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Love for zombie movies just won’t die

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013, at 11:38 p.m.

It’s certainly not of the Harlequin variety, but this week brings us a new entry in the zombie genre: zombie romance.

“Warm Bodies,” which opened Friday, features a protagonist (played by Nicholas Hoult, “X-Men: Origins”) who is a zombie, but one who hasn’t fully lost all sensibilities. Sure, he still wants to munch on human brains, but he also becomes preoccupied with the human heart. What’s an undead guy to do?

He falls for a girl (Teresa Palmer) whom he saves from getting killed. It’s a doomed romance in the vein of “Romeo and Juliet,” perhaps, if Romeo had no pulse and a craving for human flesh.

It’s just the latest installment in a genre that keeps growing and shows no signs of slowing down. Zombies are hotter than ever (or would that be colder?), especially with the rabid success of the frightfully good TV series “The Walking Dead.”

In addition to “Bodies,” this year we’ll also get the film adaptation of Max Brooks’ wildly popular novel “World War Z,” starring Brad Pitt as a U.N. investigator who travels the world trying to stop the outbreak of a zombie pandemic.

But there’s just no stopping it in pop culture. We can’t seem to get enough of the undead. There are countless websites devoted to all things zombie. There are numerous organizations that host “zombie walks” every year.

And there are actual groups that believe a zombie apocalypse is coming. Right in our midst, the Kansas Anti Zombie Militia says on its website (www.kansasantizombiemilitia.com) that they are “a Mid-west (but not exclusively) group of people committed to research and preparing for a zombie apocalypse. We are not crazy. We are not paranoid, we believe in preparedness in any situation.”

I’m always leery of people who say they’re not crazy right up front.

But I am guilty of zombie love, too. In 2010, I made “The Dead Can’t Dance,” a comedy/drama feature film that had zombies. My twist was that a virus broke out and turned everyone into brain-cravers — except Native Americans, who were immune to the disease.

It’s important to have a twist — the best zombie films explore a fresh take, and there are all kinds of zombie films. There are zombie Nazis, zombies as pets, even zombie strippers (don’t ask how I know this).

There are some really bad zombie films, but there are also some really good ones. Here, then, are my top five favorite zombie movies:

1. “Shaun of the Dead” (2004) — Written by and starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, this film ably melded humor and horror. It also boasted some dazzlingly executed long-take sequences, lovable characters and fine acting. (It’s what inspired me to make my film.)

2. “Night of the Living Dead” (1968) — George A. Romero’s classic about a group of people who seek refuge from zombies in a remote farmhouse. The film injected social commentary on topics such as race relations and the effects of the Vietnam war.

3. “Zombieland” (2009) — Another comedy, this time with a shy, neurotic student (Jesse Eisenberg) and a gun-toting tough guy (Woody Harrelson) trying to get to an amusement park that they think is zombie-free. The film had a crackling, inventive script and great design touches — when was the last time you admired a zombie movie for its onscreen typography?

4. “Dawn of the Dead” (2004) — The remake has the same story: A group of survivors take refuge from zombies in a shopping mall. But while it lacked the starkness of Romero’s original, the remake featured a charged performance from Sarah Polley.

5. “28 Days Later” (2002) — Danny Boyle’s gory thriller took place in the U.K., and had a virus that turned everyone into lightning-fast zombies. It was frightening and tense, and injected social commentary in the vein of “Lord of the Flies” — zombies may be brutal, but humans are worse.

Reach Rod Pocowatchit at rpocowatchit@wichitaeagle.com.

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