This is a question I see everywhere these days, with most people adamantly saying ‘NO MORE ZOMBIES’. Their argument is generally that there are too many zombie movies being churned out, especially in the last decade. Does this mean we should also see the end of all romantic comedies, coming-of-age and family dramas? There are tons of those being produced every 5 seconds but no-one complains about those. So why are zombie films getting so much criticism?
After Shaun of the Dead‘s release and subsequent popularity in 2004, zombie films and zombie popularity have been on the rise. Having been a part of the hipster zombie movement and being madly in love with zombies as a child and well before Shaun‘s release, I’ve watched the zombie genre turn from being that ‘weird thing no-one likes to admit they love’ to the ‘thing that everyone loves’ and now it’s starting to turn into the ‘thing that’s cool to hate’. This is the same pattern for everything that starts off as a cult obsession – including the horror genre itself, which is still quite niche-y in terms of hardcore fans, but it’s also widely accessible for the general audience.
The sudden increase in fans in the general population and therefore increase in the number of zombie-based films, literature, TV and video games, seems to also be the reason for the decrease in not only quality, but coolness factor of liking zombies. Filmmakers know that the audience is going to eat up anything with the word ‘zombie’ in it and mostly don’t even bother putting in the effort. Zombies used to mean something; not only were they critiquing mass consumerism (which I personally don’t care about and is not ever a thought in my mind whilst devouring anything zombie related), but they also said something about our humanity, our animal side, the darkness within us all – which is why I will watch anything to do with zombies. I still think there are many modern zombie films and such that do delve into those themes, but the majority of mainstream zombie films seem to exist purely for cheap jump scares and gore and to sell tickets – which again, can also be said for the majority of mainstream horror films.
People who readily dismiss zombie films because “there are too many” are really not making much of an argument and are failing to see what the actual issue is here – people still don’t really understand zombies. If filmmakers are seeing them as a money making tool and mass producing meaningless crap, then of course it seems like the genre has been worn out. And I agree; it has been stale. But that’s because people aren’t exploring all the issues that the zombie genre opens up. They’re either too careful or too shallow or only focus on one aspect. There is so much more that can be done with the genre that I’m not ready to give up on it just yet. And I think an important thing here is to remember that horror is, deep-down, a niche genre. It DOES NOT work when they try to be casual about it. It might make money sure, and this is far from a new thing – look at the countless slashers that came out in the 80s – but it doesn’t mean it’s any good or that it’s all that is out there.
The worrying popularity of generic crap like “The Walking Dead” makes me wonder what the future is going to be like for zombies. The series sums up a lot about what is wrong with the genre. I started reading the comic in 2007 and was overjoyed when a series was announced; were we finally going to see a strong character based series focusing on the harshness of humanity – the real villains of a zombie story are the humans, but not many seem to understand that – and allow us to follow the development and downfall of the human race? Nope. It took a great story and turned it into a bland, pretty, clean and safe melodramatic soap opera x mindless action film (one scene is sappy, next scene is high action. Ugh). A zombie film doesn’t even need zombies to be effective, just look at El desierto (2013) or The Battery (2012) for example. And things like Deadgirl (2008), whilst heavily featuring a zombie is really more about the people.
An effective zombie film focuses on the people. Zombies are predictable. Zombies are an obstacle. They are the cause of the initial destruction, but they should never be the focus and they should never be the villains. Humans are the enemy. And humans are the heroes. People fall victim to power and others never let go of their humanity. This is what is interesting. This is why I watch zombie films, this is what I want to see. That’s not to say every film has to plunge the depths of the human psyche; I like some good gore and violence as much as the next guy. For some reason though, there’s a fear of exploring further than what’s already been touched on, and it often comes across as shallow or too forcibly shoves the ‘awfulness’ down the audience’s throat.
Video games have fallen under the same spell. Countless zombie slashers keep coming out but they are just the same damn thing. I haven’t had time to fully check out things like State of Decay or Rust, but recent games such as Last of Us, Zafehouse: Diaries and Organ Trail are leading us in a good direction. There must be people out there going ‘I’ve seen this a million times, let’s try something new’ and those people are going to provide us what us zombie fans have all been waiting for.
If you look hard enough you can find zombie films with heart and that are more than just mindless brain-eating and CGI. These are, sadly, few and far between but I think it’s too early to write it off. There are many themes to be explored and many different ways to explore them. Romcoms are churned out constantly with the same ‘boy meets girl’ generic plot structure, yet people keep watching. Why? Because some are just that little bit different, they are told slightly differently, one is funny or one is emotional, the characters are more interesting than the last one and so on. There is always something new to be done and we just need to patiently wait for the right people to come along and give it to us.
And for some shameless list promotion, visit this link to see a list of my Top 50 Zombie Films.by