Welcome to the zombie renaissance

Posted by Cory Casciato On March - 3 - 2010
Photo by S.A. Young

It doesn’t get any better than this

There’s never been a better time for zombies — or, more to the point, for fans of zombies.

Everywhere you look, the zombie is making its mark. Not only do fans have a deep and varied back catalogue of great works to choose from, most of it easily available to anyone with the interest and a decent Internet connection, but the walking dead are the subject of of some of the best books, movies, video games and Internet sites being made. We are, at this very moment, living in the midst of the zombie renaissance.

Don’t buy it? Just have a look at the past decade compared to any other decade in zombie history. The ’90s? Please. Apart from a few gems such as Tom Savini’s 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead, Cemetery Man and Dead-Alive, what movies came out of that decade? On the video game front we got Resident Evil and Doom, both important series certainly, but hard to compare with the wealth of options we have now. The ’80s could almost make a run with the 1985 trifecta of classics Day of the Dead, Return of the Living Dead and Re-Animator leading the charge and a few outings such as Pet Sematary and The Serpent and the Rainbow breaking out into the mainstream. Previous decades had their own brilliant standouts — ’70s gave us Dawn of the Dead, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie and Lucio Fulci’s Zombie, ’60s gave us Night of the Living Dead and some important precursors such as Last Man on Earth and previous decades laid important groundwork. Compared even to the combined output of the seventy-plus years of zombie media that preceded it, the ’00s still produced a never-before-seen flowering of the zombie genre in terms of quantity, quality and variety.

Consider that the ’00s finally saw the production of a worthwhile Nazi zombie movie, a classic subgenre long on promise and short on fulfillment. Dead Snow may have been as derivative as its critics charged, but put it next to such sloppy, incoherent, hack-job non-classics as Shock Waves or Zombie Lake and it’s hard to argue that it’s not a better film in nearly every conceivable way. Or look to the incredible innovations the genre produced in the past ten years. Pontypool gave us a linguistic zombie virus. Deadgirl and Otto: or, Up with Dead People explored zombie sexuality. American Zombie gave us the first zombie mockumentary. Video games gave us new and exciting opportunities to destroy zombies in malls, on the battlefields of World War II and even in space. Most of the acknowledged classics of zombie lit, from Max Brooks’s works to David Wellington’s Monster trilogy to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies all came out in the past decade. And lest we forget, the crucial questions of running vs. shambling zombies, Rage vs. Romero and other divisive, yet oh-so-entertaining divisions within the undead realm have only emerged within that same span of time

In addition to the incredible variety of zombie types and zombie media that’s emerged in that time span, something else no less impressive and important to the zombie’s place in the pop culture pantheon has happened: zombies have been embraced by the mainstream. From the Resident Evil and 28 Days Later films of the early part of the decade to last year’s hugely successful Zombieland, zombies are now arguably the most popular monster in entertainment (only vampires can make a significant counter case for dominance). As a result, we’re getting more and more zombie material than ever before. While much of this is shitty cash-in garbage, we’re also getting a chance to see Robert Kirkman’s excellent Walking Dead series adapted for television and a slew of excellent material in other expensive, exclusive media, from two top-notch Left 4 Dead games to deluxe Blu-ray releases of classic zombie films. And just about every decent-sized city in the Western world seems to have a zombie walk every year.

Some old-school zombie fans might bemoan the sudden influx of noobs and posers, but that sort of short-sighted elitism is both counterproductive and ignorant. The future of the genre is dependent on a steady stream of new fans, and while not everyone that goes out and sees Zombieland or the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake is going to look deeper and become a “true” fan, many will — and that’s good for all of us. There’s no saying that the next George A. Romero won’t be some kid who was introduced to the genre by a slumber-party showing of Zombieland or another new-school, zombie-come-lately entry to the canon.

We no longer have to search out grimy Grindhouses, out-of-the-way video stores or 3 a.m. cable showings to catch a few obscure and largely mediocre flicks. We’re bombarded with new content almost daily, much of it entertaining and worthwhile, some of it revolutionary and exciting. We have the vast history of the genre at our fingertips, we get new treats almost daily and there are a multitude of young, new fans waiting to be introduced to the genre (and thus charmed by our impressive knowledge). It’s truly the best of times for zombie fans everywhere.

2 Responses to “Welcome to the zombie renaissance”

  1. Jay Clarke says:

    Great article man. I need look no further than my twelve-year-old niece, who can recite the Zombieland ‘rules’ by heart, to know that the undead have never been more mainstream than they are right now. Good times!

  2. […] 1996 Resident Evil released – The zombie genre gets its first great game, essentially translating the Romero zombie to videogame form, introducing the walking dead to a huge new audience and paving the way for the zombie renaissance of the ’00s. […]

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