The release of " Zombieland" this week has me wondering: Just what is it about zombies that keeps us coming back for more?
As a fan of the movie genre myself (I'm close to wrapping principal photography on my own feature-length zombie movie, "The Dead Can't Dance"), I have some theories:
1. They're the undead!
There's something cool — and downright triumphant — about defeating the laws of nature. And I think we like rooting for zombies because they are so stubborn, they even refuse to die. Go, dead boy, go!
2. The end is near!
For some narcissistic reason, we find the end of the world fascinating and want to watch it happen.
Especially when everything's drowning in fake blood and zombies are stumbling around. Our obsession with the world's demise is so great, I wouldn't be surprised if the actual end-of-the-world event has a sponsor: "This apocalypse brought to you by Burger King."
3. Zombies are scary!
When they are played as viciously undead, zombies are downright harrowing. George A. Romero is hailed as the godfather of zombie movies for his groundbreaking 1968 classic "Night of the Living Dead," where the zombies were creepy and, well, gross.
But that was then. Modern times have brought even scarier, uglier — and faster — zombies, such as the hyperactive beasties in "28 Days Later." Apparently all our caffeine intake is going to catch up with us, eventually.
4. Zombies are hilarious!
Maybe it's their clumsiness, or how they all want to drag their left foot, but zombies continue to crack us up. Especially in movies that push boundaries and add new twists to the genre, such as the sharp writing in the English import "Shaun of the Dead": "Come and get it! It's a running buffet!"
5. It's social commentary!
Somehow, the zombie genre is a breeding ground for socially conscious themes. And amazingly, it's perfectly allowed — even encouraged.
Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" said bigger-picture things about race, war and civil unrest. His sequel, "Dawn of the Dead," was a commentary on consumerism.
The foreign cult hit "Dead Snow," which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and is now in limited release, has Norwegian students battling Nazi zombies. Yeah, no message there.
6. Being a zombie is fun!
I think it's a secret desire of everyone to want to be a zombie (we've used more than 100 people as zombies in my film alone). And why not? It's fun to pretend you're brainless, want to eat other humans and drool blood. It's fantasy. (When that really happens? Not so fun.)
7. It's researched!
Zombie culture is huge, with books, films, games and more fan Web sites than you can shake a dismembered arm at. Some are serious, some are funny. But they all offer differing perspectives on zombism.
And some are wickedly ingenious. Max Brooks' novel, "The Zombie Survival Guide," is written as matter-of-fact advice on what you should do in case of a real zombie outbreak. It'll probably actually be very handy.
8. There's never oversaturation!
The zombie genre of films is sprawling. There are good ones, bad ones, silly ones, disturbing ones. And we never seem to tire of them.
Already out this year, in addition to "Dead Snow" and "Zombieland," was the Cannes Film Festival hit "Colin," which tells its tale from the "zombie perspective." Equal rights, you know.
9. It's brain power!
Depending on the lore you want to follow, zombies either rise from the grave and involve some sort of voodoo or they are zombified through some sort of virus.
And, originally, zombies didn't eat people. They were more like big puppets.
The first zombie film is widely believed to be 1932's "White Zombie," which starred Bela Lugosi as a young man who turns to a witch doctor to lure the woman he loves away from her fiancee — but instead accidentally turns her into a zombie slave. (This is where Rob Zombie and his band got their names.)
So the actual eating brains thing didn't come until later. And in "The Zombie Survival Guide," there is a whole chapter devoted to why zombies want to eat only live brains. Apparently the living dead are picky eaters. But that's their appeal.
One thing I've never understood, though: If zombies only eat brains, how come they're so stupid?
10. You can use exclamation marks as much as you want!
Absolutely anything goes in zombie movies. And the more over-the-top, the better. So come up with your own survival guide, if you wish. Because it looks like zombie films are here to stay.
At least, until the end of the world.