Every movie zombie fan is possible very familiar with the works of George A. Romero. His fascination for zombies became the starting point of the zombie culture, leading to the creation of zombie-inspired films and TV shows, videogames, comics books and graphic novels, and music. Basically, anything zombie-related is now embedded deep in people’s culture, even though most only thought of zombies as terrifying creatures.
The nature of zombies has already been interpreted in various manners, as seen in Romero’s Dawn of the Dead and Edgar Wrights’s Shaun of the Dead. Zombie movies either focused on the creatures as having some kind of life, or in other cases, they were metaphorically compared with the kind of life that people are living everyday. No matter what the reason is, zombie culture is a very popular source of entertainment (and horror) for most people, and many may be wondering why movies featuring the living dead tend to become popular and gain a cult following. Possibly, the success of zombie movies is related to the following factors:
A lot of people would agree that most zombie movie include almost enclosed spaces. In fact, it is a common scenario in zombie movies to see people getting trapped in spaces that are about to be invaded by the living dead. The Night of the Living Dead might have been the first zombie movie to interpret zombies as creatures roaming around spaces while making inaudible sounds as they try to prey on live humans.
Meanwhile, for some, the Living Dead franchise is one of the greatest zombie film of all time, and that is because the film maximized using the element of claustrophobia. Just to recap, Living Dead focuses on a group of strangers who become entrapped in a small abandoned farmhouse. It is not long before the group realizes that the living dead are closing in on them. Shot in black and white, the tension in the movie is slowly built before the zombies create chaos thanks to the bad decisions and misfortunes of the lead character. In addition, the film is notable for including undead children. For most parts, the scenes featured are inside the farmhouse, shown in grainy black and white, and remarkably, emanate a claustrophobic vibe as the film progresses. Moreover, the basement of the farmhouse serves as fortress for the zombie child in the movie. As a whole, the movie is great thanks to a number of factors. However, its capability to use a very small space to accommodate a number of people is what really makes it great.
Along with the Living Dead, other movies who wisely utilized the element of claustrophobia include the Dead franchise, in which Day of the Dead, even with its flaws, bears great horror because of the manner that it relayed the story set in a very confined environment. In the movie, the characters can be found in an underground bunker most of the time, and even the sunlight fails to provide some hope. The characters have to rely only on the halogen bulbs to see each other.
[Rec} is another zombie movie which should be applauded for using a claustrophobic location. The movie is set in an apartment building, which is eventually raided by infected people. In short, the setting is an important factor that adds to the credibility of a zombie movie.
However, there are cases when some zombie movies fail to account for this point. For instance, one of the Dead franchise movies, the Diary of the Dead, was very awful for some because most of the scenes are shot in open areas in a bus. Moreover, with such setting, the movie utterly fails in giving the viewers a sense of danger. The Land of the Dead is a fairly good movie, which only flops in some points, especially in the scenarios which take place in small spaces, such as an abandoned shop. And the same goes for when the scenes are shot outside building structures.
The World War Z is also quite very good, as it provides some heightened excitement but again, the use of location is not maximized. To further clarify on this aspect, viewers should review the scenes including those of the zombie onslaught at Jerusalem and at the medical facility. The sense of danger is kind of missed out since it is already implied that Brad Pitt has a high chance of escaping via a plane.
In TV shows, the issues can also be encountered but to a lesser degree. The use of confined spaces is also effective but it can only be used in shorter periods. In the mini-series, Dead Set, the scenes are most effective when they are shot in the Big Brother set, whereas the tension subsides when the scene include those shot outside the TV station.
When talking about zombies, almost everyone would mention a thing or two about The Walking Dead. However, when considering the use of claustrophobic location, the TV show can’t be categorized as a failure as it is focused more on telling the story of the live characters and not that of the living dead. In fact, the zombies in the drama can be considered as support lingering behind in the backdrop instead of being an active factor. Thus, the major characters of the show do not necessarily need to trapped in closed spaces at all time, but only those moments when inflicting horrors becomes the focus.
