I’ve lived and breathed zombie culture for most of my life. I saw Night of the Living Dead on late-night local TV when I was five or so. Day of the Dead soon followed at a friend’s birthday/sleepover in elementary school. Dawn of the Dead capped the experience when I was in fifth grade, and ever since, I’ve been addicted to zombie culture.
A good section of my time on Earth thus far has been spent on zombie films, books, and games. And recently I’ve come to a realization: outside of the Living Dead series, most recent zombie titles suck. AMC’s The Walking Dead helped me get to this point.
I decided to rank some of the most popular zombie properties of all time, across four different mediums, and see just how many good ones have been produced in the last couple years. I’m using 2002’s 28 Days Later as the beginning of the latest zombie trend because it is agreed upon in many circles that it is the film that kickstarted the resurgence of the zombie.
Books: The Walking Dead, World War Z
Games: DayZ, Resident Evil, Resident Evil 2, They Hunger, Zombies Ate My Neighbors
Movies: 28 Days Later, Dawn of the Dead ’78, Day of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead ’68, Shaun of the Dead
Since 2002: 5
Okay, not a great start for my theory, but some of these titles are ridiculous. In the realm of books, we have two of the best original titles of all time. The Walking Dead comic book series is in the conversation of best series on the market today. And World War Z was author Max Brooks gigantic sophomore success that, unfortunately, spawned a film not worthy of the original source material.
Surprisingly, the only new entry in the area of video games is the outstanding DayZ, which drops players into an open-world consumed by the undead and teeming with bandits.
The movies are the usual suspects: director George A. Romero’s first three entries in the Living Dead series, the greatest zombie comedy ever made, and the cause of all this new zombie business.
Books: Day by Day Armageddon, Marvel Zombies, Monster Island, The Zombie Survival Guide
Games: Dead Rising, Left 4 Dead, Project Zomboid, State of Decay, Urban Dead
Movies: Dead Alive, Diary of the Dead, Land of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead ’90, Return of the Living Dead, Zombi 2
Since 2002: 11
Books: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Raise The Dead
Games: Call of Duty Zombies, Dead Island, House of the Dead, The War Z
Movies: Dawn of the Dead ’04, Survival of the Dead, Warm Bodies, World War Z, Zombieland
Television: The Walking Dead
Since 2002: 11
Here are the dregs – the titles I truly despise, and all of them are recent works. On the book front, I couldn’t stand both Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and the idiotic series it spawned. I found it to be lazy, ham-handed, and arrogantly assured in its audacity. Raise The Dead is a comic book series that seemed content to be absolutely bland from issue to issue. I’ve never seen a comic book so proud to be a bag stuffer on Wednesdays.
Call of Duty Zombies does what House of the Dead did almost two decades ago, but it somehow makes it more boring. Dead Island was a hack-and-slash that after an hour got so repetitive that it was unplayable, even for a hack-and-slash game. And don’t get me started on The War Z – more of a digital pickpocket than a game and brought undeserved criticism on the alpha sales model and similar titles (DayZ and The Dead Linger, to name two).
Some of the worst properties were repurposed ones, and that makes their crimes even more heinous. Many view the Dawn of the Dead remake in a positive light – I do not. Nothing it does is new. Fast zombies? 28 Days Later did it better by making them truly frightening and a threat. The borrowed and resurfaced plot offers nothing of substance because this is a simpleton action film. The most impactful line of the entire thing was written twenty-six years prior and doesn’t make much since within the scope of the story.
World War Z is in a similar boat, but its failure was in that it appealed to dollars instead of people. I understand that movies are made for profit, but those who have read Max Brook’s book will wonder what would have prevented the plot of the source material from raking in dough at the box office. Brad Pitt’s vehicle is an “in name only” property, and sorry to tell the varied writers of the script, but their deviation is not up to snuff.
An original title I will profile in the film section is Zombieland, which is a tonal mess. I appreciate the fresh take, but this film is a runaway freight train in terms of pacing and purpose. Towards the middle of the film, the fun gets bogged down and we’re treated to some drama, which is always short-lived and, thus, not particularly important. The ending sequence is so underwhelming it makes you wonder if the whole trip was even worthwhile. It wasn’t.
VERDICT: More Bad Than Good
So my point is proven, but what’s the trend here? The first thing I see amongst mid-to-shit levels is a lot of repetition. Repurposed titles, adapted properties, and functionally-similar works. Nothing in either of those levels screams “originality” like Shaun of the Dead or DayZ.
In order to get more out of the zombie, some innovative and smart creators need to look at the zombie in different ways like the god-level titles. What do the zombies represent (Dawn of the Dead ’78)? What is the world like with them (DayZ)? What is the world like after them (World War Z)? In essence, the new crop of content needs to take inspiration from the purpose of the good zombie properties, not the physical elements of their build.