By Ross Stewart
Dead eyed, drooling, moaning people in ripped blood stained clothing slowly shambling through the moonlit streets. No, it’s not Sauchiehall Street after chucking out time instead it’s an army of the undead, or more appropriately, zombies.
That Sauchiehall Street reference wasn’t just a little joke (emphasis on the little) but rather referring to the casting call for extras in Glasgow to film some scenes for new zombie movie epic World War Z starring proper A-lister Brad Pitt. Unfortunately the casting call wasn’t for people to be zombies rather terrified zombie meat which is infinitely less fun. Still being an extra in a zombie movie is a perfectly pleasant way to spend the day, also it’s incredibly sexy if you are a zombie fan geek.
Zombies have never really received the respect from the mainstream unlike their nearest horror cousins, vampires. Vampires have personalities, sometimes very strong well developed personalities such as the seductive Dracula or the hip and dangerous Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Sometimes they can even be mopey bores that only appeal to lovesick teenage girls (yes Twilight, I’m looking at you). The fundamental thing is vampires have personalities so they are more appealing to a mainstream audience. Zombies however are blank slates, all they do is lumber around and devour fresh meat. That makes them harder to identify with – which means the zombie has been relegated to the trashy and cheap end of the exploitation horror market.
The ‘blank slate’ aspect of the zombie however means filmmakers can use them to comment on social issues. The most famous example of this is George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead which was a vicious attack on consumerist society. It brilliantly depicted zombies as the ultimate consumer characters as they attempted to force their wayinto a heavily barricaded shopping mall. As one of the characters comments “They’re after the place. They don’t know why, they just remember. Remember that they want to be in here.” Romero skilfully showing us that the zombie is no different to us, basically just following its basest impulses. It’s dark and troubling stuff but effectively legitimised the zombie.
Unfortunately in the following years the zombie was never really utilised as effectively again, instead being recycled in gory cheap fodder that destroyed all the good work that Romero had done. Of course there were exceptions such as Peter Jacksons Braindead and Michele Soavi’s Dellamorte Dellamore. But, by and large they were all blood, guts and no brains.
The next breakthrough in zombie cinema and the one that effectively kick started the genre again was the brilliant Shaun of the Dead which was funny, smart and full of heart. It also had something to say underneath the laughs as we see that Shaun is no different to the zombies in the way he is just shambling through his life. Being surrounded by the dead suddenly brings him to life.
The reverberations from Shaun have continued the past decade with the remake of Dawn of the Dead doing pretty good business to the point where the grandfather of zombie cinema Romero managed to get funding to do a fourth chapter in his Living Dead series. Even the terrible adaptation of zombie game Resident Evil has flourished with many undeserved sequels.
Zombies have also managed to break through into television with the adaptation of Robert Kirkmans graphic novel series The Walking Dead. Ten years ago it would appear impossible to have a weekly zombie fix on television but due to their recent popularity and the excellent source material it now seems bizarre that it hasn’t been attempted before.
And finally Brad Pitt. You know, Brad Pitt, one half of Brangelina, star of huge hit movies such as Ocean’s Eleven and Inglorious Basterds. You may have heard of him. Brad as mentioned at the top of the page is filming World War Z, a zombie movie, a proper big budget one. He is easily the biggest star to appear in a zombie film which may be the tipping point for zombies.
The zombie may now become a huge star rather than a cult figure. In a couple of years time maybe we will see George Clooney pick up an Oscar for his role as ‘Zombie No3’ in Steven Spielberg’s bid budget remake of Braindead. Probably not but one thing is certain, when it comes to zombies they just won’t stay dead.
FIVE ACTORS WHO SHOULD PLAY ZOMBIES
Since his films are becoming increasingly aimed at the witless and the brain dead this may actually seem like a welcome relief from his usual banal fare.
No acting required.
The only way to make a zombie charismatic and dangerous.
Just add alcohol.
His zombie is dispatched by getting shot in the face in the first five minutes. It’s quite satisfying.