By Edward Davis | The Playlist March 2, 2011 at 8:40AM
With Over 20 Zombie-Related Films In Production In Hollywood, Humanizing The Undead Appears To Be The Next Trend
Sick of bloodsuckers and woe-is-me vampire tales? Inundated by the genre, its addiction and immortality themes that played out in "Twilight" and that are ubiquitous in TV on "True Blood," "The Vampire Diaries" and myriad other movies and episodic shows? While vampires and the goth aesthetic that surrounds them have certainly became mainstream, the mythic tales aren't likely going anywhere anytime soon, but a new monster genre may be fighting for creature hegemony on screen in the next few years.
While zombies have never quite left the cultural zeitgeist -- Zack Snyder, Danny Boyle, and Robert Rodriguez did a respectable job of bringing them back in the aughts with the "Dawn of the Dead" remake, the "28 Days Later" franchise and "Planet Terror" -- the genre has now gone into overdrive, reaching a critical mass and finally latched onto the frontal lobe of pop culture and won't be letting go until every every right and left hemisphere is sucked of its deliciousness.
2009's satirical "Zombieland" only furthered the cause with a more comedic and ironic slant (thank you "Shaun of the Dead") and the irony of AMC's successful zombie drama "The Walking Dead" was that screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick originally conceived and pitched "Zombieland" as a TV series and were told flat out there would be no weekly audience for their concept (we're hoping they buy season one 'Walking Dead' DVDs and then send various parties a sarcastic Christmas gift to all those without foresight).
To count the number of zombie films and or zombie related films in development is to look at a daunting laundry list of films that could rule the landscape like a veritable day of the dead takeover.
In the last three weeks alone, at least 6 zombie related films have been announced including the viral video game sensation, "Dead Island," the SNES video game adaptation "Zombies Ate My Neighbor," Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes' "Zombies Vs. Robots, " Jonah Hill's directorial debut, "The Kitchen Sink" which also features mummies, aliens and vampires, "Hesher" director Spencer Susser is adapting his zombie-apocalypse short, "I Love You Sarah Jane" into a feature and the foreign filmmakers are getting on board too: Manuel Carballo ("Exorcismus") will be directing the zombie flick, "The Returned."
The zombie bandwagon has simply not been boarded, it's been fully co-opted by Hollywood and while the fruits of those endeavors might not even blossom until 2012, 2013 or later, the zombies are indeed coming.
And like a foul-stenching army that keeps slowly marching and moaning forward, zombie-related pictures keep multiplying like a virus. Between 2005-2009 there were very few zombie films on the Black List, one of the most notable being "Zombieland," but the 2010 Black List had three zombie-related films on it ("Zombie Baby" by Andy Jones, the aforementioned "Kitchen Sink," "Boy Scouts vs. Zombies" by Carrie Evans and Emi Mochizuko) and the trend is growing. Recently sold scripts or specs in development easily break into the double digits including a comedy-horror thriller called, "Spring Break Zombie Cruise 3D" by Matt Pitts (no, really), the speaks-for-itself, "Zombies vs. Gladiators," "Zombie Pet Shop," "World War of the Dead: Zombie Diaries," The Beatles-themed, "Paul Is Undead," the highschool set, "Detention of the Dead," another horror/comedy called Followed," another foreign language zombie outbreak film called "Dead Perros" and many, many more.
You take one down another pops up. Other notable zombie movies in development include "World War Z," Danny Boyle's tentatively titled "28 Months Later," "Zombieland 2," "REC Genesis" and "Portrait of a Zombie" just to name a few.
This isn't a trend. It's a full-scale takeover. There are an inordinate amount of zombie-related scripts in the works, and with 20-something in development currently (no joke, do the math on everything we've mentioned so far), the new redefinition of the genre -- one we haven't quite seen onscreen quite yet -- humanizing the zombie, may be the trend on the horizon.
Three Films That Lead The Pack & Could Change The Zombie Genre For Good
Three films leading the development charge and three forerunners that might move into production before all others include: Lionsgate's "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" (written by vampire/zombie genre cottage industry author Seth Grahame-Smith), the Diablo Cody-produced, Fox Searchlight project, "Breathers: A Zombie's Lament," and Summit Entertainment's "Warm Bodies," a project that is being earmarked and adapted for director Jonathan Levine ("The Wackness," the upcoming "50/50") which just yesterday found its lead in "X-Men: First Class" star Nicholas Hoult.
