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Last Updated: Friday, 9 April, 2004, 08:05 GMT 09:05 UK
Zombies stalk the earth again
By Stephen Dowling
BBC News Online entertainment staff

Dawn of the Dead (2003)
Romero's Dawn of the Dead has become a cash-cow remake
It has lain dormant for years. But beware - the zombie movie genre has woken up, and it does not look like going away without a fight.

Decades after George A Romero scared the life out of cinemagoers with the classic zombie horror Night of the Living Dead (1968), the movie world has been plagued again with shambling corpses. And they are shuffling all the way to the bank.

In the US, a remake of cult 70s zombie film Dawn of the Dead has proved, literally, bigger than Jesus. It has toppled Mel Gibson's Almighty epic The Passion of the Christ from the top of the North American box office charts.

And this week Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, the creators of the hit Channel 4 comedy Spaced, release a "romantic zombie comedy" - or "romzomcom" - Shaun of the Dead.

Film historian Dr Matthew Sweet told BBC News Online the history of the zombie film goes back as far as the 1930s, with the undead treated more "poetically" to comment on capitalism.

Caribbean zombies were originally raised from the dead by voodoo priests to work for free on greedy landowners fields and plantations.

The golden period of the zombie movie was the late 70s and early 80s, after George Romero made the first of his Dead sequels with the apocalyptic Dawn of the Dead.

Shaun of the Dead
The Shaun of the Dead cast 'do' zombie

In the 1979 cult horror, hordes of zombies have risen from the grave and are killing all in their path. A small group of survivors fleeing in a helicopter find refuge in a suburban shopping mall, but soon find themselves under siege as a rapidly growing army of zombies attempt to get in.

Six years later, Romero completed his bloodthirsty trilogy with Day of the Dead, where a band of scientists and soldiers holed up in a nuclear missile base tried to find a way to beat the ever-growing army of the undead.

But as the 1980s turned into the 90s, zombies lost their cachet. The cult of the vampire rose, and the zombie film retreated to the shadows.

Dr Sweet says: "They became synonymous with naff and cheap horror. They are probably the easiest monster to make.

"The Shaun of the Dead makers showed that - they just got a load of their mates in and made them go "uuuurrrgghhh!"

Simon Pegg
They're just us: motorised instinct
Simon Pegg on the allure of zombies

The first flickering signs of reanimation came in 2002, when British film-maker Danny Boyle released 28 Days Later, an apocalyptic thriller-horror about a bicycle courier waking from a coma to find London deserted - apart from the zombified "infected".

The film was a huge critical and commercial hit in the UK - and in the US, where it made more than $45m (24.8m).

Shaun of the Dead's co-creator Simon Pegg told BBC News Online there was enduring appeal in the shuffling monsters.

"For me it's always been the strangeness of zombies, in that they are very slow and almost inept and shambolic - without motive, without moral rage or agenda. They're just us: motorised instinct," he says.

"There's something really eerie about that. They don't mean any harm; they're just doing their thing," he says.

Gore voter in 2002
The dead are rising from the grave... and they're voting Democrat!

And why is it that they have struck a chord again?

"You could give it to a film student and wait for an essay, but I think it's probably fear of ourselves - fear of the enemy within, and fear of the fact we are the greatest threat to each other now. In this city we could all be killed at any moment.

"Art always reflects where it comes from, and these are concerns that are with us at the moment. If you look back at horror films in the 80s, films like The Fly, it was all about body horror and fear of viruses. Now it seems to be we are frightened of each other," he says.

Though even Pegg has to admit the zombie can make a rubbish monster. "We could all be in a room with one now and it'll never get you - it'll just be stumbling around like a fool."

But despite their athletic shortcomings, Dr Sweet says the zombie is an effective villain for a good reason - because "they can be anything you want them to be".

"They can carry any metaphor you like. They can stand for man's environmental meddling, or of our alienation from each other. They are there to be controlled," he added.

Zombie film beats Passion in US
22 Mar 04  |  Entertainment
28 Days Later: Your views
01 Nov 02  |  Entertainment

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