Having feasted on the traditional fare for over fifty years, the horror audience has recently developed a more sophisticated palate. Suddenly, a few scares and a shoot-’em-up won’t suffice. Yes, we need gore but we also need gimmicks. A skewed look down the history books has given us zombie pirates (POTC: On Stranger Tides), zombie Nazis (Dead Snow) and even a zombie outbreak during the American Civil War (Exit Humanity). Add to that last year’s unlikely animosity with strippers, Cockneys and Abraham Lincoln and you may wonder where and when it will all end.
Not only have the creatures changed (out with Romero’s shuffling blue lunks; in with the blood-spattered athletes of 28 Days Later) but modern zombies have distanced themselves from their predecessors in another way. The z-word itself has practically fallen out of common usage; with everybody running away from the one thing they can’t mention. But why the detachment?
Whether too embarrassed or genre-savvy to acknowledge the threat by name, today’s motley band of survivors can’t even agree on what to call the thing tucking into their torso. ‘The Walking Dead’ calls them ‘walkers’ (makes sense) or ‘geeks’, 28 Days Later speaks of ‘the infected’ while[REC] does away with names altogether. It’s a wonder the poor zombie hasn’t undergone an identity crisis. While some studios are still churning out the unremarkable, unadventurous and often unwatchable, others have discovered that the gimmick is the only thing keeping the genre alive. For example, the mockumentary style found in everything from 1998′s I, Zombie: The Chronicles of Pain to 2007′s Diary of the Dead has almost become part of the film furniture.ParaNorman even threatened to -gasp!- turn the zombie into child-friendly territory.
The twist in the title refers not to a third-act revelation but an adaptation, a refinement of the genre. Each of the examples listed below breaks new ground with bravura and…. mmmmm… brains. Expect spoilers.