Would you let a zombie date your daughter? Once a monster reserved only for film geeks and horror buffs, zombies have made it into the mainstream. Vampires move out of the way.
It appears that it’s okay for us to have the hots for the undead. Well, that’s according 2013’s release ‘Warm Bodies’ that sees a young girl falling in love with a zombie. Does this mean that vampires are old news? Are zombies the new sexy?
There has always been something so god damn sexy about vampires, hasn’t there? The last two decades have seen the fanged fiends go from being repulsive ancient beings, taking the lives of the young and innocent, to being a monster that many us would like to see lying next to us in our beds. Since the first Vampire film in 1913, which told the tale of a man seduced by a femme fatale, popular culture has had a love affair with the concept of vampirism. Back then, we had reason to fear them but now, for the last 20 years in particular, the vampire has become a sex symbol, inspiring TV series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and True Blood feeding our imaginations and at the cinema, more notably, The Twilight Saga by Stephanie Meyer that went on to become one of the most successful movie franchises ever.
With vampires having hogged the limelight for long enough, other monsters are stepping out of the shadows, after their fair share of the fun. We’ve had werewolves in recent years, 1981’s The Howling and An American Werewolf in London, Teen Wolf in 1985, 2000’s Ginger Snaps and the Underworld films, which star Kate Beckinsale as a PVC clad alternative heroine who fights werewolves and vampires alike.
Zombies however, were not as welcome in the mainstream as their other siblings but that didn’t stop them from gaining a faithful following, since they grunted and groaned onto our screens. The mindless, flesh hungry and somewhat terrifying undead, as we know them today, were born out of various elements including literature, Haitian folklore and film.
According to Haitian folklore, a zombie or Zonbi was an animated corpse resurrected with the use of witchcraft or other mystical means. In popular culture, however, we have come to associate the notion of a zombie as an undead being, an association that cites George A. Romero as it creator, although many would argue that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was the first real glimpse of the dead being resurrected. There are a few films that have helped shape today’s idea of the zombie, all of which are must-sees.
Focusing on film, the first documented appearance on a zombie onscreen was in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in 1920 (seen above) by German director Robert Wiene, which is often considered one of the greatest silent horror movies made. After this first look at zombies it wasn’t until the 1936 film ‘Things to Come’ based on the novel by H.G. Wells did this genre take another step towards today’s concept of zombie in Hollywood. ‘Things to Come’ featured zombies, staggering around an apocalyptic scenario, and were referred to as having the ‘the wandering sickness’ which infected whoever they came in to contact with… an idea that has been used in film since.
Another cultural landmark in the development of the zombie genre was when George A. Romero’s 1968 film ‘Night of the Living Dead’ was released. Known as Romero Zombies, George combined assets of both vampires and zombies together, creating a ‘hybrid vigour of a ghoulish plague monster’, that he also used as a way to criticize current affairs like slavery, greed and government ineptitude. Not only did Romero reinvent the zombies and the way infection was spread, but he also brought the genre back into the popular consciousness in force, making him the godfather of modern Zombie cinema. Romero went on to create another 5 films in the Living Dead series, including the 1978’s sequel ‘Dawn of the Dead’, which took place in an American shopping mall crawling with the undead.
At the same time, Italian director Lucio Fulci stepped onto the scene with Zombie, a hyper-realistic gore fest that saw a woman go in search of her father on a tropical island over run with the undead. The film was a cult hit, rebooting Fulci’s career and rapidly gained a reputation for one of the most disgusting films of all time, getting banned from British cinema.
Then, in 1981, came the first of Sam Raimi’s cult series of films ‘The Evil Dead’ which made Bruce Campbell a legend of the silver screen. Raimi’s take on the genre was cheap and cheerful, combining absolute terror with schlock effects and inventive camerawork to create a foreboding sense of dread. Although the first of the franchise wasn’t technically a true zombie film, it dealt with the idea of demonic possession with the presence of the undead and became one of the biggest cult hits of all time, marking a change in zombie films from horror to b-movie.
