There’s never been a better time for zombies — or, more to the point, for fans of zombies.
Everywhere you look, the zombie is making its mark. Not only do fans have a deep and varied back catalogue of great works to choose from, but the walking dead are the subject of some of the best books, movies and video games being made. We are, at this very moment, living in the midst of a zombie renaissance! Don’t buy it? Just have a look at the past decade compared to any other in zombie history.
The ’90s? Please. Apart from a few gems such as Tom Savini’s 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead, Cemetery Man and Dead-Alive… what great films came out of that decade? On the video game front we’ve got Resident Evil and Doom. And both were certainly important series, but they don’t compare with the wealth of options we have now.
The ’80s could almost make a run with the 1985 trifecta of classics Day of the Dead, Return of the Living Dead and Re-Animator leading the charge, and a few outings such as Pet Sematary and The Serpent and the Rainbow breaking out into the mainstream.
The ’70s gave us Dawn of the Dead, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie and the Lucio Fulci classic Zombie, while the 1960s gave us Night of the Living Dead and some important precursors such as Last Man on Earth. And previous decades laid important groundwork.
But compared even to the combined output of the seventy-plus years of zombie media that preceded it, the ’00s still produced a never-before-seen flowering of the zombie genre in terms of quality, quantity and variety.
Consider that the ’00s finally saw the production of a worthwhile Nazi zombie movie; a classic subgenre long on promise but short on fulfillment. Dead Snow may have been as derivative as its critics charged, but next to sloppy and incoherent non-classics like Shock Waves or Zombie Lake, it’s hard to argue that it’s not a better film in nearly every way. Or look at the incredible innovations the genre has produced in the past ten years. Pontypool gave us a linguistic zombie virus. Deadgirl and Otto: or, Up with Dead People explored zombie sexuality, while American Zombie gave us the first zombie mockumentary.
Video games gave us new and exciting opportunities to destroy zombies in malls, on the battlefields of World War II and even in space. Most of the acknowledged classics of zombie literature, from Max Brooks’s works and David Wellington’s Monster trilogy to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies all came out in the past decade. And lest we forget, the crucial questions of running vs. shambling zombies, Rage vs. Romero and other divisive, yet oh-so-entertaining divisions have only emerged within that same span of time.
In addition to the incredible variety of zombie types and zombie media that have emerged, something else no less impressive and important to the zombie’s place in the pop culture pantheon has happened: zombies have been embraced by the mainstream. From the Resident Evil and 28 Days Later films of the early part of the decade to 2009’s hugely successful Zombieland, zombies are now arguably the most popular monster in entertainment (only vampires can make a significant counter case for dominance). As a result, we’re getting more and more zombie material than ever before. While much of this is cash-in garbage, we’re also getting a chance to see Robert Kirkman’s excellent Walking Dead series adapted for television and a slew of excellent material in other expensive, exclusive media, from two top-notch Left 4 Dead games to deluxe Blu-ray releases of classic zombie films. And just about every decent-sized city in the Western world seems to have a zombie walk every year.
Some old-school zombie fans might bemoan the sudden influx of noobs and posers, but that sort of short-sighted elitism is both counterproductive and ignorant. The future of the genre is dependent on a steady stream of new fans, and while not everyone that goes out and sees Zombieland or the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake is going to look deeper and become a “true” fan, many will; and that’s good for all of us. There’s no saying that the next George A. Romero won’t be some kid who was introduced to the genre by a slumber-party showing of Zombieland or another new-school, zombie-come-lately entry to the canon.
We no longer have to search out grimy Grindhouses, out-of-the-way video stores or 3 a.m. cable showings to catch a few obscure and largely mediocre flicks. We’re bombarded with new content almost daily, much of it entertaining and worthwhile, some of it revolutionary and exciting. We have the vast history of the genre at our fingertips, and there are a multitude of young, new fans waiting to be introduced to the genre (and thus charmed by our impressive knowledge). It’s truly the best of times for zombie fans everywhere!
Cory Casciato is an arts and entertainment writer based in Denver. He writes about zombies at The Inevitable Zombie Apocalypse and covers the undead and other geeky topics for alt-weeklies and entertainment blogs across the country.
Photo Credit: Michael R. Perry