If you’ve watched a horror movie in the last 30 years, chances are you’ve seen Greg Nicotero’s work on-screen in some form or another. From his first job on George Romero’s Day of the Dead to creating the Deadites in Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2 & Army of Darkness to the Lovecraftian bugs in Frank Darabont’s The Mist, Nicotero’s achievements are undeniable. Nicotero and his special effects company KNB EFX have created countless numbers of memorably grotesque creatures that have scared (and delighted) movie-goers for decades.
Recently, the horror hound has moved to television, directing and executive producing AMC’s long-running hit series, The Walking Dead and will soon be remaking Romero’s 1982 cult classic, Creepshow as a 6 episode anthology series for the streaming service Shudder. So, to celebrate the special effect maestro’s birthday, here are 5 Fun Facts about Greg Nicotero.
1. A Young Nicotero Befriended George Romero After a Chance Encounter in Rome
Growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania during the ‘70s you’d be hard pressed not to know of local legend George Romero. As a child who would stay up late to watch old horror movies on TV with his brother, Greg Nicotero was not only aware of the horror icon but would eventually become friends with him.
While on vacation in Rome one summer, the young Nicotero noticed the director sitting at the table next to him at the same restaurant he and his family were at. Later, as the fellow Pittsburgh native was on the way out, Nicotero’s younger brother ran up and asked if he was, in fact, THE George Romero. Once the ice was broken, the elder Nicotero rushed over and joined in on the conversation. Taken aback by the two young fans at first, Romero eventually told the future makeup effect maestro to drop by his office in Pittsburgh when they were stateside. Nicotero took him up on the offer and spent the following years hanging around Romero’s studio, having lunch with the director and developing a genuine friendship.
2. His First Film Credit was Day of the Dead (1985)
As the years went by and their friendship continued, the time came when the two would finally get the chance to work together. Romero started work on Day of the Dead (1985), which was supposed to be the last film of his Living Dead trilogy. While attending college and studying Pre-Med, Nicotero was hired as a Production Assistant on the new film.
Having had an interest in special effect makeup after seeing Jaws in 1975, Nicotero was much more interested in doing that. So he called up Tom Savini (Dawn of the Dead, Creepshow, Friday the 13th) the former war photographer turned makeup effect guru, and asked to be his assistant. One of the responsibilities as Savini’s assistant’s was helping hire other makeup artists to join the film. One such hire was Nicotero’s future KNB EFX partner, Howard Berger.
3. He Formed Makeup Effect Company, KNB EFX After Working on Evil Dead 2 (1989)
After Day of the Dead wrapped, Nicotero moved to LA, and worked on a number of productions including From Beyond (1986) and Phantasm II (1988) where he met Robert Kurtzman. In 1987, production began on Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2 where Berger, Kurtzman and Nicotero worked together for the first time. They got along so well with one another that Nicotero once said,
[…] We had talked about the idea of starting our own company but Evil Dead 2 was really the first time that the three of us worked together and realized that, as a threesome, we were pretty powerful because we complemented each other […] I was sort of the administrator, Howard was kind of the shop foreman guy, and Bob was the design guy, the artistic guy. So the way that it worked was that we complemented each other.
Afterward, the three went into business together as KNB EFX Group and have been working steadily for the last 30 years. From the infamous Hobbling sequence in Rob Reiner’s Misery (1990), to the gruesome vampiric horde in Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk till Dawn (1997), to AMC’s seemingly never-ending zombie epic, The Walking Dead, KNB EFX has been at the forefront of modern day special effects, all thanks to a little desolate cabin in the middle of the woods.
Fun fact: Evil Dead 2 got a special nod in Season 9 of The Walking Dead. In the much publicized final episode of Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) – directed by Nicotero, no less – the cabin and the Necronomicon make a cameo appearance.
4. His First Directing Gig Was a Love Letter to the Universal Monsters
While he’s known mostly for his effect work in front of the camera, Greg Nicotero has been spending a lot of his time behind the camera these days. Starting in 2011, between the first and second season of The Walking Dead, Nicotero directed a series of webisodes that expanded upon the post-apocalyptic world, offering a different perspective than Rick and his pack of survivors. But what initially got his name into the directing ring was a short, black and white film entitled United Monster Talent Agency. The 8 minute, cameo-filled side project was Nicotero’s love letter to the Universal Monsters from the 30s, 40s, and so on.
In in short, the monsters from those films aren’t just actors covered in layers of makeup. They are (aaahh!) real monsters being corralled like zoo animals and only brought out when cameras start to roll. Featuring the classic makeup designs of such creatures as The Thing from Another World and Dracula, Nicotero’s love is on full display in scenes like comedian Dana Gould transforming into the famed Wolf Man as director Eli Roth watches from afar, hoping to get the perfect shot before being torn apart.
It’s a fun little short with appearances from Frank Darabont, Robert Rodriguez and the creature who first captured Nicotero’s love special effects, Jaws.
5. He and Actor Norman Reedus Own A Restaurant
Working long hours on a film set tends to bring people closer together. Relationships of all kinds can blossom, such as the one between Nicotero and Walking Dead star Norman Reedus. When the show first started and Nicotero was focused on the special effects, he would occasionally appear in full zombie makeup, only to be dispatched by someone on the cast. For Reedus, the first time he is seen killing a member of the eponymous dead, that zombie is Nicotero himself. The two became so close over the years that when the chance to open a restaurant together presented itself, they immediately jumped at the opportunity.
Located in Senoia, Georgia – where much of the show is filmed – Nic & Norman’s is a laid-back, family affordable restaurant with a menu that Reedus calls “sobering comfort food”. Nicotero described it as “something to pay tribute to the area where we shoot the show, and have the cast and the crew have a place to call their own“. The bar hosts viewing parties of The Walking Dead and is also part of a tour where fans can stop in after visiting various filming locations around the area.
In a career that’s been going strong for over 30 years, while working on some of the most influential films of our time, it’s intriguing to see what the next 30 years will look like for Greg Nicotero. In the meantime, do you have any fun stories about the master of horror? Have you been fortunate enough to meet him at a convention? Planning on grabbing a drink at his Georgia restaurant some time soon? Let us know on Twitter, Reddit, and in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook.
And of course, Happy Birthday, Mr. Nicotero!