the shambling undead across the cultural landscape. Now, let’s watch some movies.

Row House Cinema leads a group of local businesses in “A Celebration of George Romero,” beginning today and lasting until Oct. 20. The main order of business, of course, will be film screenings, as the director’s output takes over the Row House screen.

“Night of the Living Dead” will be shown, obviously, as will “Day of the Dead,” the 1985 sequel which took place in a world overrun by zombies (and was infamous as the most bleak and gory of Romero’s original three “Dead” films).

“Creepshow,” the campy 1982 horror anthology directed by Romero and written by Stephen King — who, against all odds, acts in the film as well — will also be in the lineup, and for those who haven’t seen it, it’s a hoot. “Knightriders,” starring Ed Harris as the leader of a motorcycle-riding jousting troupe, and a newly restored “Season of the Witch” will be screened as well.

The films conclude with two showings of “Martin,” an underappreciated gem; the first collaboration between Romero and effects wizard Tom Savini, the film follows a reluctant vampire as he navigates his identity in Braddock, Pa.

A number of special events are scheduled in addition to the screenings. A few favorites: three revivals of the bygone zombie emporium House of the Dead in the Row House lobby; a session of “Zombie School,” courtesy of the ScareHouse, preceding a “Day of the Dead” screening on Tuesday night; and underground horror trivia in neighboring Bierport on Wednesday night.

A full, day-by-day schedule can be found here.

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While I hesitate to reduce a feature film by calling it a “companion piece,” the marketing — indeed, the name — of “Professor Marston and the Wonder Women” has done so already. The film, a partial biography of Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston (played by Luke Evans), presents itself quite clearly as the story behind 2017’s most iconic big-screen character; from the posters to the trailer, the filmmakers seem to be begging those who loved DC’s “Wonder Woman” film to get the real-world origin story. Those who do will encounter a thoughtful and well-acted tale of transgression and romance; Marston and his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston (Rebecca Hall) defied sexual and societal norms by maintaining a polyamorous relationship with a former student of Marston’s, Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote). There is plenty to be found in the film, particularly in those performances; I worry, however, that audiences will read too much into Marston’s sexual proclivities and their influences on the development of the Wonder Woman comic and character. (To be fair, the movie invites that reading; perhaps too much.) It is indeed an interesting companion piece, though I wonder how interesting it would’ve been in a year when Diana Prince was not at the forefront of moviegoers’ minds.

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I regret not being able to devote more time to the ReelQ Film Festival this year; the lineup looks fantastic. Nine days of events begin tonight with “Signature Move,” about a Chicago woman who must hide her lesbianism — and her second job as a lucha libre wrestler — from her proper Pakistani mother. That film will be followed by the biopic “Tom of Finland,” and screenings (including the popular shorts programs) will continue at the Harris Theater throughout the week, including day-long runs of features tomorrow, Sunday and Oct. 21. The full schedule can be found here, with general festival information here. The films and festival are always top-notch, so if you have a free hour this week, head Downtown.

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The pitch meeting for “Happy Death Day” cannot have taken much time: It's "Groundhog Day," but a horror movie. At the end of every day, our heroine, Tree (Jessica Rothe), is murdered by a mysterious assailant wearing a baby mask. Then she wakes up and repeats the day, giving her another chance to avoid her fate. It's not original (though at least it knows it), but it could've been a lot worse. The middle act certainly sags, but the conclusion is marginally more clever than I thought (in that I expected no twists or surprises whatsoever, and "Happy Death Day" manages at least a few). The PG-13 rating keeps this one a bit more tame than competing horror offerings and Tree is a bit underwritten, to say nothing of the supporting players. But for a fun and agreeable Halloween trip to the cinema, "Happy Death Day" gets a slight pass.


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