Saturday, July 4, 2009

Zombie Evolution

By Steven Duarte

Rotting flesh, reanimated bodies, and spine-chilling moans all come to mind when we hear the word Zombie. There is no mistaking the popularity of the zombie in our popular culture. Zombies have graced everything from cinema, literature, music, and video games, but these decaying stars have not always had the celebrity status they enjoy today.
It wasn’t until 1968 when a then unknown small time Pittsburg horror director George A. Romero made a low budget film called “Night of the Living Dead,” that the mainstream zombie craze started. We saw many zombie movies being made from all continents, including Italian director Lucio Fulci’s “Zombi,” and Spanish director Jorge Grau’s "Let Sleeping Corpses Lie". Their popularity aside, what is it about zombies that keeps us hollering for more? Has the change in zombie ideology over the last couple of years kept us from becoming disinterested in the zombie sub genre of horror?
Romero takes credit for creating the look and mystique of the zombie that we all know and love-- the slow moving, flesh eating corpses have been a staple of his “Dead series,” films which will span 6 movies with his soon-to-be-released “Island of the Dead.” But it's easy to see that recent zombie films have strayed away from Romero's rules for the undead. The biggest change, of course, running zombies, as seen in Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake of “Dawn of the Dead”, and the recent not so great remake of “Day of the Dead.” Other films such as “28 Days later” and its sequel “28 Weeks Later” along with the Spanish made film “REC” all had pseudo zombies that could run, but as stated by their respective directors, these are not technically zombie movies.

The only problem that I have with the constant debate of running zombies versus the slow moving ones is that the running zombie is not an entirely new concept. We first saw running zombies in Dan O’Bannon’s 1985 film “Return of the Living Dead”.

This film which without a question has reached cult status had running zombies. The film even had a talking zombie which we all know as Tar Man.

As a zombie-phile I don't have much of a problem with the running zombies but do have some minor gripes with some of the newer zombie films. The super strength zombie that can scale walls and jump up higher than a regular human really grinds my gears. I really don’t need to see zombies punching through walls or throwing full grown people like rag dolls. If I wanted to see that I would watch WWE wresting. That’s not to say that sometimes these additions aren’t entertaining. Films such as "Dead Alive", made by Mr. Lord of the Rings himself, Peter Jackson, includes some hysterical moments involving kung fu zombies. When the film does not take itself seriously, I don’t have a problem with changing up the zombie mythology.

Giving zombies the ability to run only adds to the suspense of viewing someone being eaten alive. Now I’m not advocating the complete removal of the slow walking zombies but I’m simply welcoming these new age zombies may not be an entirely bad thing. Adding something to the zombie mythology can only help keep it going for future generations of zombie lovers.

--Steven Duarte