George Romero and his body of work, beginning with the 1968 classic, Night of the Living Dead, are an essential part of Pittsburgh’s identity. Romero worked in Pittsburgh as an independent filmmaker specializing in the horror genre for more than four decades.
His work lives on, thanks to Adam Lowenstein, professor of English and of film and media studies in the Dietrich School and director of Pitt’s Horror Studies Working Group, who played an important role in acquiring Romero’s personal collection for Pitt’s Horror Studies Archive.
“We are the first and only university-based horror studies program of its kind – and having George Romero’s personal collection puts Pitt in a class by itself,” he says, noting that Romero was a huge figure in establishing horror as a serious subject, given his films’ juxtapositions of questions of race, class, gender, and humanity. “Romero is the perfect crystallization of horror as entertainment and horror as art, politics, culture, and history.”
Lowenstein describes horror as a complex, truth-telling genre that demands people face the bad in the world, a genre that offers no easy catharsis and leaves the audience aware that the monster is still out there – and that they, too, could become the monster. “Horror’s gift is to tell us things about the world when our minds are open and other ideas can slip in.”
Lowenstein won a Guggenheim Fellowship to support work on an upcoming book, tentatively titled, The Jewish Horror Film: Taboo and Redemption.
“A Jewish horror film speaks in veiled ways; Jewishness is not explicit,” he says. “But think of director David Cronenberg’s film The Fly in light of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Or the 1941 The Wolf Man. The writer, Curt Siodmak, was a Jewish refugee from Germany. There is a scene in which the main character walks into church after being bitten by a werewolf, and the entire congregation turns to stare at him. He suddenly doesn’t belong. I describe that feeling as the transformative otherness in horror –the knowledge that the ground beneath your feet can always shift.”