The zombie genre is dead, someone please shoot it in the head

I gave up on The Walking Dead. It was slow-paced, repetitive torture porn with a cast of unlikeable characters. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead was a classic that reinvigorated the genre by attaching themes of infection and social collapse to an existing idea, but his stuff was getting formulaic in the sequels — it’s gotten calcified and uncreative. I liked Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die, but it was more of a knowing, self-referential wink at all zombie films, with a cast that knew all of the zombie tropes and went through the expected motions. It ought to have punctured the whole genre and ended it, but I think the title was another self-aware joke. Dead movie ideas don’t die, they get endlessly recycled.

There’s another way we know zombie movies are creatively bankrupt: we’ve entered the “Abbot and Costello meets…” phase of their existence. The fear is gone, the plots are predictable, so let’s milk it for comedy now. Worse still, we’re getting sequels to mocking comedy takes on the zombie movies.

Yeah, I saw Zombieland: Double Tap last night. It shambled onto the screen like a microwaved platter of dried-out raw brains, and it strained to provide some manic flavor to old jokes and random plot shifts, tired and pointless cameos, and a feeble attempt to add some challenge by saying that zombies had “evolved” and there was a new type that was harder to kill…but that just meant they had to fire their big guns with infinite ammunition a dozen times to achieve the same effect, a dead splattered zombie. Dreary, unfunny, and I don’t care how often Woody Harrelson yells, throws a tantrum, and blows stuff up, totally lacking in tension.

I have a better title for it: Zombieland: Tapped Out.


  1. hemidactylus says

    Hah PZ! The zombie genre (with all due respect to its matriarch Zora Hurston) will merely reanimate. You can’t kill it.

    I’m still watching Walking Dead reinvigorated by the departures of stultifying Rick and son. They do make an attempt at diversity: gay and lesbian characters among the heroes, Richonne, and recently a deaf character who is a match in skillset for Daryl. But yeah it’s gotten stale. Mr Robot is its current Sunday night competition.

    Fear the Walking Dead ate through almost all of the first season cast, borrowed Morgan, and still battles on, but after the season finale (no spoilers) I am almost done. I just can’t deal with another community led by a Governor type tyrant who sacrifices freedom for security. Yes it is a Hobbesian world, but I just can’t anymore. Plus something else that happened at the bitter end ☹️

  2. Kip Williams says

    I’m still a fan of SHAUN OF THE DEAD, which is pretty much all the zombie movie I’ll ever need, except for maybe ARMY OF DARKNESS and the Simpsons Treehouses of Horror. It’s re-watchable and heart-warming. Sean, I mean.

  3. cartomancer says

    I would say that the zombie story is a quintessentially American elite story. The general pattern is that zombies represent a fear of the faceless masses, and having one’s individuality submerged into the dirty, diseased mob of common humanity. While there have been some vaguely thoughtful left-wing takes on this (Day of the Dead’s use of zombies as a metaphor for consumerism for instance), most of the time the sentiments behind zombie films are planted firmly in more conservative soil. Especially the ones that vaunt guns as the solution to the problem, or cast the protagonists as frontiersmen survivalists of the kind the NRA masturbates fervently over all the time.

    Conversely, the traditional European vampire story is a story about fear of the powerful few who treat a cowed common humanity with contempt and cruelty. I would not be surprised if these are due for a reappearance in America in some form – except with vampire tycoons and hedge fund managers, Nosferatu Hollywood moguls preying on young actors, and bloodsucking corporate executives with ranks of shifty Renfield politicians under their sway.

  4. brucej says

    Honestly, “Z Nation” is the only one I can stand. It has a lot of humor, and even humanity in it.

    “Walking Dead” is just endlessly grinding through horror after horror, character after character. Everybody Dies, the End.

    @cartomancer #3: I give you ‘NOS4A2″ , “The Passage” , The Strain All currently running or recently ended.

  5. Akira MacKenzie says

    The only zombie movie I ever really enjoyed was the original Night of the Living Dead. After that, the rest of the zombie genre seemed pretty much the same, even the attempts to lampoon it. Then again, my taste in horror has always been more Lovecraftian than the ghosts, ghouls, werewolves, etc of traditional supernatural horror so I’m pretty biased.

  6. hemidactylus says

    Ah yes The Strain. A gem. More than rescued the vampire genre from the mushy teen angst clutches and did it with a limited run story arc and bowed out with honor. It started with a slow crescendo, but went out with a bang, as in nuclear winter.

  7. Akira MacKenzie says

    cartomancer @ 3

    I would not be surprised if these are due for a reappearance in America in some form – except with vampire tycoons and hedge fund managers, Nosferatu Hollywood moguls preying on young actors, and bloodsucking corporate executives with ranks of shifty Renfield politicians under their sway.

    It would be nice if Hollywood would go back to portraying the vampire as “bloodsucking fiend from beyond the grave” rather than “brooding 500-year-old emo teenager trying to make out with high school girls.”