THE GROUP CONSISTING OF LAGGARDS AND OTHER SURVIVORS
Of course, survivors are important element of every zombie movie. However, to contribute to the success of a zombie flick, the group of survivors should consist of the right combination of people with varying qualities, which not all should be moral and good. Whether they are evil or not, viewers anticipate what will happen to all the living characters in a zombie movie. Well, it’s not necessarily that viewers should care for the characters and cry upon their death, however, the characters should possess unique qualities, albeit a bad one, to make them stand out.
The Night of the Living Dead is a great example showing a good combination of its characters. The characters of the movie are basically strangers and the situation they are in contributes in creating a heightened tension among them and the sense of claustrophobia inside the farmhouse. Stuck in a very tight space, the characters in The Night of the Living can only shout and contradict each other, which do not necessarily help in resolving their problem. The tension in a zombie movie is understandable, because there is no sense uniting people and providing them with harmony in times of trouble. In fact, it can only lead to the demise of the movie. By contrast, when the characters fight with each other, the viewers are tempted to take sides and choose their bets for survival. The Dawn of the Dead and The Walking Dead series recognized the importance of causing conflict in their characters and did a great job it. The Telltale Games counterpart of The Walking Dead was also successful in this aspect as well as [Rec]. In the aforementioned examples, the appearance of hordes of zombies served as a tool to gather humans who bear no relations with each other and who do not really welcome the idea of spending some time with and relying on strangers for survival.
A little off-topic, another great movie, Frank Darabont’s The Mist, practices the principle of forcing strangers together in a confined space. In the movie, shoppers and strangers get trapped inside a supermarket when a mysterious and quite deadly mist covers an entire town and monsters started appearing and snatching people. The tension is further heightened when a religious zealot decides to take matters in her own hands and starts converting some gullible people into her followers and setting them on killing the protagonist and the other characters who are not siding with her. The Mist is great example showing the effective of ripping people apart with conflict, which sometimes lead to some unwarranted fate of some characters. The Day of the Dead also makes of such element, wherein the survivors of the movie begin to split up, as they continue to disagree concerning their viewpoints.
World War Z should be noted again for failing to effectively use conflicting characters. In the movie, Brad Pitt has to travel to various parts of the world with company of some unremarkable characters. Brad Pitt met various characters, including a Jewish intelligence expert, an Israeli soldier, a soldier who always talks a mouth, and the scientist whose characters basically remained bland throughout the movie. Thus, as the movie concludes, Brad Pitt’s face seems to be the only one that seemed memorable, whereas the others just served as passersby.
Likewise, it seems that World War Z lacks blood and gore. Gore is an important quality associated with successful zombie movies. In most cases, the films show reanimated or infected humans setting about biting the healthy ones. In such cases, blood is bound to spill. A person may get bitten on the throat, the arm, and other parts of the body, and depending on the part bitten, blood may appear as a spurting liquid or a gushing river or red blood cells. Moreover, human victims could be dismembered or gutted by the living thing. In fact, it has been customary for zombie movies to show some blood and unmerciful killings.
LEANING TOWARD AN R-RATING
Though not all people give very importance to the rating, it is indicative of how much gore, bloodiness, and horror can be seen in a zombie film. In fact, zombie movies which are aimed at showing guts and instilling indescribable terror should lean toward attaining a rating that is only meant for adults. Basically, it is the sense of danger which can help in achieving such status. However, in the case of World War Z, there seems to be only a few death and inadequate sense of terror.
In conclusion, the abovementioned things are not the absolute factor determining the success of a zombie film. However, having a few of them in a zombie movie will greatly contribute in their success. Specifically, a great combination of any of the said factors will add to the overall terror brought about by zombies. Still, a very talented filmmaker may be able to pull off a movie without necessarily taking into consideration all those factors. Yet, the success of such film may not be tantamount to that which was reached by the most notable zombie films of all time.