David Friend, The Canadian Press
TORONTO — Some grunted while others dragged their feet. Fans of George Romero went all out to give the legendary zombie director a suitable send off on Monday.
A few were dressed as versions of the monster he helped make infamous, while dozens of others filed into a public memorial to say a final farewell to the man who rewrote the book on the living dead.
Leanne MacRae covered herself and her two young daughters in zombie makeup inspired by the flesh-eating ghouls who rose from their graves in the groundbreaking 1968 film “Night of the Living Dead.”
“The man was a legend in his time bringing the modern zombie into our lives,” said the Georgetown, Ont., resident, alongside her six- and eight-year-old girls.
“He certainly made it so normal to see a zombie just chewing on someone’s leg.”
Romero died last week following a battle with lung cancer, according to a statement from his family.
The director is credited with making zombies mainstream with his cult classic film, which was released on the cusp of the independent filmmaking movement that defined 1970s cinema. Produced for a just US$100,000, “Night of the Living Dead” went onto become a staple of the genre. It spawned various sequels, including a 1990 remake, and plenty of imitations.
Romero made other horror flicks, including “Monkey Shines” and comic book adaptation “Creepshow,” but none were nearly as iconic.
The filmmaker moved to Toronto in 2004, where he shot many of his later projects, and became a dual U.S.-Canadian citizen five years later.
Inside the memorial, Romero’s wife and daughter greeted visitors, who spoke about how his vision changed horror cinema.
The room was decorated with memorabilia from the director’s own collection, including a photograph of him posing in vampire fangs alongside fellow horror master Stephen King and an award from the Toronto International Film Festival in 2009 that is a miniature version of the CN Tower clutched by a severed hand.
A couple of the Hollywood classic movie posters he amassed over the years, Marlon Brando’s “On the Waterfront” and John Wayne’s “The Quiet Man,” were hung on the walls near his personal sketches and Cannes Film Festival passes he saved from the late 1970s.
Above Romero’s casket, a reminder of his classic and contemporary stories were projected, including 1978’s “Martin” and 2009’s “Survival of the Dead,” while a selection of scores from other filmmakers played in the background.
Toronto resident Eric Jackson, who participated in many of the city’s zombie-walk events, which invite horror enthusiasts to don makeup and stumble through the streets in character, put on his own costume to celebrate Romero.
“He really defined the modern zombie,” Jackson said while masked in a decaying face and holding a bloodied prop leg.
“(Romero) took it out of its Haitian voodoo roots and turned it into something that has amazing staying power.”
But while Romero was known for wholeheartedly embracing the gruesome, some visitors grappled with exactly what was appropriate for the filmmaker’s memorial service.
“I was like, ‘Are we crossing a line if I bring out zombies?’” said Thea Munster, a local zombie-walk organizer.
“The godfather of the zombie might want to rest for a day … but then he might have loved it.”
She decided to forgo the gore for a conservative black dress.
Others pulled out movie-themed T-shirts for Romero’s films. A popular choice was one emblazoned with the poster for 1978’s “Dawn of the Dead.”
A service for family and friends will be held in Toronto on Tuesday before a private ceremony on Wednesday.
Movie theatres in Toronto have booked showings of Romero’s films in the coming weeks, including an Aug. 6 screening of his last film, 2009’s “Survival of the Dead,” which will be attended by several members of the cast and crew.
Other tributes have popped up in recent days, including a billboard in Pittsburgh that features a zombie from his original “Living Dead” film with a teardrop running down her face.
Follow @dfriend on Twitter