"Zombies, man. They creep me out."
There's something about the walking dead. They're not as powerful as the devil or as sinister as vampires. They're not huge, alien beasts and compared to fearsome Michael Myers, Freddy, or Jason, zombies are slow, stupid and easy to kill. But there's something about them that makes your spine shiver and your neck hairs rise. Perhaps it's their numbers, the sight of a few hundred of your friends and neighbours ambling forwards with a single purpose, to feast. Like an ever-expanding plague, they symbolize our world falling apart.
While there are many different types of zombies in movies there is only one kind in the real world: The Voodoo Zombie.
Voodoo (or Vodoun) is a complex belief system that combines features of African religion with European Roman Catholicism. A byproduct of the slave trade, Voodoo is mainly practised in Haiti and some Black communities of the southern United States. Voodoo zombies start as regular people but are killed with a potion or spell and come back as brain-dead zombie slaves or servants. Check out The Serpent and the Rainbow if you want to learn more about Voodoo zombies, or read a book.
Hollywood Zombies can have an assortment of origins. Corpses can be re-animated by demonic forces like in The Evil Dead movies, or by a rare disease such as the hapless souls in Peter Jackson's classic Dead Alive. Sometimes toxic waste does it like in Redneck Zombies , or a radioactive pulse like the one emitted by the planet Venus in George Romero's 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead .
While Romero did not make the first zombie movie (that would be 1932's Voodoo zombie movie White Zombie starring Bela Lugosi,) Night... is considered the first contemporary zombie flick and by far the most imitated. A tense and claustrophobic film about a handful of paranoid people trapped in a farmhouse to escape the hungry undead, Night... also made strong social comments on race, Vietnam, and the way society dealt with a crumbling world. Containing perhaps the most shocking ending of any film in its time Night of the Living Dead is the birthplace of zombie movies as we know them.
Romero brought social commentary back into the zombie sub-genre 11 years later with 1979's Dawn of the Dead , another creepy tale. This time the humans take refuge in a shopping mall. Here Romero comments on the consumerism of our culture as well as our newfound affinity to tolerate extreme violence. Don't worry, the social messages are still supported with plenty of scares and zombie gore.
In the 80s Romero made Day of the Dead, zombies within a militaristic society mirroring the real-life cold war scare. And now, in 2005, the much-imitated Romero is back with Land of the Dead , a big-budget, high-gloss picture that ambles the line between horror and action and unfortunately rehashes many of his older themes.
Land... is a movie about class separation, with the rich elitists (led by Dennis Hopper) holed up in a posh skyscraper, protected from both the poor and the walking dead. Cholo and Riley are mercenaries hired to comb the zombie-invested suburbs for much needed supplies. While both mercs have their own agendas, they've got bigger problems too the zombies are learning to co-operate and use tools.
Indeed Land has plenty of gore and some truly scary scenes but the plot is more action/explosion than pant-filling horror and the characters all lack depth. Even with a timely social message about homeland security and American survivors' inability to deal with their real problem, Land of the Zombies fails somehow. Even the master of zombie horror can't breathe new life into a bunch of stumbling corpses.
AT VILLAGE 8 July 1-7: War Of The Worlds, Land Of The Dead, Bewitched, Herbie Fully Loaded, Star Wars III, Madagascar, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Batman Begins.
AT RAINBOW THEATRE July 1-7: Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy