If the somewhat scholarly Zombie Movie Encyclopedia wasn’t quite the right zombie movie guide for you, then Glenn Kay’s Zombie Movies: The Ultimate Guide may be a better fit. Kay chronicles more than three hundred zombie movies and television episodes from the original 1932 White Zombie to George Romero’s 2008 feature Diary of the Dead.
Kay tends to take a more laid back approach to the genre than Dendle, making it an easier book to read straight through. Interestingly, he starts off with a lengthy and fairly detailed history of Haiti that seems a little out of place considering the tone of the rest of the book. Still, it’s an interesting read that offers some insight into the origins of the zombie myth. And a little history never hurt anyone, right?
The guide itself is organized by era, broken roughly into decade-sized chunks. This makes it easy to follow the development of the genre and lends the book some of its linear readability. But it often necessitates a trip to the index to find a particular film you may have heard referenced by name without knowing the era it is from. Kay doesn’t offer a lot of detail about what criteria he uses to categorize a film as a zombie film. But even though he clearly takes an expansive view of the genre, there are few, if any, selections that will upset anyone but total purists.
Most of the entries are given about half a page of discussion, with more important works (Romero’s films, for example) receiving several pages while lesser works are covered in just a few paragraphs. He rounds up lots of minor films with a mere mention in end-of-chapter lists. Though he doesn’t cover video games with their own entries, he does discuss their impact on the genre at several points. Each movie that gets a full entry is also rated, but Kay uses an obscure set of symbols to denote their rankings, making them a pain to use. A simple four star rating system would have been preferable to trying to remember what a zombie figure with a stick through its midsection denotes.
Like any review, some of his takes seem spot on while others earn a puzzled “WTF? Is he serious?” But he does a good job justifying his positions for the most part. So at least you’ll know why he likes that turd you hated so much. He wraps the book with a chapter on the 25 greatest zombie movies of all time; a list that is sure to cause some contention among serious fans. For what it’s worth, I agreed with about half his list, while the rest ranged from debatably justifiable to sheer insanity.
As a bonus, Kay has included Q&A format interviews with various directors, special effects people, extras, etc. These are fairly interesting, but seem slightly out of place and don’t really add much, in part because none are particularly insightful. In addition to a generous amount of black-and-white photos of film posters (many of them foreign) and production stills, there is a nice full-color set of images in the center that adds to the visual appeal of the book. The index, appendices and bibliography are a little anemic, but most readers won’t even notice. All in all, it’s a nice, casual reference work that is worthy of consideration from any fan.
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.