The zombie sub-genre of horror has been around in its modern incarnation since Johnny uttered those memorable words to his sister, Barbara, “They’re coming to get you, Barbara” in director George Romero’s seminal classic, “Night of the Living Dead”. Before Romero introduced the idea of cannabalistic zombies to the screen, the living dead were basically conceived as guardians of gold(“Zombies of Mora Tau“) or slave laborers(“Plague of Zombies”) that were only a threat to human beings if provoked or the protaganists wished to plunder the aforementioned treasure. Unfortunately Romero failed to secure the proper rights to his own material and the rest is history that he has been forced to witness. We have seen the results of this misstep on Romero’s part with the dizzying amounts of homages, remakes and just plain hilarious rip-offs that have most die-hard zombie fans have seen these past four decades since the sheriff instructed his posse to just shoot him in the head.
There has always been an element lacking in all these films and that is a true sense of the apocalyptic loss a sudden zombie outbreat would introduce to the world. There have been hints shown in Zack Snyder’s remake of “Dawn of the Dead” and Romero’s own “Day of the Dead”, but in perhaps an ironic twist to the long saga of depicting zombie infestion on the big screen we are now witness the definitive exploration of this theme on television in the form of “The Walking Dead” on the AMC network. The epic show revolves around a county sheriff called Rick Grimes who wakes up from a gun shot induced coma in Atlanta, Georgia and finds the world now over run by zombies called “walkers” in this world. Grimes wakes up much like the main character from “28 Days Later” in a hospital now abandoned and only inhabited by the horrifying walkers whose only purpose is to feast upon the flesh of the living.
If you feel that this plot line is derivative of the English masterpiece of which, incidentally, is not about zombies-keep in mind that it is a common plot thread that has been used as far back as 1951 with the publication of “The Day of the Triffids” wriiten by science fiction author John Wyndham. The novel was later adapted several times into films and television mini-series events starting with the first film adaption in 1962.
“The Walking Dead” is based upon a justifiably highly acclaimed comic book with the same title that was created by Robert Kirkman who published the book through Image Comics. Kirkman’s series won an “Eisner Award” for best continuing series in 2010. The television series follows the comic book quite faithfully with some exceptions of which to mention would be to spoil some of the delicious suprises the series will have in store for those that haven’t as yet seen the series. Comic book scribe, Kirkman’s intent in creating the comic book series was an homage to the particular brand of zombie horror that director George Romero had created in the late 60’s with his bleak examination on the loss of individuality as personified by the zombies in “Night of the Living Dead”. The series is understandably faithful to the source comic because Kirkman is also Executive Producer and a writer on the show.
It can be successfully argued that the show’s suprisingly shocking horror can be attributed to the brilliant veteran genre horror director, Frank Darabont. The man’s track is astonishing with films such as “The Shawshank Redemption”, “The Green Mile” and the incredibly underrated masterpiece, “The Mist” under his belt. Darabont is one of the few directors operating that treat the horror genre with respect and awe that it deserves. He is a director that is equally at home shooting a scene replete with intestinal horror as well as creating a scene that oozes with dread and anticipation as a disoriented Sheriff Grimes walks down a winding stairwell as he(and the viewing public) are dreading what may be waiting in these horrorfic moments. It is my assertion that without Darabont, these series would have dissolved into unintentional camp that eventually would have collapsed under its own weight. It is also incredible to consider that the series has already established itself as a powerful show after a mere 6 episodes!
Any successful episodic television show is also dependent upon the talent in front of the camera. Andrew Lincoln is the actor who portrays Sheriff Rick Grimes and the show definitely succeeds because of his subtle acting. His convicingly realistic reactions to this new horrific world sells the show completely and there can be no doubt that this will be a breakout role for this actor who was best known for a minor role in the British comedy, “Love Actually”. A special mention must be given to the actress, Sarah Wayne Callies who essays the role of Grimes’ wife, Lori. The role of the waiting wife is usually the weakest link in genre films and television shows, but Callies brings an understated grace to the role with genuine emotional versimilitude that one would expect from a strong woman who is married to an officer of the law. It is yet another great role for this actress who was last seen in the entertaining series called “Prison Break”. The show is a strong ensemble acting tour-de-force for all involved and this fact is considered an anomaly for a genre show which proves that the mainstream critical community still considers genre shows to be examples of buffoonish acting. It is a topic that will be addressed in a future article in this column.
Horror fans will not be disappointed by this show either. There are genuine “jump from your seat” moments peppered about in the series and the suspense is esquisitely excruciating. The series succeeds at capturing the results of a breakdown of society and in that respect, “The Walking Dead” reinforces the notion that all truly memorable horror epics are truly metaphors and examinations of what we truly are as human beings. The series depicts the bare bones of human existence and exposes all of what makes us human, beauty marks and all! We are truly at our best and worst when presented with insurmountable odds. How each of us reacts to that situation is who and what we truly are. It is this theme that elevates this show and hopefully will give the horror genre respect at the next awards ceremony.