His name virtually synonymous with the cinematic zombie, George A. Romero’s Dead series rewrote the rules of the undead monster. In the original Night of the Living Dead (1968), Romero’s core group of survivors battle each other as well as the zombies in a film which very much reflects the time in which it was made. As one of the group fighting for survival, Barbra is the epitome of the defenseless female. She spends the majority of the film either panicking to the detriment of those around her or catatonic. Her death, via consumption by her zombified brother, is almost a welcome reprieve from her complete ineffectualness.
It’s the premiere of season 6 of AMC’s The Walking Dead this weekend (October 11, 2015), and I have to start by saying that the series is, hands-down, in my humble opinion, the best zombie narrative in every way ever. But . . . when you’re not watching The Walking Dead, you have plenty of great films to sate the appetite for quality zombie fare.
There are also lots of lists out there detailing the best zombie films. (I found Zomboy’s Top 10 Zombie Movies on Bloody Disgusting to be one of the best, covering everything from the classics to the parodies.)[i]
I want to put a slightly different spin on things, offering you what I think are the ten most provocative zombie films. They’re great films—and they’ll also make you think.
With the upcoming release, in early 2016, of Jason Zada’s The Forest, with its retelling of Japanese myths of people going to the Aokigahara Forest to die, I’ve been thinking about the return, as it were, of plants, trees, forests in recent horror film and TV. Not least in AMC’s The Walking Dead.
The Walking Dead is, of course, shot (and mostly set) in the beautiful lush landscapes of Georgia—and I definitely felt the absence of the richly enveloping, even devouring, vegetation as I was watching Fear the Walking Dead’s LA landscapes.
The vegetation of The Walking Dead is much more than background, though. There is a resonant connection between the vegetation and the walkers. Not least walkers often lurk in and stagger through fields and forests, blending in more and more as they decay.
As a pop culture juggernaut that shows no signs of slowing down, AMC’s The Walking Dead is the unusual zombie narrative that has managed to capture the attention of both horror and non-horror fans alike. With its sly humor, grotesque kills and nuanced characters, the show both reflects and reimagines the ways in which zombies can be used to create a distinct sense of dread. But unlike their living dead predecessors, the zombies of The Walking Dead are not mere monsters. Instead, the show offers a zombie construct that is both identifiable and malleable. While it would have been easy to cast the zombies as simple monsters, the show often challenges its audience to sympathize with the zombies. The end result is a much more complicated and socially aware narrative.
The notion of a sympathetic zombie seems at first contrary to the genre. After all, zombies are traditionally designed to be decaying shells whose threat revolves around their complete lack of intent. Steve Bruhm notes that zombies serve as a “barometer of the anxieties plaguing a certain culture at a particular moment in history.” Season one of The Walking Dead reflects this thinking in its utilization of zombies as the main source of the narrative’s horror. Where The Walking Dead succeeds in remaking the horror of the zombie is in its gradual personalization of it. The zombies occupy, intentionally, both an impersonal and a personal position within the narrative.
Note: You’ve read Elizabeth’s argument why zombies are excellent horror monsters, now read Gwen’s counter argument that zombies are horrible horror monsters.
In the spirit of true democracy, my cohorts have allowed me this space during our illustrious “Zombie Week” to explain my utter distaste for all that is “zombie.” I know I might lose a few of you here, but I hope we can all just agree to disagree. Without crushing the hearts of all those out there on the zombie apocalypse bandwagon, I finally can shout it from the mountain that I just don’t find zombies all that scary.
I feel like an addict stuck on step five, confessing my horror wrongdoings. Standing here before you, I confess that I don’t watch The Walking Dead, I avoid Halloween haunts that have zombie themes, and I never feel compelled to rent a zombie flick. (Yes this is sacrilege coming from the state that is home to most Romero films.) I hope you can indulge me by reading the reasons that I don’t like zombies. Selfishly, I hope that those of you who agree with me, might just share this article in solidarity and discuss it with your friends.