Zombies! Zombies! Zombies!

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One of the hottest new shows from last year’s US television season is sadly yet to find a broadcast home on Australian television. The Walking Dead has been universally acclaimed by both critics and viewers, with strong ratings both in the US and the UK. Developed by Frank Darabont, director of The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile and The Mist, and co-produced by Gale Ann Hurd of The Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Aliens fame, the series is based on a popular comic book series of the same name.

So why isn’t The Walking Dead sitting in our TV guides alongside Hawaii Five-O and Blue Bloods? Probably because it is a post-apocalyptic drama focusing on a small band of survivors following an outbreak of zombies.

Zombies are nothing new to popular culture. Originally appearing in films such as I Walked with a Zombie (1943), zombies were originally intertwined with voodoo and witch doctors. It was George Romero’s landmark black and white feature Night of the Living Dead (1968) that introduced the idea of zombies being the flesh eating undead.

Romero continued his zombie series with four further Living Dead films: Dawn of the Dead (1978); Day of the Dead (1985); Land of the Dead (2005); Diary of the Dead (2007) and Survival of the Dead (2010). Each film features civilisation falling apart as the world is overrun by zombies but none are direct sequels to each other in terms of characters or storylines. The entire series is gore-tastic and gets two half eaten thumbs up from me.

Romero’s co-writer on the original Living Dead film, John A. Russo, wrote a book, The Return of the Living Dead, which was also made into a film in 1985. This time, the zombies have a taste for human brains, and a further four sequels were spawned, all of variable quality. A scene in Return of the Living Dead Part II (1988) depicts a zombie dressed in Michael Jackson’s Thriller costume being electrocuted and hilariously recreating the iconic choreography.

Of course, Jackson’s famous long form music video, directed by John Landis in 1983, has probably been seen by more people worldwide than all zombie movies put together. In the video, the living dead arise from their graves to dance and sing to Jackson’s music. That’s far more frightening to me than any brain eating zombie.

The zombie world is not without controversy. Fans were upset when Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead (2005) featured running zombies. The argument is that as reanimated corpses, zombie ankles are probably too decomposed and unstable to sustain running. I guess that rules out my Zomba™ latino dance exercise program for the undead.

The excellent post-apocalyptic films 28 Days Later (2002) and 28 Weeks Later (2007) also feature zombie-like creatures. A debate still rages over the internet about whether these films can be considered of the zombie cannon. In my opinion, they can’t be included, as the creatures depicted are actually infected living people who can starve to death if they don’t feed.

Zombies have also slowly made their way (walking and moaning) into other motion picture genres. The action horror franchise Resident Evil (2002-2010) features Milla Jovovich fighting hordes of zombies. Peter Jackson’s Braindead (1992), Andrew Currie’s Fido (2006) and Zombieland (2009) are laugh out loud comedies. Even the romantic comedy isn’t safe. The excellent Shaun of the Dead (2004) was the world’s first “zom-rom-com.”

Reportedly in pre-production, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies should hit our screens in 2013. I can’t wait to see literary heroine Elizabeth Bennet and her sisters battle the walking dead.

My favourite zombie movie title has to be the rather subtly named Zombies! Zombies! Zombies! (2007). Surprisingly, it focuses on an unorthodox speech therapist helping King George VI overcome his stammer.

But seriously, zombies are now firmly a staple for modern film audiences. Why shouldn’t they be on our small screens too, especially in a dramatic series as acclaimed as The Walking Dead? With the plethora of free-to-air and pay TV channels out there, surely someone should purchase the rights and air it before some of the more technically gifted amongst us obtain it by “other means.”

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