September 21, 2008

When I was in college I developed the knack for remembering and writing down my dreams. One of the more memorable ones involved me trying to escape flesh eating zombies in some kind of industrial, post-apocalyptic setting. I ended up flying a plane out into the country where I found more zombies.

Such is the degree to which the zombie horror movie sub-genre has infiltrated my psyche.

Lately I’ve had zombies on the brain again, so I started reading up on the subject. The modern zombie movie started in 1968–the year I was born, believe it or not–with the release of Night of the Living Dead. Maybe you remember that one: shot in black and white; African-American guy as the hero; “they’re coming to get you Barbara!”; survivors holed up in an old farm house, etc. Apparently critics were divided. Some said it was terrible, others said it was a very important film that would be remembered for decades to come. Audiences were stunned, by all reports. They’d never seen anything like it.

The co-writers, George A. Romero and John Russo had differing ideas on where to go next, so each went on to make subsequent zombie films independent of one another. Romero released four more: Dawn of the Dead, 1978; Day of the Dead, 1985; Land of the Dead, 2005; and Diary of the Dead, 2007. Russo churned out seven: The Return of the Living Dead, 1985; Return of the Living Dead Part II, 1988; Return of the Living Dead 3, 1993; Return of the Living Dead: Necropolis, 2005; Return of the Living Dead: Rave from the Grave, 2005.

Who’s movies are better? Certainly Romero’s movies have more heft, involving a lot of social commentary that you can really (if you’ll pardon the expression) sink your teeth into. Russo’s movies aren’t so thoughtful, but they have better zombies and a lot more humor.

Other things to note about the two men’s work: Romero’s zombies eat the living, but Russo’s zombies are specifically after brains. Also, Russo’s movies all include the word “living” in their titles, Romero’s do not.

A week ago I watched Night of the Living Dead again. Not the remake, the original black and white. It’s still good, and the end is still pretty hard hitting. Then, being on a zombie roll, I got the 1978 Dawn of the Dead. All I could remember about it was that the living protagonists were barricaded in a suburban shopping mall. The movie has so many terrific things going for it that it seems a shame that it’s so pitifully dated: bad makeup, bad 70s hairstyles and clothes, etc. Maybe next I’ll try the remake of Day. Someone told me it was pretty good.

But I also really want to revisit Russo’s The Return of the Living Dead. I remember the zombies being really excellent. (How can you forget the guy coming out of the chemical canister all slimy and decayed, saying “brrrains!“?)

If these kind of movies aren’t your cup of tea, maybe you should satisfy your inner zombie with some comedy instead. I recommend Shaun of the Dead and Fido.


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  1. Though it’s not in your survey, Army of Darkness gets my vote for Best Zombie… er, Deadite Movie of All Time!

    “Klatu Verata N… Necktie… Neckturn… Nickel… It’s an “N” word, it’s definitely an “N” word!”

  2. Scott, are you familiar with the songster Jonathan Coulton?

    He’s got a great song about this very thing, called “Re: Your Brains.” Check it out:

    You can listen to the song there. Here’s how he describes it:
    “If Hollywood has taught us anything, it’s that being trapped in a mall surrounded by a million zombies would be really troublesome. But how much more annoying would it be if the head zombie used to be your co-worker, and he was kind of a prick even before he got infected? And now he’s right outside and he just keeps talking and talking – still the same jackass, only now he wants to eat your brains?”

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