The recent triumph of Zombieland, the little zom-com that could, has given the studios permission to greenlight other zombie products that don’t fully fit in the horror genre (i.e. the 28 ____ Later series and the Resident Evil trilogy.)
This is not to say that zombie comedies (or ZomComs or Zomedies, depending on who you talk to) haven’t been greenlit before. Shaun of the Dead is the most obvious example, but films like Canada’s Fido, a Lassie pastiche with a zombie as the collie (played brilliantly by Scottish comedian Billy Connolly), cannot be overlooked as part of the larger march toward “Zomedy” as a genre.
Further back there’s films like Zombies on Broadway and King of the Zombies, which weren’t necessarily all that funny, but they did try. The zombie as a comedy device can be found in An American Werewolf in London and Idle Hands (with Seth Green as the reanimated corpse in question.) Overall, you don’t really get comedies set in a post-zombie apocalypse world until after Romero and Raimi, whose Army of Darkness set the precedent for horror comedy as a B-movie go-to. The genre doesn’t lean hard on the comedy side until Fido and Shaun of the Dead in terms of “Oh, the apocalypse. Isn’t this fun?”
Shaun of the Dead could have been dismissed by the studios through the rule that certain Americans think anything involving the British is funny. (Though that rule seems to be failing lately considering the decision to Americanize Death at Funeral with a new screenplay by Neil LaBute starring Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, Danny Glover, and Zoe Saldana. Peter Dinklage, however, is in both films. Because he’s awesome.)
Either way, Zombieland succeeded because it does the “ZomCom” right by blending the horror with the comedy in a way that maintains the zombies’ threat while allowing you to laugh with the characters, rather than at them.
For a perfect example of this blend, check out this clip, where the main character, Columbus, lets us in on the rules for living in a post-zombie world, a place he’s named Zombieland:
Zombieland also did a brilliant job at advertising for its target audience. The zombie film is an acquired taste that can quickly become a passionate addiction. (Just look at the popularity of “zombie walks” throughout the country.) Zombieland‘s ad campaign was perfect, showing the viewer exactly what they were going to get when they walked into the theater. And the additional clips they shot were actually funny, mostly thanks to Woody Harrelson as Tallahasse. (Though Jesse Eisenburg does a very good job of transcending a role that sounds like it was written for Michael Cera.)
One of his gems: “Nothing says massive head trauma like a bowling ball.”
As a fan, it’s wonderful to see the proliferation of zombie films, it gives me hope that Max Brooks’ brilliant World War Z will get its due in the hands of Brad Pitt’s production company. (Release is slated for 2010, directed by Marc Forster.)
Whether World War Z stalls or not, zombie fans can rejoice because Robert Kirkman’s brilliant comic, The Walking Dead, is coming to AMC. You heard right. A zombie TV series.
What makes this proposition such an interest idea is that most zombie movies get to end in this hopeless state of things, or in the case of zombie comedies try to clean things up to suggest that eventually we’re going to be okay. What’s so wonderful about Kirkman’s comic is that he doesn’t give his characters a way out. They persist, or they die at the hands of the undead. The way to healing is long and hard, and if a zombie apocalypse did occur the world would be irrevocably changed. (This is partly why World War Z is so brilliant. It gives you a hopeful ending that feels realistic within the given circumstances of the Zombie War.)
As Kirkman pointed out himself to Comic Book Resources, recounted on io9, “TV can make the zombie movie that never ends.” There’s something intriguing about that idea. It’s the next direction to stretch the genre. I, for one, can’t wait.