Zombie Month

Ok I’ve decided this entire month is going to see the reviews of some zombie films I’ve watched over the years; namely Night of the Living Dead, Shaun of the Dead, Dawn of the Dead (remake), La Horde, Night of the Living Dead (Tom Savini remake), Zombieland, 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later, 30 Days of Night, Return of the Living Dead, and Land of the Dead. There are a few others I’ve watched, but this is a good selection of what, and what not to, look for in a zombie film. There will be minor spoilers but I will endeavour to keep it vague.

As zombie fans might notice, some of these may not be strictly considered to have zombies in them. However while I will be reviewing the sort of zombies that are involved here, the important thing is that these are zombie films. Zombie films have a set of practices, drivers, and often characters that make it a zombie film. These typically include survivor inter-group dynamics, themes of barricading/hiding, the difficulty of traversing zombie hotspots, dealing with infection and sacrifice.

These dynamics are what make a zombie film. I think one of the reasons I like them so much is that the design of zombies designs the characters within them to adopt a series of behaviors that are both outside normal actions but wholly necessary. Actions, with mistakes, betrayals and so on, all have enormous consequences and it tends to be the logical, resourceful heroes that make it in the end.

Another important aspect of zombie films are of course the zombies (or zombie equivalent). Despite the classic “Romero zombie” style of slow shambling types, there’s a litany of variations that I’ll describe in various aspects. These qualities are:

Speed

Speed is a massive factor in the dangerousness of a zombie. How fast they can close on a target as well as how quickly characters can aim a weapon is important. Speed also tends to reflect a zombies reactions; fast zombies tend to seize opportunities to feast on flesh faster than slow ones. Speed ranges from a slow walking speed (shambling), to human running speed, to all-out Olympic athlete.

Intelligence

Intelligence makes zombies an infinitely larger problem. Some have trace memories from their past lives, and this manifests as knowing how to perform certain actions, such as turning a door handle. Others have outright learning through observation. Some films on this list have zombies fully functioning and capable of elaborate traps.

Behavior

Beyond lurching towards non-infected, what other traits to they possess?  Do they communicate with each other? Do they seek more than satiating their appetite? Do they get full?

Aggression

Perhaps a little less variable than other qualities, aggression ranges from zombies attacking only when in close proximity, to actively hunting targets as often as possible.  

Longevity

Not often explored in most films is how long zombies can last for. Yes they are fictional creatures but how long it takes for them to degrade or rendered immobile makes the scope of the survivor’s behavior that much more important.

Infection

How did the zombies come about? How does the plague spread? Who is susceptible?

These are characteristics that need to be carefully balanced by the film. I find that most of the faults of a zombie film (beyond bad character motivation) tend to be based around zombie laws. Some zombies are just far too strong to be interesting; who the hell wants to watch a whitewash? Some films break their own zombie rules which is a pet hate of mine. Worse still character motivations and actions don’t match up to the type of zombie they’re facing.

How to kill

Self explanatory really, but another varied attribute that affects the strength of the hordes.

With all that down lets go with the one that started it all- Night of the Living Dead.

Speed: Shambling (some move faster)

Intelligence: minimal. One zombie moved both fast and was intelligent enough to use a rock to smash a window.

Behavior: attracted to light and movement. Some are aggressive only with prolonged proximity to prey (which seems to be exclusively humans). They also fear fire.

Longevity: Unknown, presumably a long time.

Infection: Bitten, or contact with fluid. Origin unknown, although a scientist on a radio suggests it is space related.

How to kill: Partially destroying the brain through whatever means.

A group of strangers find themselves stuck in farmhouse while around them the dead are rising and preying on the living. As they become increasingly cut off from the rest of civilization, darkness falls and tempers run hot trying to determine the best way to survive.

The first undead zombie film, Night of the Living Dead is creepy, frantic and brooding, even if the acting is a little hammy by today’s standards. It sets a lot of precedents, such as competing survival goals, barricades and switching out protagonists. It’s one of the few zombie films that documents an outbreak that is eventually controlled, as opposed to all out destruction of civilization. Combat is visceral but a bit struggle-y if that makes sense. Another issue is that most of the characters aren’t particularly fleshed out (no pun intended) or indeed endearing, with the exception of Ben who is at least logic minded. It’s the sort of film that you would watch as a bit of history but it definitely better than the vast majority of shitty zombie films.

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~ by freeze43 on May 1, 2012.

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