It was around this time, 1983 to be exact, that that zombies also learned how to shimmy shake their thing, starring in Michael Jackson's undeniably epic 13-minute music video for his classic hit 'Thriller'. Jackson's video also set the benchmark for video clips of the future, making the music video an essential tool in the sales of music. Also, it was the first time that we had seen zombies looking as sexy as this... something that we rarely saw again.
From then on, directors of zombies tried to out do each other with how much gore they could fit into their films.
After that, the genre skulked back to the underground, where gore, imitation and low budget flicks did the rounds. It seemed that the undead had actually died with regards to the public interest but that was all about to change. The resurgence began in the gaming community, when the computer game Resident Evil was released in 1996, becoming an instant hit and gaining cult status rapidly. The franchise expanded into comics, novels, animated films and various merchandise, later going on to inspire a series of Resident Evil films starring Milla Jovovich as the heroine. The first of which came out in 2002, bringing the zombie back into the cinema but there were bigger things to come.
Upon until 2002, zombies had always been viewed as slow, cumbersome, mindless flesh eating foes that stumbled and tripped after their victims. Well, iconic film director Danny Boyle thought it was about time that this all changed with ’28 Days Later’… Boyle gave the undead a new lease of life, making them faster, more agile, stronger, vicious and intelligent, removing the comedic value that had hung on to the genre for a decade or so. Boyle’s zombies set a new template for the undead and were seen in a remake of ‘Dawn of the Dead’, Zombieland and the Resident Evil films.
Terror ensued, with George A. Romero cashing in on the resurgence making more films until 2010, Spanish cinema producing the frightening handheld horror REC of 2007 and the wonderful genre bending horror comedy in 2004 by the UK’s Simon Pegg ‘Shaun of the Dead’ directed by Edgar Wright.
As these films began to make big money, so did the characters that starred in them and, with that, so did the emotions that were felt. Gone were the days where screaming and running were the only way to live in an apocalyptic world and other emotions came into play. The love felt in ‘Shaun of the Dead’ was based on the relationships that held these people together and the decisions that they had to take in order to stay alive. This saw heart-wrenching moments like Shaun’s mother succumbing to the bite of one of the infected and also the moment that Shaun’s best friend is bitten. Although heart was found in previous films, including amongst the terror of Boyle’s ’28 Days Later’, it was here that the relationships woven in the film seemed real, tragic and all too close to home.
Drama and the relationships of those forged in post-apocalyptic world's were explored further, when AMC premiered 'The Walking Dead' in 2010 based on the graphic comics by Robert Kirkman. Yes, there were flesh eat zombies roaming the streets but what was more captivating was the focus placed upon the relationships and events that the characters were going through. The screen adaptation has become a huge hit around the globe, being put forward for numerous awards and being celebrated for the sense of realism that the show conveys. Another interesting point was that the shows creators rejected the trend of using Boyle's zombies, favouring the Romero zombies of the past and staying true to the contents of the comic books.
This brings us neatly into 2013 which sees a remake of Sam Raimi’s ‘The Evil Dead’ in the making, an upcoming summer blockbuster led by Brad Pitt in World War Z and, more interestingly, another development of the genre… a zombie love story starring Nicholas Hoult in Jonathan Levine’s ‘Warm Bodies’. Coined as a romantic zombie comedy film, this will blow the perception of this genre once more and doing what Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Twilight did for vampires, for zombies. Based on the debut novel by Isaac Marion, the story is comparable with that of Shakespeare’s Rome and Juliet, just with the living dead instead of two fighting families. Zombie Romance is a subgenre that has been growing in popularity over the years but 2013 marks the first time that a big budget production of one of these books has made it to Hollywood.
So what’s next? There are no more zombie romance films penned in for release in 2013 but I am sure that the concept of finding an undead lover is going to be around for years to come; we’ve been under the spell of vampires and werewolves for a while, so, maybe it’s time to let the living dead play with our hearts.
Warm Bodies is in Cinemas now.