When it comes to horror, perhaps the most immediate image that comes to mind these days are zombies. After all, the popularity of “The Walking Dead” has pretty much reached everyone in some way, shape, or form. Now everyone thinks they know how to survive a zombie apocalypse. Pfft…
But what these people fail to realize is that zombie films have a long and rich history throughout cinema, resulting in films that have amazing things to say about society, about human nature, and about the very world we live in and how we treat it. The zombie subgenre is full of incredible films that should be seen by non-horror fans, not just as a way to introduce them into the genre but as a point of discussion about issues larger than the face value these movies offer.
Story time: My father is an avid reader. Like, voracious. In fact, it might not be a bad analogy to compare the amount of his reading to the amount of human flesh zombies want to consume. One day after reading Max Brooks’ fantastic “World War Z“, I told my father about it and how he should give it a chance. My father, who has a rather negative impression of horror altogether, immediately declined, not giving me a chance to explain why HE should give it a chance.
Long story short, I left the book on his couch. You see, my dad is the kind of guy who can’t help himself when it comes to books. You put one near him and he simply has to leaf through it. And that’s exactly what he did. A few pages in the middle, a few pages a bit later on, just getting a taste of things. And then he decided to start from the beginning.
A week or so later, I went to my parents for dinner and my father excitedly began telling me how much he loved the book. He was blown away by the rich and thorough accounts, the detailed cultures, and the intricately woven story. While he may not have decided to go any further into horror, I still had that victory!
For those who DO wish to dip their toes in a little further, I am here to offer a few suggestions on where to begin.
It would be remiss of me to say that George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead was the first zombie film. That title is often bestowed upon Victor Halperin’s 1932 film White Zombie, which follows the more Haitian belief of zombies. And while the latter is absolutely a must-see film that has a great many merits, it’s the former that really blew the doors open on the subgenre.
I’ve mentioned it before on here, but I remember watching this movie in my History Of Horror After Psycho course that I took at the University of Michigan (hail!). We spent three hours afterwards discussing the social commentary of the film without once mentioning the word “zombie”, instead talking about race relations, gender roles, the concept of the “living room war”, material commercialism, and more. It was one of the most entertaining and fascinating debates I’d ever been a part of and proved to me that horror not only has a place in our culture but that it’s extremely important in showing us the horror of what’s wrong in today’s society while giving us an opportunity to not have to face it directly, instead using horror’s images to explain the faults and issues.
It also helps that Night of the Living Dead is an extremely entertaining film. While it has definitely aged, something I don’t think anyone can argue, it’s still a frightening and extremely effective film with some truly unsettling and horrifying moments. As a starting point, this lays down the foundations very effectively for those who wish to just get a good scare as much as it does for those who want something more out of their film-watching experience.
Once that’s done, why not move on to Return of the Living Dead? Immediately challenge the concept that zombies can be killed by a strong blow to the head with this film so as to let viewers know that rules can and will be broken, no matter how sacred or golden they may be. Plus, they’ll get introduced to Tarman, who is always a blast to see.
Then, just to change the rules on them once again, move on to Danny Boyle’s phenomenal 28 Days Later. What helps viewers get into this film is that the cast and crew are from other very popular properties. Tell them that Boyle directed Slumdog Millionaire or Trainspotting and you’ll pique a lot of interest. Or how about having Cillian Murphy (Batman Begins), Naomie Harris (Skyfall), and Brendan Gleeson (Harry Potter, Braveheart)? These are familiar faces, which helps give a sense of security for those watching the film since the enjoyed these actors in other roles.
After those, you can start showing the other Romero films, maybe some of the remakes (Dawn of the Dead is especially fun and exciting), and toss in a zinger like Warm Bodies to add some romance into the mix.
But a great way to cap things off is by showing Shaun of the Dead, which appreciates the rules as much as it enjoys poking fun at them. It’s smart, it’s funny, and it’s a damn good way to show that zombie films can be fun and thoroughly entertaining.
Alright readers, it’s time for you to chime in. What films do you think should be used to introduce someone to the zombie subgenre? Let me know in the comments below!