The Dead Walk Again

AMC's breakout hit

The Walking Dead returned to American Movie Classics Sunday night and hordes of non-zombies tuned in to watch one of television’s most intense and gruesome shows. If you missed catching one of the four, yes, four Sunday evening/Monday morning showings, don’t worry. AMC has five more airings scheduled for this coming weekend. I’m not a huge fan of the horror genre, per se, but I became a fan of this series during its Halloween night 2010 premiere (for clarity’s sake, that would be October 31, not to be confused with Beggar’s Night on October 30, if, like me, you live in Des Moines). I absolutely loved season one, though season two had its ups and downs. The producers’ decision to save money by keeping the action contained in one location during the second season probably wasn’t the right one. Nevertheless, The Walking Dead “remains” highly entertaining TV. That said, I’m sure fans of the show hope that the humans become more mobile again this season, as in the first season. If you’re coming to the series late and need to catch up, you’ve got a total of 19 episodes from seasons one and two to watch if you want to become fully up to date. If that’s the case, set your DVR to save the new ones and go zombie for a few nights/weekends as you watch the old ones.  If you don’t have a DVR, relax. You’ve got plenty of time get up to speed, because I guarantee you that the Des Moines Public Library will have several copies of season three available as soon as it’s released next year. In doing research on zombies for this post, I found out something sort of funny about the word zombie, that is, how it has recently come to be redefined. The original meaning of zombie is tied to the practice of voodoo.  In voodoo, a zombie is a will-less corpse that has been resurrected by a sorcerer to carry out his (usually nefarious) plans, with the zombie existing in a trance-like state. In that state, zombies aren’t inherently evil, crazed, or even dangerous – just creepy. Perhaps that's why zombies, as monsters of horror, never caught on in the way that vampires, Frankenstein’s monster, werewolves, or even mummies did.  Occasional zombie movies were made over the years, however, the most notable being 1932’s The White Zombie, starring Bela Lugosi, and 1943’s I Walked with a Zombie, both set in the voodoo context.
The seminal zombie flick

George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) is regarded as the first modern zombie movie. That low-budget non-Hollywood flick made millions of dollars of profit for a film that only cost tens of thousands of dollars to produce. Surprisingly, the word zombie was never used in that film to describe the menacing corpses that roamed the Pennsylvania countryside. The word zombie, in fact, wasn’t applied to the burgeoning horror subgenre until several years later. Traditionally, the term most commonly used to describe such a creature was ghoul, but somehow zombie trumped ghoul along the way. Similarly, the phrase “the walking dead” was reserved,  until recently, for vampires, but that terminology has also been co-opted by the zombie subgenre. In modern movies, a zombie has nothing to do with voodoo or any practitioner of the dark arts. If a zombie has now been imbued with a will of its own, however, it goes only so far as trying to eat the flesh of the nearest live human. That makes for a truly frightening movie monster by any name, especially in the numbers that generally populate modern zombie gorefests. Frankly, I’m more than a bit surprised by the sudden, massive popularity of all things zombie. Apart from AMC’s The Walking Dead, zombies seem to be lurking everywhere. In Des Moines’ East Village, the Zombieburger restaurant does scary good business, while the annual Zombie Walk gets more popular every year. Zombie-themed fiction has recently become the only real challenger to vampire-themed fiction within horror literature. As for movies, the production of zombie fare (and its related subgenre: contagion films) is at an all-time high. This is the point where you might expect me to give you a list of the greatest zombie movies ever made, in order to help you familiarize yourself with the classics, or maybe to help you pass the time while you’re waiting to get a hold of previous seasons of The Walking Dead. But I’m not going to do that (well, OK, If that’s what you really want, just stick with Romero’s “Dead” saga and their remakes). Instead, I’m going to lighten the mood a little by giving my five picks for the funniest zombie movies ever made.  That way you can get your gore and belly laughs all at the same time. Here they are: 5) Shaun of the Dead, 2004 – apparently the British enjoy a good zombie flick, as well, at least well enough to give the horror subgenre a send up; frequent co-stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost head the cast. 4) Planet Terror, 2007 – originally, this was part of the Grindhouse double feature, though it was later released on its own; director Robert Rodriguez’ style is so over-the-top and the action so frenetic that you can’t help but laugh, even when it doesn’t seem appropriate.
Simply hilarious!

3) Fido, 2006 – an under-seen, underappreciated Canadian gem that actually has two comic targets: zombie movies and 1950s-style conformity, and it hits both masterly. 2) The Return of the Living Dead, 1985 – possibly the first spoof of the modern zombie subgenre (most famous now for adding the zombie call-to-arms, or should that be call-to-heads, of “more brains!” to the zombie lexicon, as well as for having the first fast-moving zombies); it works equally well as a comedy and a grisly shocker. 1) Zombieland, 2009 – this flick is just flat-out funny; sure, there are tense, even frightening moments, but the laughs are frequent and often very clever in this surprisingly thoughtful coming-of-age story. Finally, there are two important things to remember: first, when trying to kill a zombie, aim for its head, and second, for movies and TV shows, go to the Des Moines Public Library, where DVDs check out for a week and still only cost $1.00!