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Evolution of the Zombie Movie Genre - From Someone Who Is Completely Obsessed

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By Chris Kavan - 05/01/13 at 04:42 PM CT

If you don't know, I kind of have a thing for zombies. Movies, books, games - I will devour anything to do with the living dead. Am I a bit obsessed? Maybe. But I'm not quite to the "Doomsday Prepper" level of insanity (if I had unlimited funds however... nah - best not to dwell on that too much). Anyway, for someone as interested in this phenomena as I am, here's a handy history for anyone who wants to start their own zombie collection:

Zombie Pre-History


 photo WhiteZombie_zps9c00ecb9.jpg

Before zombies as we know them today, there were more traditional zombies. As in the kind that are brought back by voodoo and turn into a mind-controlled slave rather than a flesh-eating monstrosity. But if you think this is just an obsolete form of entertainment, I highly recommend you check out The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988) a more modern look into the "real" zombie effect.

The Romero Effect


 photo NightoftheLivingDead_zps66ff0027.jpg

No one has had an impact on the zombie genre like director George A. Romero. His original film gave us the zombie as we all know and love: slow, unrelenting, unfeeling, ravenous - in Dawn of the Dead (my personal favorite zombie movie) he throws in some social commentary about the nature of consumerism (and an undead Hari Krishna for good measure). Although Day of Dead and Land of the Dead tried to throw in zombie intelligence, I don't subscribe to that outlook (no even from the master of zombies himself). I don't want my zombies to pick up a weapon - I like the slow, steady, unstoppable masses. That's bad enough without having them start shooting guns at you.

Gore is More

ZOMBI 2 (1979)

 photo Zombi2_zps7138519a.jpg

Lucio Fulci may have not had the budget, but that didn't prevent him from giving the zombie genre scenes that are both horrifying (the splintered wood-through-the-eyeball scene alone is worth the watch) and hilarious (zombie vs. shark!). But what he did was add gore. Something that Peter Jackson would crank to 11 in Dead Alive (aka Braindead) in 1992 - quite possibly the goriest movie on record.

Fast Zombies


 photo DawnoftheDead04_zps15d26301.jpg

Though a lot of people were aghast - I thought that Zack Snyder did an excellent job with updating the zombie classic. While it won't replace my favorite Romero movie, Snyder's opening 15 minutes has to represent one of the best ways at watching humanity break down (and the inclusion of Johnny Cash's "The Man Comes Around" is a perfect song choice). I still prefer the slow zombies over the fast ones (they are already immune to pain, emotion and fatigue - why make them freakin' sprinters too?), but it was fresh. It looks like the upcoming World War Z is going to make their zombies of the fast variety as well. I hope it works out.

The Faux Zombie Film

 photo 28DaysLater_zps58435d36.jpg

28 Days Later (2002)

Although they are zombie-like in nature, 28 Days Later is about an infection - not the dead coming back to life - and it bugs me when people refer to this as a "zombie" movie. That being said, it's still really fun to watch. Other movies with infected rather than zombies could include: Night of the Creeps (technically an alien parasite not truly zombies) and [ REC ] (again, some kind of infection).

The Zom-Com

 photo ShaunoftheDead_zpsf81fc2ef.jpg


You wouldn't think that zombies and comedy would make a good team, but boy, would you be wrong. Going back to 1985, Return of the Living Dead gave us a film that was both tongue-in-cheek yet brutally violent (one of the few zombie films where zombies can actually talk - and where a blow to the brain doesn't automatically kill them). But in 2004, Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost brought us Shaun of the Dead - still the pinnacle of the zombie comedy genre. It has great wit - and some sly nods - and yet it still has violence as well. But much more humor. Zombieland and Warm Bodies (a rom-zom-com, if you will) continue the tradition.

Zombie Vérité


 photo ZombieDiaries_zps6ee0b9bd.jpg

The advent of the so-called "found footage" genre has brought in a slew of new movies (most of them only slightly entertaining) and the zombie genre is no exception. Even Romero himself tried his hand with Diary of the Dead (to decent effect). Zombie Diaries, why by no means outstanding, at least captures the feel of being trapped in an zombie epidemic. Since these kind of films are so cheap to make, I'm sure more and more will pop up (and dilute the brand).

Other Media


 photo WalkingDead_zpsac3cc76a.jpg

I cannot recommend The Walking Dead more highly - be it the graphic novel, the television series or the excellent adventure game by Telltale Games (skip the latest Survival Instinct as it's generic and by all accounts terrible). Of course, Resident Evil is the most well-known video game series (and spawned its own films). If you haven't read World War Z by Max Brooks - do so immediately - I have a feeling the movie isn't going to capture the spirit of the novel. Marvel Zombies is an excellent graphic novel series that turns our favorite heroes into flesh-eating horrors - the original was quite dark but latter entries have been much more lenient (with Howard the Duck, of all characters, leading the charge).

If anyone has any zombie suggestions, let me know because if there's one think I can't get enough of, it's zombies and there's always room for one more (as long as they don't try to bite). To see my full list of zombie films, check out my custom list - though I'm sure I'm missing more than a few.


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