In my teens and early twenties, my two best mates and I spent a lot of time watching horror films, drinking Gareth's dad's beer and eating pizza. We saw some good films, some mediocre ones, and some truly bad ones that I'm still trying to erase from my mind. There was Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979), The Plague of the Zombies (1966), Re-Animator (1985), Return of the Living Dead (1985) – Send more cops! – and the classic(ally bad) The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies!!? (1964), billed as “The First Monster Musical.”
But it was, of course, George A. Romero's movies that really stuck in my mind, and in particular Day of the Dead (1985). Maybe it struck a chord just because of the era when we watched it, maybe it was the extreme gore that outdid even the first two outings, or perhaps it was dear old Bub, but we watched that movie again and again. Romero went on to continue his increasingly inaccurately named “trilogy” (copyright Douglas Adams) with Land of the Dead (2005), which I remember watching, but none of which has stayed with me. He went on from that to other zombie films, which I haven't caught up with yet. But it was Day of the Dead that remained my favorite…
I'm already building a basement shelter in which to hide from the shuffling (or sprinting) hordes of fans, who will descend upon me, seeking vengeance and blood, when I say what I'm about to say. Because my favorite zombie movie is now…
Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead (2004).
Wait a minute. Don't reach for the chainsaw yet. Please, give me a moment to explain why.
It's a combination of things. First, that amazing opening ten minutes. You have to see all of it to understand what I mean.
Second, I think it's extremely well-acted, and the characters, though many are flawed, are mostly likeable. There's a psycho and an asshole and assorted failures, but they all pull together in their own ways to try to survive. Stuck in the shopping precinct, there's a scene I really like where Michael (Jake Weber) speaks quietly to CJ (Michael Kelly) about how they should be trying to attract help by putting a message on the roof. CJ is in charge. He has the gun, after all, it's his precinct, and he's come across as a pompous ass who just needs to be in charge to get through this. In most horror movies, Michael's attempts to reason with him would have resulted in a beating, at the very least. But here, CJ listens to him. And though he turns the advice into his own idea, he takes it. That's a very human reaction, and it's the real humanity that shines through in this movie for me. In some ways, it's an early precursor to The Walking Dead in how it concentrates wholly on the characters and their complex interactions and the zombies become almost incidental.
I also like the fast zombies. Fast zombies versus slow zombies – oh wow, I never knew what a contentious issue that was. I think the fast movers are more frightening, and they make the action scenes more gripping and frenetic. There's the whole ‘zombies wouldn't run fast, because they'd fall over and their ankles would break' school of thought, but…they're zombies! They're make-believe! And if they're slow ones, you already know how to get away. I remember seeing a movie called Squirm (1976) about carnivorous worms, and I thought …
'Look out, it’s a worm!'
Lately, there have been a few other zombie films that I thought really stood out. Shaun of the Dead (2004) for its humor, its warmth towards the zombie movies of old, and its quite gruesome and scary horror. 28 Days Later (2002) for its gritty realism and casual horror. World War Z (2013) for its big-scale disaster movie feel (although it doesn't compare to the book by Max Brooks at all, which is not only one of my favorite zombie novels, but one of my favorite horror books of all time). And a gem to end with: Pontypool (2008). A strange film, based entirely in a radio station and with an utterly unique method of spreading infection: language. It's brilliant, and you must watch it, and I'm not saying that simply because my nearest town in South Wales is Pontypool.
Coldbrook is a zombie novel, the result of a lifetime of zombies and me. It’s inevitable that in writing it, I was influenced by all those great, and sometimes not-so-great, zombie movies I've watched, and the zombie books I've read (also check out Brian Keene's brilliant The Rising and sequels). The zombies in my book, also known as furies, can move quickly. Although my zombies are bitten and infected, and rather than eating, their single aim is spreading the disease, they do appreciate a warm meal now and then. But this story also has science fictional overtones, based as part of it is in a research facility that seeks to open a doorway to alternate Earths.
Perhaps somewhere in the infinite worlds of the multiverse, every kind of zombie story is already true.
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Tim Lebbon is the New York Times bestselling author of the movie novelizations of 30 Days of Night and The Cabin in the Woods. He has also written many critically acclaimed horror and dark fantasy novels. Tim has won three British Fantasy Awards, a Bram Stoker Award, a Shocker, a Tombstone and has been a finalist for the International Horror Guild and World Fantasy Awards.