About This Site
Books and Stuff
A Surprising Cluster of Good Movies
A Day in the Life
The Matrix Redacted
Review of X-Men 3
On ZombiesJust for fun, I went to see Zombieland a couple of months ago when it was in the theaters, and it was fun, and way better than I'd expected. I was completely pleased. What really fascinated me, though, was the previews. I forget the names now (mercifully), but there were all these movies about vampires and werewolves and whatnot, and seeing them all together like that made me think, wow, where'd that come from? It was just so clearly a trend that I couldn't help wondering how the ideas (memes) had propagated.
Actually, now that I think about it, I see there are two parallel trends, one with zombies and one with everything else. Whoever picked the previews for Zombieland thought they were the same thing, but really they're quite different, as we'll see.
On the zombie side, I'm pretty sure I know the source of the trend—it's the excellent 2002 movie 28 Days Later. If you'll let me play movie reviewer for a second, I'd like to say that it's beautiful and haunting and unpredictable; you should definitely see it unless you can't stand gore. In any case, the important thing here isn't that the movie is good, it's that it introduced two new ideas about zombies.
The sequel 28 Weeks Later is pretty good, too, and I'm looking forward to the likely next installment.
I don't see Resident Evil as a trendsetter, but I could be wrong, and anyway it deserves some mention. It's from 2002 as well, and has zombies that are biological but still slow. It's loosely based on a computer game, so maybe the idea of biological zombies originated there?
I feel kind of bad for Resident Evil, actually. I like it a lot myself, but I think people tend to underrate it because of the computer game connection. It's a fun action movie with a decent plot and some nice-looking leading ladies; what more do you want? The sequel Resident Evil: Apocalypse is a little less coherent, but still fun in much the same way. Resident Evil: Extinction, on the other hand, I totally hated. I'll probably go see the next installment out of curiosity, but I'm not optimistic.
To complete the list of zombie movies, I'd like to mention Shaun of the Dead, which is another funny one like Zombieland (or vice versa, really, since Shaun came first). Although it uses slow zombies, it's still pretty clearly a direct response to 28 Days Later.
That's the last of the zombie movies, but not the last of the zombies, because the idea of fast biological zombies also crossed over into the realm of computer games with Left 4 Dead. I played it some myself; it's pretty fun and also very atmospheric.
The sequel Left 4 Dead 2 I didn't enjoy as much, I think because the atmosphere changed. The interesting thing about the sequel is, although it and Zombieland came out at almost exactly the same time, and have a bunch of ideas in common (the interstate, the amusement park, etc.), there's apparently no official connection between the two. More evidence of the amazing power of ideas!
If you're still not convinced that a trend exists, let me point to one more game, Plants vs. Zombies. It's a puzzle game—a nice one, I liked it pretty well—and as such, it doesn't have much of a plot; the zombie-ness of the zombies is just decoration, not an essential part of the game. It could just as easily have been Plants vs. Aliens or Plants vs. Robots. So why zombies? Because they're trendy!
Now, what about the vampire and werewolf side? Well, actually I'm not going to say much about it. I like zombies better than vampires and werewolves, so I pay more attention to zombie movies and games, and even so I'm hardly an expert. I could point to some movies at random—like Underworld, say—but I really have very little sense of how they fit into the greater scheme of things. You'll just have to take my word for it that a trend exists, and figure out the details for yourself.
I will take a wild guess at the source, though. Look at it this way. What's the main difference between zombies and the other creatures? Since 28 Days Later, zombies have mostly been biological, part of the natural world, but vampires and werewolves have remained as they were, supernatural. (In other words, vampires and werewolves have remained fantasy, but zombies have turned into science fiction!) And what's the main source of the recent enthusiasm for the supernatural? Why, Harry Potter of course!
That can't be right, though. If I remember correctly, there aren't any vampires in Harry Potter, and only one werewolf, so it can't be the source of the trend. A more correct statement might be that Harry Potter started, or at least tremendously aided the growth of, a larger trend toward magic and mysticism, and the trend toward vampires and werewolves is just part of that.
In much the same way, I think the zombie trend is part of a larger trend toward apocalyptic thinking (apocalypticism? apocalypticity?). Again, I'll let you figure out the details for yourself, but I'd like to point out that if I were a clever studio executive, I'd probably want to produce movies that combined the two trends—you know, something about a magically prophesied apocalypse, or about the world being destroyed by angels. Unfortunately for the hypothetical version of me, it takes more than trendy ideas to make a good movie.
@ February (2010)