Okay, so for the past month Criminal Element has been talking zombies. We’ve visited the shambling dead’s humble beginnings and talked about what makes them better than Dracula, we’ve even gathered together info to help you determine if you could survive the zombie apocalypse. (Let’s be honest, if you’ve made it this far into the month your odds are pretty good.)
I’d like to take some time now to point out a few lesser known or less mainstream additions to zombie media. My knowledge is by no means all-encompassing, these are just some of my favorites.
First up, World War Z by Max Brooks. If you are a fan of the zombie subgenre and you haven’t read this book, for shame. It is written in the style of an oral history, which does this one-time historian proud, and chronicles the zombie war after humanity has managed to win. While his Zombie Survival Guide was a little tongue in cheek, World War Z was, at times, honestly moving. With an incredibly inventive imagination, Brooks paints humanity as a force that bends to the point of breaking but still manages to rally. Do yourself a favor and pick it up. And also, Remember Yonkers.
(As an aside, Brad Pitt is currently working on the film adaptation of this book, but from what I’ve seen about the plot of the film, the movie is deviating far and wide from the source. Which is understandable considering the format, but if you plan on seeing the movie, read the book, I promise you it’s worth it. Of course I’m preaching to the choir if you’re on this site.)
If you like your zombies with a bit more Old West/Civil War feel then I can’t help but recommend Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century series. It blends the steampunk, dieselpunk, and zombie subgenres in a glorious gumbo of greatness. Lame alliteration aside, the first book in the series, Boneshaker is about the daughter of a former Seattle sheriff who died saving his prisoners from the oncoming zombie horde. Now Seattle is walled off and Briar Wilkes, daughter of the legendary lawman and wife of the mad Russian scientist that unleashed the zombie plague, has to break in to find her son. These books are a lot of fun in a pulpy kind of way. Priest does take liberties with history, but she is very honest and open about it in her foreword.
I also have to give a token mention to the incredible comic book-turned-graphic-novel series, The Walking Dead. Written by Robert Kirkman the novels have been adapted into a hit television series on AMC, as you may or may not have heard. If you like the TV show, definitely give the comic a chance. If you don’t like the show—maybe it’s too silly or the characters are unbelievable—then definitely check out the comic. Sadly it’s minus one awesome crossbow-wielding hillbilly, but the characters, the pacing, the art . . . it’s all beyond awesome.
To lighten the mood I have two suggestions. The first is a series of films loosely based on H.P. Lovecraft’s short story, “Dr. Herbert West—Reanimator.” Now forget Romero, (still love you, George) because my man Lovecraft was doing flesh-eating, reanimated monsters before it was cool. The movies, and story, center around a twisted young doctor named Herbert West, who—after studying in Switzerland (wink, wink)—came to the States to study at the infamous and fictional Myskatonic University. The third movie, Beyond Re-Animator, features this music video, along with a bonus scene of a certain zombified male appendage fighting a rat which really must be seen to be believed. While the first movie in the series not only features the reanimated head of a pervy professor (which somehow gets bat wings grafted to it so that it can fly around in the second film), it also features the following exchange between West and Dan, his roommate/partner-in-crime, regarding the death of Dan’s cat Rufus:
Dan: You couldn’t call, or write a note?
West: I was busy pushing bodies around as you well know. And what would a note say, Dan? ‘Cat dead; details later’?
Despite the fact that West is mad science at its most wonderful, there is another little gem of a movie that I have to recommend. This one is called Dead Alive and was directed by none other than Oscar-winning Lord of the Rings master, Peter Jackson. Not only does it have the greatest amount of fake blood I have ever seen in a movie but it also has a preacher who proudly points out that he “kicks ass for the Lord” and a man who uses a lawn mower to . . . well . . . mow through zombies.
Odds are the next suggestion is pretty mainstream, but it deserves mentioning. The British film 28 Days Later, is by far one of the better recent zombie movies, up there alongside Zombieland. Why? Because, as people like George Romero, Robert Kirkman, and Max Brooks all show, zombies are at their best when they aren’t important. Zombies are just giant shambling metaphors of humanity’s mortality. What makes them interesting is watching how humans handle being faced with that. A lot of times folks break, and I have to say, Christopher Eccleston as the insane military leader from 28 Days Later breaks beautifully.
This is why 28 Days Later (and not its incredibly lame sequel 28 Weeks Later) is so good: It’s not about reveling in slaughtering zombies with a helicopter. There’s a time and place for that (see above), but great zombie movies and books—the ones that use them appropriately—reveal just as much about the angels and devils of humanity and what life is about as any great fiction.
So, be they silly or serious, which lesser known zombie classics did I leave out?