Since the beginning of time, audiences have been infatuated with the undead, even before cinema. During the 17th Century, Christiaan Huygens and his Phantasmagoria projection system would project painted images through a glass, displaying creatures such as skeletons, demons, and ghosts on a screen. The idea of dying and then coming back to life, for no inexplicable reason at all, makes us cringe, but at the same time, it also makes us want to know more. Its scary, and we love it… or do we?
As with vampires and werewolves, zombies also have a long and rich history. You can trace the beginnings of the living dead all the way back to the Holy Bible and even far before the birth of Christ. There are ancient stories about the undead in Haiti, South America, Africa, Western Europe, Ancient Greece, and even here in the United States. So, with this vast wealth of mythology about the undead, the living dead, zombies, the infected, whatever you wish to call them, why aren’t there enough original, fresh ideas from Hollywood?
Some say it’s due to really bad, repetitive writing behind zombie-themed films and television shows. Some also say it’s the audience’s fault for just accepting what is in zombie cinema, instead of taking action and demanding more originality from those who create stories about zombies. If you love it, you’re going to protect it, right?
As with any and every debate about zombies, there are going to be far more disagreements versus agreements. For those who have read the works of Max Brooks, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Whether it’s about how you plan to survive the ever-impending zombie apocalypse or how you feel the zombies themselves should be represented, there is always room for discussion. And you can’t be wrong, especially if you play Devil’s advocate and look at both sides of the spectrum with an open mind. Zombies don’t exist, remember?
Now, are audiences really tired of zombies? Yes, I think we are. For now. When George A. Romero released Night of the Living Dead in 1968, it was, for most audiences, the first time they had ever seen a horror movie like that — and also one that had an underlying, meaningful political tone. It was a horror movie in which there wasn’t one boogeyman; there were many. Romero’s rendition of the zombie is legendary and simply won’t go away. He has since continued the Living Dead series, which includes Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead, and Survival of the Dead. (Eh, maybe not so much Survival of the Dead.) There have been other types of films reimagining zombies differently from Romero’s, but they just weren’t as successful, due to most of them being made into something satirical or just something cheap.
This would mean that one man took it upon himself from ’68 up until the 2000′s to make the zombie genre what it is for the most part today. With nearly 40 years of Romero’s zombie films, general audiences may grow tired of the largely unchanged story setup and the genre overall. And they did. But someone decided to take a risk by introducing a different and refreshing look to Romero’s well respected rendition of the zombie. That someone was Danny Boyle.
Boyle’s film, 28 Days Later, made the undead scary again. Scary because in his vision, it could actually happen — a “realistic” zombie, so to speak. In his film, the undead exist because of a virus that passed from a chimpanzee to a human. The virus no longer spreads just from a bite but from an infected’s blood getting into your eyes, mouth and open wounds, just like any type of real-life virus or sickness. These creatures also didn’t just walk; they ran. Really, really fast. This terrified audiences everywhere and, I believe, reinvigorated the undead at the box office. This made it okay to change the look of the zombie.
With that said, 28 Days Later opened the door for many other types of zombie films to be created and made it okay to be different. Shaun of the Dead, Zombie Honeymoon, Fido, Dead Snow, Aaah! Zombies!!, American Zombie, The Horde, [Rec], are all films that took a different route, thanks to Mr. Danny Doyle. As for right now, though, zombie cinema seems to be heading into another standstill like before 28 Days Later. There are more zombie films now than ever that go straight to DVD simply due to their lack of originality and quality.
Now, granted, there is a certain formula to zombie films, which mostly consists of getting from point A to point B and there is nothing wrong with that, but there has to be something interesting in between that keeps us on edge and interested throughout. AMC’s The Walking Dead is a great example of keeping us entertained from point A to B, but at times, it does start to get predictable due to most of the writing effort going towards making every scene as accurate and realistic as possible which, in turn, makes the characters’ stories stale and suffer a little. This is where, as far as the mainstream media goes, the zombie on screen is slowly growing old and dying (again). The mainstream story of the zombie needs to change — and change fast. It is but entirely in the wrong place.
Dead Snow, Fido, Aaah! Zombies!!, American Zombie, Zombie Honeymoon, [Rec], and The Horde are all great movies about zombies, but there is one problem: They are independent. Not everybody watches independent films. That doesn’t mean that they’re bad, but few people know of these types of movies out there and because of that, it’s turning people away from the zombie genre.
Thankfully, Netflix is helping get some of these great films to the masses. At $8.00 a month, of course! This could be one of the steps to having another dramatic shift to the world of undead cinema or even, dare I say, a new, epic zombie movie. Let that sink in for a moment, zombie fans. (World War Z, I’m looking at you!) Moviegoers have to keep spreading the word of these movies to show the general public that the zombie isn’t just the undead corpse wanting to eat your flesh anymore. Now, the zombie wants to be your pet, wants to be a human, wants to stay a Nazi, wants its rights, wants to stop being judged and mistreated, but most important, it wants to be appreciated again.