Monday, September 20, 2010

“The Walking Dead” to invade TV this Halloween

With vampires now thriving on television (“True Blood,” “Vampire Diaries”) it was just about time for their main horror universe rivals, zombies, to strike back with their own TV-drama. And so they did – “The Walking Dead” series (see trailer here) created by Frank Darabont are set to hit the screens in the US (and accordingly, torrents worldwide) on the most fitting date – October 31.

The beginning of the series (as seen in the trailer) is an obvious déjà-vu – a guy waking up in a hospital to find a post-apocalyptic world outside its walls, was previously seen in a few literary and film works, including the classical “Day of the Triffids” by John Wyndham and British zombie feast “28 Days Later.” In “The Walking Dead,” the central character, a policeman, gets hit in a firefight, falls into a coma and wakes up in the world overrun by zombies. Having quickly recovered from a shock, he will bond with other survivors (some nice folk, some not) to daily withstand the constantly multiplying enemy. None of it is especially new. The main question is where the story will go from there. Darabont did some great work in his time, bringing us some of the best Stephen King adaptations ever – “Shawshank Redemption” and “Green Mile” – so we may expect him not to fail us this time either. In a way, all Darabont needs to do is draw inspiration from the true master of the genre – George Romero, who managed to keep his zombies “alive” even in the 21st century.

When zombies were first introduced in literature (notably by H.P. Lovecraft in “Herbert West-Reanimator,” 1921) and in films (“White Zombie” and “I Walked with a Zombie,” 1930s), they were either products of a mad scientist or deceased humans coming back to life to take revenge. In either case, it was the pure horror of the idea – an undead monster rising from the grave – that made the story. Nothing else. It wasn’t until Romero, admittedly inspired by “I Am Legend” by Richard Matheson, created “The Night of the Living Dead” in 1968.

Romero gave birth to the popular culture image of zombies as mute, slow-walking, dumb creatures, only driven by desire to feed on human flesh and increasing their army by biting regular humans. But, Romero was also the first to employ the zombie not as the scare in itself, but as a way to expose the darker side of human nature as well as the possible fatal side-effects of scientific experiments and government’s ineptitude to deal with the consequences. Starting with a rather claustrophobic “Night” – a small group of people hiding from a zombie outbreak in a country house, Romero continued with “Dawn of the Dead” – a consumerism society satire in which characters take refuge in a zombie-filled mall and “Day of the Dead” set in a bunker filled with mad military men and scientists – just as dangerous as zombies themselves.

Some of the best zombie-style films to follow the success of Romero was the “Evil Dead” series. Pre-lord-of-the-rings Peter Jackson’s “Brain Dead” (1992), offered a trashy and comic though ultra-gory take on the subject. But it wasn’t until the 2000s, that the zombies experienced a new wave of popularity with freshly modern and packed with action, “28 Days Later” and “Resident Evil.” Zombies also proved great satire material, both in pure comedies “Shaun of the Dead” and “Zombieland” and clever trash horror imitations “Planet Terror” and Norwegian “Dead Snow.”

So addressing the zombie-informed audience, “The Walking Dead” is better be smart, catchy, reasonably unpredictable, psychological and not without humor. Good acting will also be a plus. Or else, we’re coming to get you, Mr. Darabont!

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