What’s so funny about the undead? Hollywood frequently finds the humor in being terrified, leading to movies like ZOMBIELAND and its sequel. Here’s why more zombie movies should be comedies.
The film industry has had a long history with zombies. George R. Romero made the creatures famous (or infamous) with 1968’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD — a classic that spawned five official sequels (and triggered a wave of rip-off films).
And for years, filmmakers explored what made the undead so scary. We saw slow-moving zombies in movies like THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW. We saw souped-up zombies in films from Danny Boyle (28 DAYS LATER) and Marc Forster (WORLD WAR Z).
Eventually, though, the industry realized that zombies just weren’t as terrifying as other threats from the horror genre. Perhaps seeing them every week on television in “The Walking Dead” watered down their impact. But in time, zombie stories started to inspire comedies, and the industry headed down a more productive track.
Shaun of the Dead
Edgar Wright’s SHAUN OF THE DEAD isn’t the first zombie comedy movie (before Shaun, there was Bruce Campbell’s Ash from the EVIL DEAD movies), but it gets credit for being the funniest and more irreverent look at the classic horror genre. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost were ideal slackers who just wanted to get to their favorite pub in the middle of a zombie infestation. And while Wright has proven to be a visionary storyteller, SHAUN also proved that audiences will come out and support these comedies, if they are made correctly.
That led to ZOMBIELAND, a hilarious endeavor with attitude and surprises that came from the minds of DEADPOOL co-writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. ZOMBIELAND understood what more movies needed to figure out… and have started to notice in recent years. Zombie movies used to lead to social commentary, with the Romero films connecting dots between political and social movements.
Comedies, however, could step back and ridicule how silly zombies really are as horror threats. ZOMBIELAND leaned into the state of an “undead” monster, convincing Bill Murray to play a zombie version of himself. You end up laughing AT the story, which actually helps break some of the tension of the horror — a clever gimmick.
This opened the door to what should be the future of the genre (at least the immediate future): the funny zombie movie.
Zombieland: Double Tap
Some sequels shift gears and try a different direction. ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP looks like it actually doubles down on the humor that was introduced in the first movie, exaggerating the premise of a post-apocalyptic wasteland by following a gaggle of survivors played by Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin.
They are all back and are joined by the likes of Zoey Deutch, Luke Wilson and Dan Aykroyd, so this isn’t going to be a serious horror movie by any stretch, nor should it be. When the DEADPOOL writers turn their pens to the zombie genre, they find all of the things that are funny about it, and they leave the scares for other filmmakers.
LITTLE MONSTERS played the SXSW film festival earlier this year and also deduced that more audiences might respond better to sweetness and laughs as they absorb scares.
Lupita Nyong’o plays an elementary school teacher who must distract her students when their field trip is interrupted by a zombie outbreak. Thankfully, they are the slow kind, and kids are pretty resilient in the face of fear. Add in Josh Gad, and LITTLE MONSTERS had as many laughs as audiences have come to expect from gory, gruesome zombie stories.
And that’s the thing. Directors can still ratchet up the special effects to have undead threats with decaying skin biting into limbs as they chase down horror actors.
But the best movies from the recent crop have figured out that humor goes a long way in the zombie genre, with supernatural and horror staying more traditional when it comes to generating scares. Zombies might not be as terrifying as they once were (if they ever really were in the first place).
But they sure can be funny.
ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP opens up in theatres on October 18, so grab your tickets now.