If this was the morning that the alarm clock went off and your first thought was: "I wonder if another zombie movie is opening this weekend," you're in luck.
Brad Pitt's zombie movie "World War Z" finally opened Friday after some serious delays, re-shoots and edits. Pitt is not a zombie hunter in real life, but he plays one in his new movie. Do I really need to describe the movie to you? You've got your handsome hero. You've got your zombies. The handsome hero has to defeat the zombies before they take over the world.
It sounds like I'm saying that if you've seen one zombie movie, you've seen them all. But that's not true.
Zombie movies differ from each other like one action movie differs from other action movies, like one Western differs from other Westerns and like one romantic comedy ... wait, that may have been a bad example.
I can't say that zombie movies were always a popular genre in Hollywood, although zombies have been walking slowly across movie screens since the early days of cinema. It depends on your zombie point of view, but some believe that the first zombie movie was the 1910 film "Frankenstein," although zombie purists dispute that assertion because the monster was brought to life through scientific means and did not exist before Dr. Frankenstein zapped him to life.
Purists insist that zombies must be people who were alive at one time, died and then lived again after being bit by another zombie or infected by a virus. Of course, then you have a sect of extreme purists who don't buy into the virus notion. They dismiss them as deadly virus movies, and not zombie movies.
For most purists, the first real zombie movie was "White Zombie" in 1932. Bela Lugosi of "Dracula" fame starred in this groundbreaking film.
All zombie lovers agree that the modern zombie era was ushered in by director George Romero's 1968 film "Night of the Living Dead." Shot on a low budget in black and white, it remains a terrifying ordeal, particularly if you find yourself stuck in a farmhouse. Otherwise, you could just run away from the slow-moving creatures.
Romero continued to make zombie movies, and other filmmakers followed suit. With the success of the TV show "The Walking Dead" and such box office successes as the "Resident Evil" franchise and "28 Days Later," movie studios no longer look upon zombie movies as a demented uncle who needs to be ignored.
Zombies are popular for a number of reasons. Dead people scare live people, and they are particularly scary when they don't stay dead. Why do you think people don't like to walk past a cemetery? It's a basic human fear. Multiply that fear exponentially if those dead people suddenly appeared at your favorite 7-Eleven. What if they popped up in the shoe department at Nordstrom, or in the 10 items or less line at Ralphs?
Hollywood loves zombies because they are the perfect villains. With so many ethnic groups railing against movie stereotypes these days, studios are desperate to find a group that won't be offended enough to sue them.
Nazis are a Hollywood staple, but there are only so many movies about Nazis that the public will endure. The Russian mob is already getting old, and even vampires seem to have run their course with the end of the "Twilight" franchise.
Zombies, on the other hand, are the gift that keeps giving. No zombie organizations will picket movie theaters because of their portrayal in a movie. No politicians will make zombies a campaign issue. No religious leaders will call for a nationwide boycott over a zombie movie. No activists will protest against the treatment of zombies on movie sets. And Gloria Allred will not hold a press conference to announce a scandal involving zombies.
This is not intended as a recommendation for the Brad Pitt film. I haven't seen it, so I can't tell you if it is a great zombie movie. But it definitely is a zombie movie.
Before you see it, perhaps you should acquaint yourself with the genre. Why start your zombie education with a big-budget summer thriller when the genre had such modest roots? Go back and watch some great zombie movies, and work your way up to Brad.
Here are five zombie movies you probably should see before you die (and come back to life):
1. "Night of the Living Dead" (1968) _ George A. Romero is the master.
2. "Dawn of the Dead" (1978) _ See the master at work again.
3. "28 Days Later" (2002) _ This movie shocked purists by popularizing fast-moving zombies.
4. "Shaun of the Dead" (2004) _ The funniest zombie movie ever made.
5. "Zombieland" (2009) _ A spoof with the best cameo ever (we don't want to spoil it but he looks a lot like Bill Murray).
Barry Koltnow: firstname.lastname@example.org
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