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Flogging a dead corpse: The continuing decline of the zombie movie

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Got zombie? Got too much zombie..?

Buubbb..agreeee.....

It can't have escaped your notice that the walking dead have enjoyed a reanimation of epidemic proportions in the last few years, and it’s all Alex Garland’s fault. Let me explain...

Having provided the source novel for Oscar winning director Danny Boyle’s The Beach (2000), Garland collaborated with the Shallow Grave (1995) and Trainspotting (1996) auteur for 2003's 28 Days Later, a film that lovingly stitched together the choicest parts from the best bodies of science fiction and horror work of the previous few decades into an energetic, entertaining Frankenstein of a movie that managed to resurrect the zombie genre while not, technically, being a zombie movie.

Despite the nods to John Wyndham and George Romero being so enthusiastic that you could be forgiven for thinking that Garland and Boyle were front row centre at a Metallica gig, the pair managed to produce a movie that felt refreshing and original, and that had this writer salivating from the outset when Empire magazine first ran a brief news article about a script in development involving London and zombies. Though the ‘zombies’ turned out to be the ‘infected’, for many genre fans the difference was purely semantic, and the finished film didn’t disappoint, going on to spawn an arguably even better sequel in 2007’s 28 Weeks Later, as well as an entertaining, ongoing series of comics from Boom! Studios detailing the events between the two movies.

28 Days Later (2002)The success of 28 Days Later threw open the cemetery gates, as the post apocalyptic zombie movie was suddenly back in vogue for the first time since 1985, the genre having quickly decomposed to mulch in the general public’s consciousness after George A Romero’s underrated Day Of The Dead shuffled out of multiplexes.

First off the blocks (somewhat controversially as we will see) was future 300 (2007) and Watchmen (2009) director Zak Snyder’s reimagining of zombie maestro Romero’s seminal Dawn Of The Dead (I hesitate to say reboot as, shopping mall locale aside, there was little recycling from the 1978 original). Perfectly capturing the original's sense of panic and chaos, Snyder did deviate from popular Romero mythology in one very important way that had purists up in arms: his zombies ran, a big no-no for many fans of the original, though in Snyder’s defence, if those fans were to cast their minds back to the scene where Roger (Ken Foree) encounters the two children at the abandoned airfield, they did actually run at him (however, I do concede that we’re back to semantics here, so make your own mind up).

The RisingAt the same time that Snyder was developing his ambitious reboot/reimagining/whatever of Dawn Of The Dead, the literary world was already taking notice of the resurgence in interest in the recently deceased. Author Brian Keene published The Rising in 2003 to critical acclaim, (and rightly so if I say so myself, being a fan of the book), his novel about a zombie uprising with a difference in that the undead could talk, reason, plan and crack bad jokes. A sequel, City Of The Dead, followed in 2005, which was just as well, as fans of the original novel had been unspeakably frustrated at the cliff-hanger that Keene had left them with at the end of the first book.

2005 also saw British author David Moody breaking relatively new (burial) ground by offering a free download of his zombie novel Autumn online, an offer I took up without hesitation and found to be immensely satisfying. His UK-based take on the zombie phenomenon has so far spawned four sequels (the most recent only in German at the moment!) and has been turned into a movie starring Dexter Fletcher and David Carradine, proving that a little marketing initiative can go a long way (the proof of the pudding being that I own all four UK published books, despite having downloaded the first for free).

In 2006 the current undead outbreak jumped species again when Capcom blatantly ripped off, err, sorry, were influenced by Dawn Of The Dead's zombies-in-a-mall concept with the hugely entertaining Dead Rising, a game that enabled you to massacre your way through literally thousands of the undead using all manner of implements. Yes, there was a storyline to be discovered, but this was largely overlooked in the fun that could be had by getting photojournalist Frank West to run around in pink denim shorts and a goblin mask while dispatching zombies with lawnmowers, chainsaws and electric guitars.

Dead Rising

Though very enjoyable (apart from the frustrating save system that led to many players giving up long before getting anywhere near the end), Dead Rising was essentially a 'fun' game, and it was another couple of years (November 2008 to be precise) before software studio Valve, previously best known for the groundbreaking Half Life (1998) and its yet to bettered sequel Half Life 2 (2004), delivered a seriously scary title that was worthy of being called the best survival horror experience since the original Resident Evil (1996) had made us jump out of our skins twelve years previously.

Left 4 Dead (2008), not only pitted players against hordes of the undead in classic first person shooter perspective, but demanded that you took three friends along for the ride, because the dead would be ice skating their way back from hell before you'd manage to complete the game on its higher levels all on your own. It's not that the AI of the other three characters was poor - far from it; but when it comes to surviving a zombie apocalypse, you simply can’t beat the quick reflexes of your actual living, breathing mates, especially when the online mode allowed for four other human beings to take control of the devious, nasty special infected in an attempt to turn you into hamburger.

"With the possible exception of Teatime, virtually every permutation of ...Of The Dead has been used or reused in recent years"

Left4DeadSo far, so dead, as far as the recent zombie revival was going; but then we hit the turning point, the point at which the sheer amount of blood and viscera that had been spewing forth into the world for the past half a decade began to overwhelm us; the point at which those of us who had been gleefully splashing about in the grue and the gore began to realise that, much as the vampire genre had boomed with Buffy and then reached bust point with everything from Twilight to True Blood to The Vampire Diaries sucking its way across our cinema and television screens, our beloved undead genre was starting to smell a little ripe.

