Zombies, shambling dead guys back from the grave and looking to eat your guts for lunch! Zombies, surely one of horror’s most blood-curdling creations, right? Well, maybe not so much. In this article, I’m going to be discussing whether zombie movies should be played as straight horror or shambling punch lines of comedy.
In recent years, much like the creatures themselves, the zombie genre has swept the planet until the point where many people have been turned off of the genre by the sheer volume of zombie themed stuff out there. Another craze that I have observed is the tendency to play zombie movies a little less than seriously with entries into the zombie comedy genre such as Zombieland, Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse and Cooties. There is now a nauseating use of attaching the word “zombie” or “someone vs zombies” or “of the dead” to some mundane subject matter. Some of these titles include Zombie strippers, Cockneys vs Zombies and Soccer of the Dead. In my opinion, these last entries cheapen the zombie genre.
I struggle with the movies I have mentioned above as zombies have fascinated me for a long time. but in order to do this, they had to terrify me first. I am a huge fan of the zombie genre, be it movies, video games, books, even board games, I have been crazy about zombies for a good long while.
But before we get into the delicious human meat of the subject of horror vs comedy, a little history. Zombies didn’t start out as a scientific virus that would sweep across the globe as some sort of terrifying pandemic. They began life (or un-life?) as victims of voodoo magic being used as servants or agents to some sort of master, they did not crave flesh or infect others with their bites. These were the zombies of the early 20th century; with titles such as White Zombie (1932) and I Walked with a Zombie (1943). These movies were normally set on so sort of Caribbean island, a far cry from the apocalyptic vistas of today’s Zombie flicks.
In 1968 the face of the zombie movie would be changed forever by an Indie film and a young director known as George A. Romero and his film Night of the Living Dead! This movie and the series that followed offered biting social commentary (the mindlessness of consumerism) as well as turning up the volume of the horror. These new scientific age zombies were cannibalistic, infectious and could convert you or a loved one into some sort of shambling mindless horror who together with your new undead pals would bring civilization to its knees. This was a movie that wasn’t afraid to take risks in an era where, in America at least, most violence was implied (the knife in Psycho can be seen to just barely cut Marion’s skin) in Night of the Living Dead we see zombies ripping human meat from bones, biting into slimy blood-soaked livers, a little girl eating the remains of her father, this movie took gore to a whole new level. The movie was bleak with a less than happy outcome for all involved and I can see audiences of the time being quite disturbed by this (perhaps this why the tone is slightly lighter in Dawn of the Dead). The “Dead” series went on to inspire many more movies like it, such a Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2 (1979). This is not where the zombie train ends however, there was still another innovation to come.
In 2002 Danny Boyle released his post-apocalyptic horror film 28 Days Later. These are zombies in a much looser sense of the word, with Boyle himself claiming that they aren’t zombies and 28 Days isn’t a zombie film. Never the less it is undeniable that it started a new wave of zombie movies featuring the fast infected zombies that could climb and who aren’t dead just contaminated with some sort of rabies virus these “new” zombies can be seen in movies like the Spanish found footage movie REC.
Zombie movies wouldn’t become a global phenomenon until the mid 2000’s, when the British horror comedy Shaun of the dead was met with critical acclaim from reviewers, audiences and even Romero himself (he like it so much he put writers Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright in his next “Dead” movie, Land of the Dead in 2005). The zombie surge was starting, add to it later down the line the success of the Walking Dead TV shows and zombies began to take over the word
Shaun of the Dead was the first zombie film I ever saw, and it terrified me, seriously. Seen as a comedy by most audiences to me it was complete horror when I was young the thought of these slow moaning mindless creatures attacking me or my family, the idea that one bite and it’s all over or of them eating you alive just chilled me to my core. In later years my fear of zombies turned to a love of the genre.
Shaun of the Dead is also the perfect example of what makes a good zombie comedy. It keeps the terror turned up but offers laughs. It makes fun of the zombie genre but also shows a clear love of the subject matter with a wealth of references, bound to get zombie fans excited. The movie also keeps some of the social commentary that Romero’s films are known for. At the beginning of the film, we see people going about their everyday lives and it is displayed as robotic, monotonous and dull with many of these people already looking like zombies. The comedy also plays on the Britishness of the situation the idea of taking this fairly American Hollywood type of movie and setting it in a burrow of London.
When I first thought about this article I thought zombie comedies where a recent thing, a 2000’s thing. But thinking about it comedy in zombie movies has been prevalent at least since the scientific zombie age. Just look at the sequel to Night of The Living Dead. Dawn of the Dead which takes place in that most American of institutions, a shopping mall (more consumerism), during one scene the human survivors of the apocalypse have a custard pie fight with the zombified shoppers. It’s pretty hilarious but it is in an otherwise fairly serious movie.
Then there is the cult classic Return of the Living Dead a comedy about punks and zombies (it’s one of my favorite zombie films). The comedy in this movie comes from a very dark sense of humor. This is also the movie that created the idea of zombies eating brains rather than just eating human flesh.
I’m also not saying that there are no serious zombie movies being released anymore there are quite a few although most of them come from abroad. You’ve got movies like Maggie, Train to Busan, Colin and Cargo, The last one is coming out this year and is based on a short film. It follows a father as he tries to protect his baby daughter from zombies and himself.
But why is there this desire to combine a pretty horrific subject with Comedy? Well, one answer is that people are trying to somehow lessen the horror before their eyes to trivialize the things we fear so we no longer fear them. Another potential theory is that it is not the horror of zombies that people want from a zombie movie they want to be however disturbing it may be to be in this world where things can come back from the dead and humanity must struggle against them. Maybe zombie comedy comes from a desire to also trivialize death. It could just be that people have a dark sense of humor or that it like everything else must eventually become a source of humor.
So really Zombie movies can quite comfortably occupy both genres, maybe my previous statement of horror vs comedy was erroneous, but if I were to suggest which are the zombies movies I would prefer to watch it would probably be the ones that still give us a glimpse of society falling apart, that still show humanity in the characters but also is able to have fun with the genre. So I hope this articles has been informative and has made you think about the zombie genre. Let me know whether you like you zombies served as straight horror or as a comedy combo, you can tell me in the comments or hit me up on twitter @MCMoovies. Thanks for reading, I’ll see you in the next article.