Shambling Through The Decades: Thoughts On “The Zombie Film”

I think we’re reaching the end of our country’s latest “zombie craze”.  Films, games, movies, comics–all of them have fallen in love with the zombie.  And why not?  We live in a fairly xenophobic time–our fear of “the other” has created an age where Americans seem obsessed with their need to survive in some sort of hypothetical apocalypse, whether it be man-made or filled with the shadows of supernatural horror.  Thousands of shuffling man-demons, rotting teeth tearing at red flesh–the bewildered screams of those who will not live, and the cold, thousand-yard-stares of those who will.

And I am just sick to death of the whole thing.

It’s not a popular opinion to have–particularly among the nerd community.  And I do love a well-made zombie picture.  But the zombie genre has become one of quantity over quality as of late. Because the shambling hordes of the undead can be like Candyland: not terribly complex–just follow the instructions and make your way to the end.  But it can also be a game of chess: easy to start, but complex in a way that makes the whole world hold its breath.  I’m of the opinion that this genre needs more Bobby Fischers and fewer Lord Licorices.


“What’d that fat nerd say about me?”

Nowhere is this need for quality more obvious than the zombie film. While there have been shining stars through its history, the zombie genre is riddled with all kinds of unnecessary schlock. Armed with that knowledge, I went into Alain Silver and James Ursini’s The Zombie Film expecting a bunch of colorful pictures with no real substance.  I was half right.

Slick and lavished with hundreds of gorgeous pictures, The Zombie Film covers the near-century that the creeping dead have been present in cinema in excellent detail.  It’s clear that the authors care enough about the subject to go to great pains, having researched the presence of the zombie in not only film, but in literature, theatre, and even pop culture.  What begins a particularly insightful synopsis and analysis of Bela Legosi’s 1931 classic White Zombie gives way to the ever-shifting and expanding cult classics that would permeate nightmares for years to come.

The mythic, Haitian-inspired zombie gives birth to the science-gone-awry zombie, and The Zombie Film is there, positing on the origins and effects of both along the timeline of movie history.  And while the exploitation of esoteric religions such as voodoo is ever-present, Silver and Ursini do indeed offer source material for their references.  How reliable said source material is can sometimes be called into question (The Serpent And The Rainbow, for example), but regardless: the information is there and readily accessible.

Each zombie is catalogued and analyzed, and it makes for fascinating reading.  The spiritual zombie gives way to the paranoia of the Cold War zombie, which in turn gives way to the schlocky zombies of the eighties, and our present day virus zombies.  Questions of influence are called into question and thoroughly examined.  Richard Matheson, for example, and his influence through works such as I Am Legend (despite said novella being about vampires, it still clearly had an effect).

Overall, The Zombie Film is a thoughtful look back at a grisly and fun part of our entertainment culture.  Whether or not the zombie film as a genre is overplayed in this day age doesn’t matter when it comes to this particular book. Alain Silver and James Ursini clearly care about the subject matter, and it shows in how willing they are to delve deep into this gorefest.  And even if I’m ready to let the creeping bodies lie still for a little while longer, I had a terrific time learning more about their history, and their possible future.

The Zombie Film was written by Alain Silver and James Ursini.  It will be published on March 18th, 2014, and is available for preorder from Amazon here.

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