That turning point came with the admittedly clever and imaginative Pride And Prejudice And Zombies mash up that author Seth Graham-Smith (who sounds like an Austen-named character himself) had stitched together. As good as it was, and I have to say that I did enjoy it, never having read Austen’s original and considerably less bloody novel, it seemed to be the catalyst that turned the steady stream of zombie films and literature that had been shuffling into theatres and bookshops for the last few years into the rampaging torrent of terror that saw the flimsy wooden church doors torn off their hinges and shelves begin to creak under the sheer weight of zombie novels, many of which stank worse than a horde of the walking dead themselves (though I can thoroughly recommend Zombie Apocalypse by Stephen Jones – a worthy companion piece to World War Z).

Pride and Prejudice. Undead style.The movie world hasn't been immune to the sickness, either, with the ear-splitting sounds of barrels being scraped ringing loud and clear as movies as potentially banal as Cockneys Vs Zombies (2011) (starring ex-EastEnder and Bionic Woman Michelle Ryan) lurch towards us, the only original ideas contained therein being the titles given that, with the possible exception of Teatime, virtually every permutation of ...Of The Dead has been used or reused in recent years.

It's not all hopelessly nihilistic, though. There are still the occasional safe houses in the form of the brilliant Zombieland (2009), the so bad it's good Dead Snow (2009), and of course, Robert Kirkman's great (but not yet excellent – season two should hopefully elevate it to this plane) The Walking Dead TV series, and I'm hopeful for one last bloody gasp of the current zombie boom in the shape of Techland's upcoming Dead Island game, which produced a trailer so effective and emotive that the sound of gentle weeping could be heard from many a movie studio's marketing department. (The fact that it has since been revealed that none of the footage in the trailer is actually in-game seems to have dampened the anticipation for what may just turn out to be Grand Theft Zombie not a jot.)

Dead IslandAs you may have gathered from the last fourteen hundred words or so, I do actually love the zombie genre with a passion that may border slightly on the unhealthy, which is why I implore writers, producers, and directors everywhere to stand back for a moment, appreciate the stunning examples of undead creativity that have appeared in the last few years and respectfully let the genre rest in peace for a while. Thus, when it does once more thrust its scabby, infected hands up through the dirt (and rest uneasy, it will, it will) we will be once again be thrilled, chilled, disgusted and excited by the prospect of our nearest and deadest shuffling down the high street in the altogether in search of those tasty spare ribs and that oh so special sauce that doesn't come in a squeezy bottle.

Until then, however, I fear that we are overrun by a billion Bubs, and that in terms of creativity we are, to wilfully misquote an old Sex Pistols compilation album, flogging a dead corpse.


See also:
Exclusive: drunken zombie horror in Roger Christian's 'OctoberfeAst'
You’re not a cowboy if you haven’t killed a Zombie
Dead Island trailer awash with originality
NY Comic Con: The Walking Dead interviews
Zombies Of Mass Destruction Blu-Ray review
Zombie Women Of Satan DVD Review


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Comments 

 
#1 Thanks! David Moody 2011-04-12 07:28
Great article. Thanks for the kind words about the AUTUMN books.
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#2 RE: Flogging a dead corpse: The continuing decline of the zombie movie Richard Cosgrove 2011-04-12 11:37
Quoting David Moody:
Great article. Thanks for the kind words about the AUTUMN books.


My pleasure, David, and thank YOU for your kind words about the article. Looking forward to the continuing Autumn saga.

(May be a bit cheeky, but if you're ever down London way, I'd love to buy you a pint and interview you :-) I'm at richardcosgrove on the offchance.....)
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#3 RE: Flogging a dead corpse: The continuing decline of the zombie movie David Moody 2011-04-12 15:01
Quoting fettdog:
My pleasure, David, and thank YOU for your kind words about the article. Looking forward to the continuing Autumn saga.

(May be a bit cheeky, but if you're ever down London way, I'd love to buy you a pint and interview you :-) I'm at richardcosgrove on the offchance.....)


You're on. No trips to London planned right now, but I'm usually there a few times every year. I'll let you know.

And it's never cheeky to offer to buy someone a pint!
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#4 RE: Flogging a dead corpse: The continuing decline of the zombie movie Richard Cosgrove 2011-04-12 15:48
Quoting David Moody:
Quoting fettdog:
My pleasure, David, and thank YOU for your kind words about the article. Looking forward to the continuing Autumn saga.

(May be a bit cheeky, but if you're ever down London way, I'd love to buy you a pint and interview you :-) I'm at richardcosgrove on the offchance.....)


You're on. No trips to London planned right now, but I'm usually there a few times every year. I'll let you know.

And it's never cheeky to offer to buy someone a pint!


Excellent! Look forward to it, David.

Cheers!
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#5 Zombie! Caleb Leland 2011-04-12 17:45
Like you, I love the zombies, and I agree 100% with this article. After all, for every classic, we have to deal with a Zombie Honeymoon or Dead and Breakfast. And I will be checking out the Autumn series. Excellent article! Cheers!
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