While three distinctly different films, the similarity they share is transforming the zombie from antagonist to protagonist and empathizing with their must-eat-brains perspective.
One of the fascinating elements of this genre, unlike vampire and werewolf tales which are essentially 18th century stories, is that zombies ' DNA -- at least the decaying undead blueprint of which we're now intimately familiar with -- essentially originated in 1968 Pittsburg with George A. Romero's "Night of the Living Dead." Sure there's been antecedents before -- the zombie has roots in West African and Haitian voodoo and "The Magic Island" by William Seabrook in 1929 evidently introduced the world "zombi" into the culture -- but as 'Breathers' producer Mason Novick stresses, the template comes from Romero's late '60s and '70s works and perhaps this is why it's still so fresh in our pop culture membrane.
"These things come in cycles," Novick, an Oscar-nominated producer on "Juno" and Diablo Cody's manager, said. "You'll go years without vampire films and now they're back and then there's no zombie films, but now it's swinging the other way, but what's pretty amazing is how it all circles back to what Romero created and we're all indebted."
Before the zombie film can get played out though, the zeitgeist seems to be collectively moving in concert -- or at least the three aforementioned films do -- in a space which gives the zombie characters a soul and existential angst and woes. Not to mention, the basic stories already act as allegories for social issues and outsider themes already prevalent and popular in many genre films.
"I don't want to sound too pretentious, but when you think about it, zombies are the classic character on the fringes if you give them a persona," Novick said, noting that 'Breathers' is still in development and stressing that all reported casting -- Scarlett Johansson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt -- is of the very loosest of attachments. "Their misfit status touches on racism, homophobia and many other cultural biases and bigotries. So while 'Breathers,' isn't about that per se, those themes are bubbling subtly underneath."
So why is this craze bubbling over at the moment? Issac Marion who wrote "Warm Bodies," the short story that Jonathan Levine optioned for a feature film says apocalyptic threats seem to be resonating with people right now. "It could be something to do with the recession and ensuing panic about the collapse of the global economy, or all the talk of environmental doom, all the wars, terrorism, et. cetera," he said. "There are more large scale threats going on right now than there were in, say, the late 90s, and I think that sense of global dread is seeping out in our entertainment."
Carson Reeves, the head doyen over at the screenwriting blog ScriptShadow says it's simply due to writers and their youth. "A lot of screenwriters, especially young screenwriters, love the zombie genre," he said. "Of the top three genres writers send me, it usually goes comedy, thriller, then zombie. The trick is to come at the genre from a fresh angle, which a lot of amateur writers don't do. Oren Uziel's' script "The Kitchen Sink" which I reviewed on the site, is about zombies, vampires, and aliens. As crazy as the idea sounds, you've never seen a zombie film like it before, which is why it got picked up."
The unanimous sentiment seems to be give zombies a new spin or don't even bother. "I feel like at this point, with so many dozens of films already made using the standard zombie horror template, no one should be making anything zombie-related unless they're planning to turn the genre on its head or at least do something very, very different with it," Marion cautioned. "I think the whole 'protagonists run away from monsters' supergenre is desperately played out and boring, and zombies deserve a few more creative treatments before the trend winds shift."
Will Monster Mash & Witch Films Come Next?
So what's far off in the future if vampires and zombies get exhausted? Look for monster team-up films -- like Hill's aforementioned "Kitchen Sink" which features zombies, teenagers and vampires fighting alongside each other against aliens. There will be lots in the future too, witness: Paramount is remaking "Monster Squad," DreamWorks Animation is already developing "Monster Mash," Warner Bros. is developing a similar idea in "Destroy All Monsters" and 20th Century Fox is working on "Mad Monster Party" which will feature all of cinema's classic monsters. Witch films could come next and like vampires, key in on the female demo. So far they include Tommy Wirkola's "Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters" over at Paramount (starring Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton and Famke Janssen), Cory Goodman's "The Last Witch Hunter" which Summit bought last year and "Kurt Josef Wagle and the Legend of the Fjord Witch" (another Wirkola witch film in development). There's also Rob Zombie's "The Lords of Salem" which centers on centuries old demonic witches. Both of those could eventually become a greater trend as well. 2014 or 2015? Our guess is as good as yours.