Despite the trailers’ arduous efforts to hide the central premise of World War Z (2013), anyone who’s so much as glanced at the cover of Max Brooks’ source novel knows it’s got to do with zombies. As such, our contributors have decided to gear up for the Brad Pitt vehicle by recommending four oeuvres about the living dead.
In the Flesh (2013)
Despite Brad Pitt’s star power and the world’s concern over Angelina Jolie’s boobs, I suspect World War Z comes just a bit too late. Yet, this past March, Dominic Mitchell brought to the BBC a three-part zombie series that still comes across as fresh. In the Flesh takes place in the rural English town of Roarton, pronounced to my tin ear like “rotten”. Four years after an event called the Rising, wherein the dead rose from their graves to feast on the living, the afflicted corpses have largely been rehabilitated through incarceration and medication. They’re about to be reintegrated into society, prompting the question, “What if they decide to attack again?”
The answer is that they didn’t “decide” to attack in the first place. The government swears the sufferers of PDS, short for “partially deceased syndrome”, are better, but how do you accept back a sister who ate Mom, Dad, and Baby Jess? This is the logical leaping-off point after the fairy tale ending of Warm Bodies (2013), except here the metaphor, crucial ingredient of any zombie fiction, casts the living dead strain as a mental illness, opening a discussion less about the apocalypse and more about survival. This is genre fiction that gets it right. Set for a longer second season, In the Flesh moves like us, neither fast nor slow, wants into our lives, and fights for a little bit of our heart if not always our brain.
Game of Thrones (2011-2013)
Beware! There are zombies everywhere! Tragically, they seem to be infesting every corner of fiction with alarming tenacity. Don’t get me wrong: my son is in love with the idea of a zombie apocalypse and so their ubiquitous nature has made gift-giving easier than it should be by any right with an eight-year-old. Really, though, why must I see walking dead people at every turn? I like a little mystery in my monsters. I prefer the suggestion of evil and danger to having it shoved in my face. For that reason, my favorite zombies are those we never quite see: the White Walkers of Game of Thrones, based on the work of George R.R. Martin.
When I caught the trailer for World War Z, the biggest thing that stood out for me was that we aren’t shown the zombies themselves up close. In fact, with the exception of the ant-like hoard swarming that giant wall, we don’t see them at all. Similarly, HBO’s Game of Thrones regularly discusses the Walkers that threaten the seven kingdoms, but it’s shown us the monsters a scant three or four times in thirty episodes. Their threat is real, their power is intimidating, but their faces are hidden, kind of like the real evils of the world.
Birdemic 2: The Resurrection (2013)
Finally, the long awaited sequel to a phenomenal cult classic has come out. Writer-director James Nguyen made us wait three years after his original masterpiece, Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2010), which gained worldwide notoriety for its terrible special effects, nonsensical plot, horrible pacing, subpar acting, and all around incompetence. How could its sequel, Birdemic 2: The Resurrection, possibly live up to such low standards in the cinematographic art?
As in the first movie, we are treated to a completely unimaginative but all the more memorable credit sequence followed by about forty minutes of weak character development. Eventually, the birdemic, short for “bird epidemic”, starts, and we see our cast fight for their lives while moseying along the streets of Los Angeles in an RV. Birdemic 2: The Resurrection delivers the same high calibre of face-palming moments as we’ve come to expect from Nguyen, so get the booze out, and call up all your friends if only to share the experience of watching aspiring actors face off against prehistoric zombie birds, classic zombies, and a pair of cavemen who might actually be zombie cavemen.
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
No article about zombies would be complete without at least few words about George A. Romero, the writer-director who, for all intents and purposes, invented the living dead trope. His original Night of the Living Dead introduced such genre-defining concepts as the ghouls’ cannibalistic urges and disease-carrying bite, the isolated setting where characters from all walks of life can bicker, and the heavy-handed social commentary. Indeed, the 1968 classic changed the face of horror cinema, but I’d rather write about its first official sequel, Dawn of the Dead.
Released a full decade after the original, Dawn of the Dead follows a new group of survivors as they fulfill every child’s fantasy of barricading oneself in a shopping centre and living off its merchandise. In fact, the titular living dead disappear halfway into the film so that Romero can explore each character’s relationship with their newfound possessions. It’s a metaphor with a capital M, of course, and few movies discuss consumerism as earnestly, forgoing the usual “eat the rich” platitudes in favour of a more nuanced study of the values and comfort we project on our material goods. Think of it as a bit of food for your brain before your brain becomes food.