Personally I think zombies are a little played out. Romero had a good little run up until ’85. The remake of Dawn of the Dead, and the subsequent “fast” zombie movies like 28 Days Later… and [Rec] (full review) were good; I enjoyed the recent, tongue in cheek Nazi zombie flick Dead Snow (full review) as well. Shaun of the Dead and Fido made us laugh at them. But I think the last zombie movie for a good long while should be the adaptation of Max Brooks’ excellent novel World War Z.
Taking inspiration from Studs Terkel, the master of American oral history, the novel is written as the personal, unedited memoir of a U.N. historian tasked with writing the facts known of the zombie epidemic that nearly wiped out humanity. It’s strikingly effective, and while Brooks- son of comedy master Mel, and author of the previous cult hit The Zombie Survival Guide- isn’t quite as developed a writer as he may one day be, he manages to craft a gripping narrative by knowing what to include and what to leave as mystery. Some of his characters are a little cliché, but he hits the mark more often than not, and the ones that work really sink their infected unliving teeth into you.
He models the epidemic- the true roots of which are never fully explained- on the influenza virus, which slaughtered millions in the previous century. The tendrils of globalism that link every nation, legitimate and illicit, work against us. And he models the reaction of various nations somewhat on the “War on Terror,” fought in the background by our militaries to keep us free to shop, bereft of any sacrifice. And as the title promises, all hell breaks loose. Brooks is quite imaginative and comes up with many unique and clever scenarios that a living dead menace can provide. Zombies on ships, tossed overboard, walk ashore months later. And continue to long after the war is “over.”
Because really, are zombies scary? Lumbering, stupid, slow. You watch a mediocre zombie flick and wonder how anyone is dumb enough to get killed. Well, Brooks makes you scared. The infamous Battle of Yonkers, where conventional warfare faces an onslaught of millions of New York “infected” is brilliant in crafting a real sense of terror about the creatures. Because “smart bombs” aren’t smart enough to hit ‘em in the brain. As in Dead Snow, what happens when they freeze in winter? Each spring spawns new terror for the survivors.
Brooks did a lot of research into everything from weapons, epidemics, geopolitics, and war plans before writing the novel. Having read Terkel’s excellent history of World War 2, The Good War, I could see it was a major influence. He talks to different sides and his characters have different viewpoints. Sometimes he wears his heart on his sleeve a bit, but he manages to create a believable apocalyptic future. If you’ve read so much as a Crichton thriller, this is for you. Don’t dismiss it as “science fiction,” or “horror,” or whatever genre pigeonhole you like. It’s a damn good novel, and hopefully it will be a damn good movie. But honestly, unless it’s as gritty as Children of Men I’d rather it remain a book only. Mr. Romero, we thank you for bringing zombies into popular culture in 1968; but your last few films tell me that you’d best serve as a consultant, or even just a dedication in the credits. This is not your zombie movie.