Like the relentless movement of an undead horde, the zombie genre has proven itself to be as difficult to put down as a newly reanimated corpse. From video games to movies, and even television, the zombie genre is bigger now than it's ever been. There's no escaping it; at this point the undead are shambling their way onto every facet of entertainment. It's probably best you join the rest of us as we load up, strap in, and enjoy the ride.
Zombies are everywhere. They've waxed and waned in popularity for the last four decades, ever since George Romero's Night of the Living Dead back in 1968, but it seems that new life has been breathed into them over the last five years. Across all mediums of entertainment, the zombie threat has grown to overshadow even the sparkliest of vampires, and people can't seem to get enough of them. But we can't simply jump right into what's going on now; that would be like waking up 28 days into a zombie apocalypse. Instead, we'll get to know this threat by understanding its history a little better.
Zombies have been around for a very long time. George Romero's Night of the Living Dead flick is often credited for making the genre popular, but the undead were here long before Romero became known as "the Grandfather of Zombies." In fact, in Haitian Vodou, people have been experimenting with combining different substances including coup de poudre, a powder that includes the deadly Tetrodotoxin neurotoxin, and a mixture of dissociative drugs that upon entering the bloodstream can put someone into a zombie-like state. This was popularized in Wade Davis' book The Serpent and the Rainbow in 1985. It's entirely possible that somewhere in the world there's a way to create a sort of pseudo-zombie—I might've even discovered it already as I've been told on many occasions that I look and sound like one when I wake up—but I'm pretty sure we can sleep safe knowing there aren't any scientists working underground on a deadly zombie virus.
Romero brought us the classic shambling, flesh-eating undead that can be found in his Living Dead series, later borrowed by Capcom's earlier Resident Evils and Dead Rising. Night of the Living Dead was a shocking movie when it first came out, stunning audiences who hadn't had the same opportunity we've had to become desensitized to people eating people. According to film critic Roger Ebert, the audience's reaction went something like this: "The kids in the audience were stunned. There was almost complete silence. The movie had stopped being delightfully scary about halfway through, and had become unexpectedly terrifying. There was a little girl across the aisle from me, maybe nine years old, who was sitting very still in her seat and crying." That was just the beginning. A few short decades after Night of the Living Dead released, we were introduced to a new nightmare, a faster, more vicious form of infected: the "rage zombie."
I won't get into the tired debate about whether or not the faster, more agile zombies can actually be considered zombies. They're infected, mindless creatures with a hunger for violence and death. That's enough for me. The rage zombie first came into the picture in the 1980 Italian zombie film Nightmare City. The infected weren't slow, and in many cases they could even wield weapons. It wasn't until over two decades later when Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later took the rage zombie to new heights, and it's been growing in popularity ever since, even making its way to video games in Valve's Left 4 Dead series. There's even a mixture of the two zombie types like what's seen in the recent Dawn of the Dead remake where they're most definitely zombies, but the newly infected ones still have the ability to run, jump, climb, and even interact with simple objects.
The last five years have been pretty great for zombies in cinema, and the future is looking delightfully dim as well. (I mean that in a very good way). We've seen more humorous perspectives on the all too familiar zombie apocalypse scenario in Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland, and some fantastic handheld camera-style movies like Diary of the Dead, [REC], and Quarantine. This just proves that there are plenty of ways to experience the genre, even when it's not taking itself too seriously.
One of the most successful video game adaptations is the Resident Evil series. Despite straying far from the story of the series it's based on, the films have performed incredibly well. They're the only video game movie series to have four successful films, with a fifth on the way dubbed Resident Evil: Retribution. Love 'em or hate 'em, there's no denying the appeal of badass chicks with guns, buckets of gore, and plenty of explosions.
If you're looking for more substance over style, the 2006 novel World War Z, a history of the fictional zombie war through the perspectives of hundreds of people from all over the world, is getting the film treatment. The book is pretty epic, covering essentially every continent, from North America to Africa, and even Antarctica. Even though World War Z is still far from release—they're filming it now—there's already excitement over the film's faithful adaptation of the source material. It's being compared to everything from The Bourne Identity, to All the President's Men, and Children of Men. After getting their hands on the film's script, Ain't It Cool News went so far as to say "This isn't just a good adaptation of a difficult book... it's a genre-defining piece of work that could well see us all arguing about whether or not a zombie movie qualifies as 'Best Picture' material." That's high praise, though we won't know if it ends up being true until late next year. The movie is also being helmed by director Marc Foster (Monster's Ball, Quantum of Solace), stars Brad Pitt, and has a massive budget. Add to that the deep well of stories and characters they can take from the novel and I really don't know what else you could ever want from a zombie movie.
If a zombie movie with a message and more than a few political underpinnings isn't your thing, there's always the upcoming sequel to the zombie-infested Twinkie hunt that was Zombieland. All we know about this flick is a painfully wide 2012 release window, Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg are returning, and the film will be jumping on the 3D bandwagon. Alright, so 3D might be one more thing I wouldn't mind seeing in the World War Z flick, but I'm sure they'll throw it in for the extra cash those tickets bring in.
The theaters aren't getting all the action; some exciting things are also happening in television. With the insanely good reception garnered by the first season of AMC's The Walking Dead it was no surprise when a second season was ordered. It's now set to bring our televisions more zombie goodness when season 2 premiers on October 16. Where the first season was a brutally short six-episode arc, this time they're giving us a much meatier season of 13 episodes. Other networks seem to be taking notice of the path The Walking Dead blazed for quality zombie content on TV, with the CW starting work on The Awakening and Zombies Vs. Vampires in the works at NBC.