Shuffling and shambling their way onto the screen and into popular culture, the zombie has gained widespread appeal as a horror film and book icon. From their first appearance in Night of the Living Dead to the frightening (and sometimes frightful) abundance of subsequent offerings, the undead horde relentlessly propel themselves onward, seeking fresh brains in the form of new fans. I’ve been a fan of this sub-genre for quite a while and for many years I portrayed a zombie at Halloween (stage blood gel-caps and a rubber foot are wonderful props for scaring the trick-or-treaters).
One of the prominent features of most of these stories is the fact that, if left unchecked, the zombie menace will quickly outpace the remaining human population. There isn’t time to just “wait it out” while conventional society quickly degrades. The living must band together and put aside their differences, creating internal side conflicts in addition to the primary core conflict of human vs. zombie.
In this series, I shall be examining various aspects of the zombie motif. First up, my personal favorite zombie incarnations and a few that I feel could have just been left in the ground.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
The great-grand-daddy of zombie films. Set the tone for one branch of the zombie pantheon: The dead rise and if you are dead or become dead through whatever means, you will join their ranks. The iconic shuffling gait, blank stare and mindless pursuit of prey all got their start here.
Least favorite movie:
Too campy in my opinion, this one foregoes any real horror moments for a big splash of humor. While John A. Russo got the rights to use the name “Living Dead” after the split, Romero’s line of sequels (Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead) retained more of the spirit of the original.
The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman (writer)
This continuing series of comics explores a present-day world where a zombie outbreak quickly gained a critical mass. Thus, the story centers more on the ability of humans to adapt and survive in a post-apocalyptic setting, while still dealing with the considerable amounts of emotional baggage they brought along for the trip.
Least favorite book:
Cell: A Novel by Stephen King
Perhaps that this was given a zombie story attribution was its greatest downfall for me. I expected the horror master’s take on a classic scenario, but instead found the “rules” hard to figure out. In my opinion, it’s more akin to The Matrix than zombie lore.