  8. John Small Berries says

    I generally find zombie stories unutterably boring, but I loved the BBC’s In the Flesh.

    Set after a violent zombie uprising, and the subsequent development of a treatment (not a cure, but it returns the recipients to sentience and keeps most of the symptoms under control), it follows a “Partially Deceased Syndrome” sufferer as he tries to fit back into the community he ravaged after clawing his way out of his grave.

    Only two seasons (of three and six episodes, respectively), but it managed to fit in more good plot and character development, drama, and black humor than many long-running shows I’ve seen.

  9. vucodlak says

    @ cartomancer, #3
    A small correction: Dawn of the Dead is about consumerism (that’s the one where the survivors are holed up in a mall). Day of the Dead is about the Military Industrial Complex, if I remember correctly (it’s been a while since I last saw it). The original Night of the Living Dead was a commentary on race in the US, although Romero claimed not to realized it until after the film was finished.

    On other decent zombie movies:
    The 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead is largely about the way women are treated in the US- the men in the movie spend the whole movie waving their dicks at one another and telling the womenfolk to sit down and shut up. Two of the women die because of the men in their lives, but Barbara (Patricia Tallman) makes it out alive and on her own. Turns out Barbara’s idea (which the men reflexively shot down) was a good one.

    The remake has a more nuanced racial commentary, too. In a twist, it’s the angry white patriarch (Harry Cooper, played by Tom Towles) who survives this time… by following Ben’s advice. Barbara, coming back to rescue Ben (Tony Todd), finds that Ben has succumbed to a gunshot wound delivered by said white asshole and become a zombie. She tearfully puts him out of his misery. Harry Cooper then comes slinking down the stairs, injured but very much alive. She puts a bullet in his head, too.

    The Return of the Living Deadis a different beast. The zombies of Return are a far greater threat than those in the Night/Dawn/Day series. The first thing the living do on encountering a zombie is to pin it down and put a pickax through its head. It doesn’t stop the zombie. Nothing, in fact, stops the zombies. They’re fast, unkillable, and they can think. They’re basically still people, but with an all-consuming urge to feast on the brains of other people. Then there’s what happens when they’re finally destroyed…

    There’s a lot of humor in The Return of the Living Dead, alongside biting commentary on environmental pollution and the MIC, among other things. The rest of the Return series is pretty much disposable drek, with a small exception for the third film, which drops the humor entirely and serves as a decent commentary on the destructive nature of addiction.

    I love those films, though I don’t actually like zombie fiction, for the most part. I hated the 28 Days/Weeks movies, for example, along with the remake of Dawn of the Dead and most cheap gut-munchers. But the above movies just plain work, both as horror films and as social commentary.

  10. rrhain says

    Warm Bodies.

    What if we took Romeo and Juliet and made Romeo a zombie?

    It’s one of the best takes on the zombie movie as well as a really good adaptation of R&J.

  11. chrislawson says

    Train to Busan is a great recent zombie movie. It works because of the top-notch direction and writing generating actual suspense as opposed to by-the-numbers jump scares, and by being at root about corporate malfeasance, i.e. it has a foundation to build its story on rather than just “wouldn’t it be cool to kill lots of zombies.”

    As for this sequel, I found the original only mildly engaging (the zombie clown was a highlight) so I have no interest in seeing this one.

  12. harryblack says

    Nothing you said is wrong PZ but I still enjoyed it! (Maybe due to the triple whiskey in my coke?)
    Some light hearted fluff that had shiny things to distract me and some jokes I liked.
    Maybe you just dont “get it”? Im assured thats why I dont like BvS…

    It does strike me that apocalypse fiction is all about privilege though? Like this is the only way comfortable middle class folks can imagine their safety being threatened and their mettle tested? But in a way that requires zero growth or skill aquisition. Come as you are, dont be an idiot and you too can best zombies and create a new society.
    It ignores the fact that significant portions of our societies and definitely our planet are living out their future dystopias and apocalypses and they are not having a blast….

  13. Ridana says

    I’m not big on the zombie genre, but my favorite takes on it are Shaun of the Dead and the 4th ep of the anime Space Dandy, “Sometimes You Can’t Live with Dying, Baby.” In the latter (spoilers!!!), the cause is an infection, transmissible to all lifeforms and even robots. Our heroes are quite happy with being zombies, aside from craving meat and wanting to hang out in malls, but they can no longer ply their trade of catching aliens because they’re too slow. Then Dandy realizes he has a life insurance policy, and is eventually able to collect on it, because he’s dead. Other zombies follow suit, bankrupting the insurance companies. Eventually they learn from the zombie who originally bit them that they should never eat meat, only yogurt, because this will enable them to ferment instead of rotting. Eventually the entire universe is zombified, including the narrator, and everyone dies happily ever after in a peaceful universe free from sickness, suffering and war.

  14. Rob Grigjanis says

    The best zombie story was Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel I Am Legend, butchered mercilessly by Hollywood more than once. The 1964 movie The Last Man on Earth came closest to the spirit of the book, which could be summarized by “the good guy ain’t really”.

