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Zombie rising is inevitable
The dead are here, they’re near, get used to it! Zombies are all the rage these days, thanks to the somewhat shockingly successful “The Walking Dead” on AMC, of all places. Indeed, the third season premiere was the most-watched basic cable drama in history.
One the biggest stars on the planet, Brad Pitt, is starring in another adaptation, “World War Z,” the best-selling 2006 novel about a zombie apocalypse. The author, Max Brooks, son of famed comedy legend Mel Brooks (“Young Frankenstein”), also wrote what could be seen as a sort of prequel, 2003’s “The Zombie Survival Guide,” which many credit with jump-starting the zombie subgenre for a new generation, along with the aforementioned “Walking Dead” comic, which began its run that same year.
Another factor may also be the inevitable burn-out that various subgenres face after a certain amount of product starts cluttering bookshelves and multiplexes alike, such as, most recently, vampire and ghost stories. Every genre eventually runs its course, but in true horror form, they never really die. Much like the zombie itself, you can’t keep a good genre down.
Though zombie flicks date back at least as far as the 30’s (such as 1932’s “White Zombie,” which also gave the band its name), 40’s (such as “I Walked with a Zombie”), and 50’s (such as the immortal cult classic “Plan 9 From Outer Space”); most credit the single most influential film in the subgenre to be 1968’s seminal “Night of the Living Dead.” Directed by the legendary George A. Romero, the film proved to be the first in an ongoing series of cult classics that include 1978’s superlative follow-up “Dawn of the Dead,” and the underrated “Day of the Dead” from 1985. Romero continues to make films within the subgenre to this day, the most recent being 2010’s “Survival of the Dead,” his sixth in the series.
Romero established most of the hard-and-fast rules in the first film: anyone who dies subsequently comes back as a walking, shambling zombie that can only be killed by a head shot or fire. No explanation is ever given, merely a lot of speculation- it simply happens and the people concerned have to deal with it. Simple as that.
Of course, many have put their own spin on things over the years: “Return of the Living Dead” and “Evil Dead 2” added humor to the mix, while “28 Days Later” and the surprisingly not-bad “Dawn of the Dead” remake from 2004 made the zombies faster and more intense. The ongoing “Resident Evil” franchise, based on the videogame of the same name, added more of an action slant to things, while everyone from Australia (“Undead”) to Italy (“The Beyond”) to France (“Living Dead Girl,” another Rob Zombie source of inspiration) to Japan (“Evil Dead Trap”) and even Norway (“Dead Snow,” which features Nazi zombies!) has gotten in on the fun over the years.
Sure, you’ll occasionally see some that are so bad that they make one long for the likes of Ed Wood, such as the truly awful “Redneck Zombies” and “House of the Dead,” which features somersaulting zombies. One of the hallmarks of the subgenre and the reason it endures is the fact that the films can be made on the cheap and, not unlike slasher movies, can basically get away with recycling the same old plot over and over again ad nauseam.
Every now and again, someone comes up with a novel twist on things that you didn’t see coming- witness the recent release “Warm Bodies,” which, the cult comedy “Shaun of the Dead” notwithstanding, is likely one of the only zombie romantic comedies to be found. Unlike “Shaun,” though, here the romance is between a human and a zombi.
Granted, the underrated “Return of the Living Dead III” also featured a love story between a human and a zombie as well, but where that film played it straight and scary, “Dead Bodies” goes for the funny bone, with scenes like the one in which the zombie teaches the girl he loves to “walk like a zombie” so that she can fit in with the undead crowd!
Eventually, the subgenre will run its course yet again, and fittingly, go underground until the next big reinvention. That’s not going to happen anytime soon, though, what with the ongoing success of “The Walking Dead” and any number of other films coming out within the next year, such as the promising “Evil Dead” remake and the aforementioned “World War Z.”
So, get your gear for the inevitable zombie apocalypse together, make sure your panic room is well-stocked with food and drink and plenty of guns, and join in on the fun. The zombies may be slow-going, but they’re just dying to meet…um, make that eat you. Yeah, maybe you’re better off staying in. Luckily for you, this time around the zombie apocalypse is being televised.