The Undead State Of The Union: The Walking Dead, And The General State Of Zombie Cinema

Though it received mostly praised, I’ve heard some rumblings by fans of the comics that they’ve had mixed feelings about AMC’s adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s pop culture sensation “The Walking Dead”. Personally, I’ve never read the comics, aside from the first book. Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of being a comic fan, but I’m a realist, and I understand the fact that I just don’t have the required amount of free time to commit to such a task. So, when I went into the series, I went in with fresh eyes, and had no background for comparison.

Being a horror fan, you tend to consume an extraordinary amount of zombie related entertainment, the vast majority of which would be classified as bad, often times abhorrent. 2010 however, seemed to mark the return of what made zombie films capture our attentions in the first place. Generally, if you watch a zombie film, you pretty much know what to expect. Some are handled more competently than others, but for the most part it’s the same formula. Some kind of secret illegal government experiment went tits-up, the result of which being mass hysteria, and the dead returning from life in order to feast on the flesh of the living. In 2010, several films were released that prove that there are still some directors out there in the world with the balls to try something different with the genre. A few examples of this would be the two French entries into the sub-genre–“Mutants”, and “La Horde”. Mutants adds it’s own little flavor to the formula, but manages to generate a similar tone to my favorite Romero zombie film “Day of the Dead”. “La Horde” does nothing to stretch the lore of zombies. What it does is take bits and pieces of inspiration from past zombie classics, and turn in a comparable end product. It’s non-stop action, with enough guns and bullets to quench anyone’s lust for gun pornography.

A zombie film that came from Germany in the past year, would really change the game. “Rammbock”, or “Siege of the Dead” as some of you may know it, changes the way that zombies are dealt with. Not opting for the usual seemingly endless arsenal of weapons, the survivors in this film stumble across a way with dealing with the undead that I’ve never seen utilized in any other movie. The sequel to the Spanish cult phenomenon “[REC]”, managed to simultaneously create a cause for the outbreak that’s fairly unique to the sub-genre, as well as surpass the first film in entertainment value.

In October of 2010, on Halloween night to be exact, AMC unleashed what was hyped up to be one of the most epic moments in zombie history. The series starts off with a bang, in the surprising first death of the series. Surprising in the sense that it featured imagery that a lot of mainstream horror purveyors find too taboo to include in their films. I’m speaking of course(Stop reading if you’re avoiding spoilers), of the image of a little girl who’s become a zombie, having her brains blown out in gory detail on national television. Not all of what would follow would be equally as powerful, but with that one short scene, “The Walking Dead” had established it’s presence.

Complaints and grievances I’ve heard from die hard fans of the comics have included the inclusion of characters that weren’t originally in the story as well as the subtraction of some that were. A lot of people seemed to have a problem with the C.D.C. being involved in the final episode, written by the creator of the comics himself. Personally, this didn’t bother me. At first it did, because I felt it was going to add a glimmer of hope to what should be a hopeless story, but the way the episode ended we’re left feeling like the situation was even more dreadful than it was before. It’s like being in a state of starvation, having someone wave a piece of pizza in your face, only to learn that it’s plastic. Minor complaints aside, when all was said and done it seemed like the show managed to find a common ground in between fans of the comic, and those of us who have not read them.

Another complaint I’ve heard from a few people was about the special effects. This is an argument that I can both agree with, as well as otherwise. In my opinion, a lot of the CGI blood was unnecessary. Fake blood is easy to make, and with the right lighting, looks so much better than anything you can pump out of a computer. One friend of mine stated his frustration that they didn’t focus on headshots, and you were basically treated with pink mist from the distance. My response to that is, this is a TV-14 rated television show. TV-14 is the television equivalent of the PG-13 rating. I think within the confines of the rating, they did a pretty good job at making it feel authentic. Could it have been gorier? Of course it could have, but to be honest, some of the episodes were every bit as gory as a lot of R rated zombie films. And even though there was a lot of CGI used, it still looked better than Romero’s latest. There were enough of the effects that were handled practically that it allows you to forgive some of the uglier looking CG.

Originally, the plan was to bring the series back for a second season in October of 2011. While this would have resulted in amazing ratings for the network, especially on Halloween night, they’ve decided to bring the show back in July instead. A lot of fans of the series, myself included, were pretty bummed when we learned we were going to have to wait the better part of a year to continue the story, so thankfully, we don’t have that long to wait. The cat was let out of the bag by “Breaking Bad” and “Malcolm In The Middle” star Bryan Cranston in an interview with the New York Times. Bryan tells the publication; “It was a decision from AMC that they wanted to position us in July… They want to attract as many eyeballs as possible, away from the heavy competition of the September, November [or] January start. I believe they’re going to put Walking Dead in July as well.” So if you’re interested in finding out of producer Frank Darabont will be following the original story a little closer, or deviate even further from the source, you won’t have to wait very long to find out.

The year 2010 was a good one for zombies. Yes, there were several duds as well, “Resident Evil: Afterlife” for example, but in my opinion the good outweighed the bad. I know by now, most people groan when they hear that a new zombie film is being made, and for good reason. For too long now the sub-genre has been battered by piss-poor entries, even by the master of the craft himself. Hopefully filmmakers will take note, and realize that there is still a market for well made zombie movies. Horror fans in general are falsely labeled as easy to please, when in reality it’s mostly the “Monday morning quarterback” types that flock to the cinema to see the latest Saw flick, or the terrifyingly awful “Paranormal Activity” series. Perhaps if we start making a big enough deal about it, when someone takes the time to craft a well made film, we’ll get the genre some much deserved respect.

About Ted Brown

I eat, breath, and live the horror genre. Gore translates to beauty, and terror the gateway to happiness.
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  • Dave

    Another major complaint is the absence of one character’s death. A minor character who they’re now going to morph into a major character due to popularity. And the biggest upset of all is their downplaying of Carl, who in the comic is probably the most powerful character of all. I don’t mind the additions, it’s the subtractions that bother me. You may not realize it, but their exclusion of “the twins” is a big deal.

  • Shawn Savage

    You’re right, I don’t realize it, nor does a good percentage of the viewing audience. Do you personally feel like they didn’t find a good line between catering to people like me, and people like you?

  • Dave

    No they did. It was still great despite any reservations. The Resident Evil homage made me cringe for a bit, but as soon as that chapter came to it’s Resident Evil conclusion I realized it was just another add on. I feel cheated because the lack of displaying the evolution of Carl, a kid that had to grow up in an apocalyptic graveyard, is a disservice to the television audience. Something I can see they’re going to water down by the exclusion of the twins. Unless they pop up at some point in another storyline.