Evolution of the Zombie….

While the term “Zombie” was known in other forms, it became an institution under the masterful cinema lore created by George Romero. Where would we be without his influence? No Return of the Living Dead, 28 Days Later, or The Walking Dead. Countless video games wouldn’t exist. I mean, think of all the movies,comics, games, tv shows, and books we’d have missed out on!

Who knew that a little indie movie could spark such an entertainment staple and stronghold? Could we ever thank Mr. Romero enough? I doubt it.

Following Night he hit us with a world much bigger and deadlier than a handful of ill fated survivors in a farmhouse. Dawn of the Dead showed us a zombie apocalypse on a much larger scale. Considered by many to be seminal Zombie movie, it solidified the undead cannibals as a different and deadlier form of nightmare. Unrelenting and ever present, they can’t be outrun and they can’t be avoided for long. The opening to this classic does a good job of showing how quickly society and government would break down if the dead rose.

Seen through the eyes of four survivors it also brought the struggle to survive in a believable and practical way. Though all won’t make it to the end, watching one slowly succumb and turn is poignant and beautifully done.

Just when it couldn’t look any bleaker Mr. Romero gut punched us with Day of the Dead. A much starker and more hopeless tale of a world conquered by the cannibalistic corpses. A small cadre of scientists and soldiers fight the dead and each other looking for a solution to save what’s left of the human race.

More an example of what happens when the worst of human nature goes unchecked and is also in charge, the tone of this movie was dark from start to finish. Also, in my opinion, we are introduced to one of the most interesting zombies in any media. Bub.

Coaxed by Dr. Logan nicknamed Frankenstein we see Bub regain a semblance of humanity. A sign of hope? Not likely. Seeing as this movie has some of the goriest and disturbing deaths ever put in a zombie film. 

How could you talk of this movie without bringing up Rhodes. The titular antagonist. Hard headed and violent, he serves as the example of why humanity would struggle to survive. His interaction with Bub at the end is wholly satisfying. 

There’s only one way to properly describe Rhodes’ exit. “Choke on ’em!”

After this trilogy the genre was inundated with new fiction. Books, movies, and comics all depicted the undead. Some movies rose above others for better or worse. Like the punk infused Return of the Living Dead.

And of course there were attempts at remaking Romero’s classics that were sub par and fell short of the feel he created.

This was the standard for a long time. Night of the Comet aside, the zombie seemed to slink back into the shadows. For me it’s resurgence was found in a little Capcom game released on the PlayStation.

Resident Evil hit hard and brought the zombie back to the forefront of pop culture. As more games were released, some good some forgettable, we were once again in love with the corpses looking to eat us.

Danny Boyle changed the game with 28 Days Later. A new take on the zombie. No longer a reanimated corpse, it went viral. Not in a popular social media way, but in a holy crap way. This movie is a masterpiece on it’s own merits. From the cinematography to the score this movie hits on all cylinders and remains one of my all time favorite movies ever. 

Changing the game entirely and making it a much more horrifying and believable scenario this film is as important as any movie Romero made. The sequel was just as practical and was brilliant in it’s false sense of security at the onset. 

In 2003 a comic arrived on the scene. Written by the extremely talented Robert Kirkman it has gone on to become arguably the biggest zombie story to date. You know it as The Walking Dead. Still running strong all these years later it has become an entertainment juggernaut.

AMC has hit a homerun with it’s TV series interpretation of the long running series. Both franchises have told a compelling story of survival and the beast and worst of human nature. It’s the first franchise to elicit a deep emotional response from me.

We’ve been almost overwhelmed over the years with the glut of undead entertainment. Games like Left 4 Dead and Dying Light are amazing multiplayer co-op survival experiences. Telltales Walking Dead series are great  interactive narrative driven games.

If you’re a reader there’s also plenty to sink your teeth into. Pun intended. Pride,prejudice and zombies is charming. As is the cinematic translation. Max Brooks published a genius take on the lore with The Zombie Survival guide and World War Z. I’ll leave watching the movie for the latter to you. 

The aspect of the zombie has evolved over the decades since Night of the Living Dead first scared moviegoers. Two recent standouts are The Last of Us, Maggie, and The Girl With All The Gifts.

The Last of Us is quite probably the best story ever put up in any form of media. A tragic story, deep believable characters, and a father/daughter wonderfully though unconventionally told. There are moments in this game that will have you genuinely laughing and bawling your eyes out. Engaging from the opening sequence to the tumultuous ending, this is a must for any zombie fan.

Maggie is an absolutely beautiful indie film that Romero would be proud of. Told from a small scale view it’s a moving and at times truly frightening piece. Highly recommended and worth the time to watch.

The newest zombie experience for me was The Girl With All The Gifts. An even newer take on a zombie scenario. No spoilers due to how recent it released, it is a work of art. A story that never remains static. Twists that work and impact the viewer. I cannot recommend this movie any harder. 

At this point I doubt we’ll see the zombie genre ever go away. For that I’m excited. As the lore is examined and taken in new directions the sky’s the limit for the zombie. Whether undead or viral, fast or slow, we’ll be treated to grim and beautiful stories of survival and desperation for years to come!

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