by Ed Perry
With dystopian sci-fi ascending to become the go-to genre for big-budget productions (see Oblivion, Star Trek and The Hunger Games), bastardised gothic-horror is finally being beaten into submission, receding into the shadows like a sparkly vampire. Hurrah.
But as post-modern derivatives of vampires and werewolves wane in popularity, we are also forced to wave goodbye to zombies. The brain-gorgers lurched out of the grave and back into the mainstream in 2002, thanks to Danny Boyle's critically acclaimed 28 Days Later. Mr Boyle's sprinting infected spawned a decade-long resurgence that has included some of the most frightening ([REC]), hilarious (Shaun of the Dead) and ridiculous (Black Sheep) films produced in the period. Not to mention a number of brilliant video games, graphic novels and TV shows, including the much lauded The Walking Dead.
But, as eventually happens with all genres, the zombie revival has become repetitive and stale. Some are trying to inject new life into the myth, but there are, after all, only so many things that can be done with walking corpses. With a dismal public reception to Warm Bodies earlier this year (despite praise from critics), Marc Forster's upcoming World War Z may well prove to be the epitaph of an undead phenomenon.
This is a shame, because the zombie genre can occasionally be a surprisingly deep and potent exploration of the human condition. Zombie stories are capable of asking questions as fundamental and complex as 'what does it mean to be alive?' or 'what is a person?', and presenting them within an easily digestible and populist narrative.
Until very recently, a lot of the charm of the zombie movement was its lo-fi 'indie' feel. Many of the most popular zombie films have been entertaining, low-budget productions like Dead Snow, or Shaun of the Dead. Even well-funded Hollywood movies like Zombieland understood the audience well enough to retain those underground sensibilities, or - like The Walking Dead - went all literary and thoughtful.
Recently though, the trend has been towards high-concepts, bigger budgets, more marketing, and a distinct 'push' that we, as consumers, can instinctively feel. Somewhere along the line, the genre stopped being underground entertainment and became a well-polished product. The budget for 28 Days Later was just $8 million. The budget for World War Z: $170 million, with some claiming it has to make $400 million just to break even.
Yes, Hollywood is very good at figuring out what is going to make a bit of cash. If movie-making is a game of poker, then the American machine bets high and frequently goes all in. That's fine. They have a lot of very clever people figuring this kind of stuff out for them. But in this instance, Hollywood may be planting the tombstone for the very thing they set out to create. Perhaps all along, the real cure to a zombie outbreak was just money, and time.
This doesn't have to be the end for the zombie genre. Even if the genre's popularity is diminishing, Warm Bodies still made a tidy profit. Like zombies themselves, the genre's a resilient beast with an appetite for brains. More will inevitably follow.
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