  15. microraptor says

    Zombie Land Saga is pretty good. It’s not your average zombie flick, though.

    As a bonus it’s got probably the single most respectful presentation of a transgender character in any anime.

  16. says

    I started watching the living dead, but my suspension of disbelief usually doesn’t get me through zombie movies/shows. I mean, come on, the survivors fight the zombies by shooting them, but the whole fucking US Army was overrun by what is basically unarmed civilians with their brains on lukewarm?
    I did enjoy Mira Grant’s (aka Seanan McGuire) Newsflesh books, though there the economic angle didn’t make sense, but living under capitalism I’m used to that..

  17. Rob Grigjanis says

    starskeptic @20: Yeah, but in this case a distinction without much difference. The afflicted fall into two groups; the reanimated corpses (the majority, IIRC), and those essentially coping with a chronic disease.

  18. sockjockwarlock says

    Nothing against the zombie genre in general, but I got sick of it when they’re everywhere in other geek media, mostly comics & video games. Comics are just worst; you got variations of zombie apocalypses in various settings from wartorn Afghanistan to the 80’s to ancient Rome etc. plus fucking Nazi Zombie comics everywhere. Then zombies vs pirates, cheerleaders, ninjas etc. Ugh.

    I have a suspicion that zombies appeal to men the same way vampires appeal to women, though not in a “attracted to you” kinda way. Zombies appeal to immature male psyches because how it brings out some primal urge to defend their loved ones, to survive and just trying to find ‘kewl’ ways to kill them. I mean, you can replace zombies with any other monsters and still deliver the same message, but these male writers insists on doing zombie movies.

  19. microraptor says

    Zombies appeal to the immature male psyche because they’re a faceless mob that can be annihilated by the hero without raising any questions about how moral it is to kill something just for being different or whether the humans are the aggressors.

    And for young white racists, they make good stand-ins for masturbatory fantasies about ethnic cleansing. Notice how most zombies are depicted as having rather dark skin tones?

  20. birgerjohansson says

    To re-visit the nearly worn-out vampire genre I would recommend Alucard, the vampire in the “Hellsing Ultimate Abridged ” fan-based anime.
    The ordinary Hellsing anime is perfectly enjoyable, but in the Abridged version he is a kind of vampiric Pippa Longstocking, pulling the beard of authority while killing monsters and kicking the Vatican’s rival monster-hunting agency in the ass, occasionally saving the world in the process.
    I especially liked how he hung the rainbow flag from the big Jesus statue after stomping on an outbreak in Rio de Janeiro.

  21. davidrichardson says

    Ah, you poor people who’ve never seen Cockneys versus Zombies! You don’t know what you’re missing. There’s a wonderful scene where the Zombies are attacking an old people’s home full of Zombies … and one of the pensioners has to escape from a Zombie using his Zimmer frame!

    Here’s the trailer:

  22. birgerjohansson says

    Soo…. you do not like SCP-008? (see wikipedia for reference). But there are plenty of more original stories.
    You might want to have SCP-882 in your office.
    And since Halloween is near, try SCP-097 (creepy).
    Lovecraft enthusiasts will likely enjoy (quite safe) conversations with SCP-2662.
    SCP- 990 seems quite useful and 529 is just cute.

  23. sockjockwarlock says

    #23 @microraptor

    That’s a great way you’ve described it. Could’ve said it better.

    But that comes back to the question: why zombies at all? Why not any other types of monster hordes from bugs to dragons, that can be used as metaphors for dehumanized punching bags for the usually male heroes?
    I get not wanting vampires & werewolf hordes; they’re too smart for the heroes (and majority of writers) to handle, since they can be anyone and can set up traps. Ghost hordes? Too smart & invisible. But bugs or other monsters? No way.
    I can only assume that zombies are human-looking enough for manchildren who wants massacre anything that looks like them without any ethical repercussions.

  24. Kip Williams says

    sockjockwarlock @29, I think you’re very close there. May I also add the point that it’s harder, logistically, to create bugs, monsters, whatever (in general) than it is to smear bloody oatmeal on someone’s face and have them drag their feet when they walk.

  25. Kip Williams says

    (Further to the dehumanized punching bags: What could be more therapeutic than vicariously blowing away zombies who recently were people you didn’t like? Have at you, boss! What, you weren’t a zombie? My bad.

  26. says

    As someone already mentioned here, Train to Busan is not regular zombie shit. A sequel for it is on the way and I can’t fucking wait. Its relatively unknown status might have something to do with the fact that it’s a Korean movie and people are afraid of subtitles? Other zombie entertainment worth checking out include La Horde (France), Wyrmwood (Australia), Död Snö (Dead Snow, Norway) and Charlie Brooker’s pre-Black Mirror miniseries Dead Set, which is set in the Big Brother house. Also worth a mention is another British treat Curfew, an over-the-top illegal street race series with very little sense and sensibility. One of Curfew’s directors also made The Girl With All the Gifts, which gets my vote for the best scored zombie movie.