Walkers. Zed heads. Biters. The Undead. Zombie. For decades, what we’ve come to know as the classic brain devourer risen from the dead has flooded mainstream media with endless waves of adaptations and interpretations.
Well regarded as the GodFather of the modern zombie, George A. Romero created the first imagined creation that all future iterations have come to replicate in various ways both successfully and not. Romero’s first venture as a feature film director came in 1968 with The Night of the Living Dead. He cited Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel I Am Legend as a source of great inspiration when looking for the unique direction of the creatures in his film. Romero admitted to “ripping” off the idea of even referring to his film’s creatures as zombies from Matheson as well: “I mean, Richard starts his book with one man left; everybody in the world has become a vampire. I said we got to start at the beginning and tweak it up a little bit. I couldn’t use vampires because he did so I wanted something that would be an earth-shaking change. Something that was forever, something that was really at the heart of it. I said, so what if the dead stop staying dead?”. Romero never imagined however, that decades later he’d be responsible for the one of the most popularized genres in modern cinema.
Fast forward to the 2000’s with Robert Kirkman’s debut graphic novel of a group of survivors making their way in a zombie apocalyptic version of America titled : The Walking Dead. A successful story in its own right that would go on to be adapted into one of the most watched television series in the 2010’s. The first crack at a serialized zombie production that became a nationwide phenomenon. Anyone who owned a television was tuning in each week. This eventually led to the 2010’s being flooded with more than 50 films based around the undead creatures. Many faltered and none were able to capture the glory of the trailblazers that came before them. The country’s obsession with zombie media could only lead to it being shoveled down our throats past any conceivable point of capacity. Hollywood saw they had the golden egg of the decade and wouldn’t stop the content train till it went off the rails. The turning point was upon us.
Now in the 2020’s, the modern zombie has become an unrecognizable concoction of what Hollywood proposes is what the audience demands in their zombie film. Gone are the days of the dread and suspense built through the ever slowly approaching monster, replaced by marathon sprinters screeching at the top of their lungs. Both deliver horror in their own ways, but one always holds on to something that the other does not – a serious sense of hope. With the modern zombie being able to sprint without tiring, leap further than any normal human being and (in most recent adaptations) having the ability to purposely react and move their bodies to dodge strikes in close quarter combat scenarios, what does the audience have left to look forward to? The heart and soul of the zombie genre since its inception has always been the struggle by our protagonists to survive against overwhelming odds. There was always a sliver of hope for any group due to the limited mobility of the creature they were facing and there still being a way to navigate in the world. The true fear lies in the audience knowing that once someone gets too close, their fate is sealed and riding the train of suspense through the entirety of the journey. There was a game to be played, a chess match of sorts. A handful of rooks and knights attempting to not be overwhelmed by a board completely filled with pawns who by themselves were not a threat but in mass were an unstoppable force. The creatures from films such as World War Z and Zach Snyder’s upcoming Army of the Dead leave no such room. There is no chess match, no back and forth where hope can survive without extreme showcases of suspension of belief must be executed. The pawns have all been replaced by Queens who don’t abide by the rules of the board any longer and instead become a free for all with no foundation.
Despite its over saturation in media, the zombie genre continues to be a constant source of popularity. With its evolution, the standard of appreciation will inevitably shift along with it. The demand for a faster paced and action oriented film will only increase. Does this speak to a much bigger issue at hand pertaining to audience attention span? Are audiences in favor of films that demand less investment mentally and provide the pay off in nonsensical action sequences. Is there no longer a need for a dynamic plot with interwoven character arcs that ask me to invest myself emotionally in its characters? Are we now transcending into the age of Zombie-Action franchises? Ask yourself, is this truly what’s best for cinema and the legacy that George Romero created? Zombies should not be the next vampire. Remember what Twilight did to the vampire? Yea, that’s where we’re headed folks. Fuck you, Stephanie Meyer.