Whether they’re portrayed as slow remnants of life or quick and agile mutants, zombies have dominated the horror genre. From George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead to more recent films and TV series such as Marc Forster’s World War Z and The Walking Dead, the zombie has been used over and over for their uncanny ability to scare. The question must be asked though: how many times can zombies be recycled before the results become tiresome?
While far from being the ﬁrst zombie ﬁlm conceived, George Romero’s 1968 ﬁlm Night of the Living Dead offered insight into the problems a zombie invasion posed to the media, government and civil defence. Romero’s speciﬁc focus on a rural farmhouse personalises the terror within the ﬁlm, forcing the viewer to associate their feelings with the characters through the domestic setting.
The problem of repetition, however, inevitably arises through the passing of time, and Hollywood’s seeming inability to produce original content. As the years have gone by, the various sequels, prequels and remakes have resulted in a rehash of similar situations, characters and plotlines. Therefore, in recent years, the most successful zombie ﬁlms have removed the focus from the zombies as a source of horror and found alternative avenues, such as comedy.
Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s successful 2004 ﬁlm Shaun of the Dead cleverly pays homage to the likes of Romero while reimagining the ways in which zombies are perceived in ﬁlm. Shaun of the Dead, for example, ends with Shaun playfully engaging with his best friend Ed, who by this point has become one of the undead. This comic interaction, which partners tropes of the classic zombie genre with the buddy/bromance genre that grew out of the noughties, proves that the deﬁning qualities of the zombie genre can change alongside the continually changing tastes of the public.
Another example is 2009’s Zombieland, again taking some formal elements of classic horror and utilising them to great eﬀect for laughs. On the other hand, modern zombie ﬁlms such as Marc Forster’s World War Z, which was met with comparatively less enthusiastic reviews, seemingly reject this move forward, instead heavily borrowing from the scenarios and situations that would have been better suited to audiences several decades ago.
Then there’s The Walking Dead, the TV show based on the hugely popular comic book series. The show began very well, making the transition from page to screen with great eﬀectiveness. The series was well run, with horror movie veteran Frank Darabont as the showrunner and main developer. However, complications came when Darabont stepped away from the show, with some rumours citing that he found it diﬃcult to adjust to the schedule of producing television, and others saying he couldn’t hack the executives “meddling”. Glenn Mazarra took over as showrunner, bringing a tonal shift to the series, setting it on a farm for pretty much the entirety, not dissimilar to Romero’s Night of The Living Dead.
Some loved the new, slower pace, others weren’t too enthused, with zombie legend Romero himself saying it is “a soap opera with a zombie occasionally”. Season three is where the show lost itself, not knowing what it wanted to be or where it was heading. It started going in circles, and despite killing oﬀ some serious characters, it couldn’t keep me hooked. Mazzara left the show at the end of the third season, stating that he found it diﬃcult to cope with the constant changes the TV network made, possibly explaining the instability of the series. I couldn’t comment on the more recent seasons, but, from what I have read, the show has returned to some form of consistency and praise. The show has also spawned a companion show, a spin-oﬀ called Fear the Walking Dead, which revolves around people before and during the outbreak of the zombie apocalypse.
However, the decision to have a second show, essentially about the same thing, strikes me as strange and unnecessary, adding to the output of rehashes and redos. Although I cannot deﬁnitively comment, as I haven’t seen the show, I doubt the merit of having another zombie show on our screens. However, The Walking Dead has provided another spin-oﬀ, in the form of the video games.
Here, story and character development are emphasised and are aﬀected by the dialogue choices of the player, as well as their actions during quick time events, turning the game into a rather cinematic, narrative experience. The Last Of Us, another hugely successful zombie-survival video game recently swept up awards and gained universal acclaim. It’s not hard to understand why these games are hugely successful, as they allow the gamer to connect with the emotions of the characters, and the horror inherent in a zombie apocalypse. With video games becoming more cinematic, perhaps the zombie genre has found a new home?
The modern emulations of classic zombie cinema are not particularly good, and by focusing on the emotional response of the viewer, the video games have tapped into a vein that modern iterations can’t seem to ﬁnd. Spoofs of the zombie genre also tap into a personal side through comedy. Both of these allow a spectator to identify more with the protagonists than out and out zombie horror can allow, similar to how the zombie classics and greats aﬀected us. The zombie genre isn’t dead, it’s just biding its time to invade our screens through other mediums. And it’ll happen sooner than you think. You might want to grab a zombie survival kit.