DIRECTOR Alexandre O. Philippe WRITER Chad Herschberger; Alexandre O. Philippe STARS Charlie Adlard; Joanna Angel; Steven Barton SCREENING Today at 15.30
Attempting to explore why contemporary society has so embraced the figure of the zombie, Doc of the Dead arguably doesn’t really have anything new to say, but there’s no denying that all involved in its making share a genuine enthusiasm and passion for the subject, which, like the zombie itself, proves rather infectious.
Alexandre O. Philippe isn’t just interested in the popularity of zombie cinema, but this is his jumping-off point. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, with its eerie somnambulistic antagonist, is cited as an early example of the zombie in its most traditional form: a pitiful being forced into subservience by those who have taken away its freewill. An all too brief glance at early examples of films highlights White Zombie, generally regarded as the first horror to feature them, but does no justice to Jacques Tourneur’s poetic masterpiece I Walked with a Zombie; summing it up with a throwaway quip describing it as being “about black people menacing white women”, Philippe doesn’t take into account the subtle subversions of stereotypes and race representations evident in this Val Lewton produced classic. Another gripe is that fascinating genre crossovers from the 1950s, such as Invisible Invaders and Ed Wood’s notorious Plan 9 From Outer Space, which posited zombies in sci-fi scenarios, are merely mentioned before Doc of the Dead quickly moves on to, again all too briefly, touch upon the traditional aspects of zombie and voodoo lore. In a fascinating (but brisk) interview, Max Beauvoir, a high priest of Haitian Vodou, provides some background information on the traditional African folklore surrounding zombies.
The tone is consistently light throughout, and many of the contributors — including George Romero, Alex Cox, Robert Kirkman, Simon Pegg, Bruce Campbell, Stuart Gordon (whose splatter hit Re-Animator and the H.P. Lovecraft story it is based upon are criminally ignored), Gregory Nicotero and Tom Savini — have their tongues wedged firmly in their cheeks. All clearly adore the subject matter though, as evidenced in the heated debates concerning fast versus slow zombies, and the difference between an ‘infection’ film (28 Days Later) and a traditional ‘undead’ film (Night of the Living Dead, etc). A lot of time is given over to hearing about the contributors’ zombie invasion contingency plans (Bruce Campbell’s in particular is hilariously frank), and this is enhanced by various boffins discussing how conceivable viral outbreaks are, and how quickly society could collapse.
Another area glossed over is how Romero has moulded the perception of the shambling zombie as it continues to infiltrate pop culture. For all the credit heaped upon Romero, his films are only covered in around a quarter of the running time, and his more recent work isn’t even looked at. Romero suffused his films with barbed social and political commentary, and this is acknowledged in discussions of how the rise in the popularity of zombie-orientated entertainment has paralleled various civil crises, such as the Y2K scare, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and mass outbreaks of swine flu; crises that seem to have spurred society to crave more extreme forms of cathartic entertainment. This is hardly news though and has been covered before in the likes of Adam Simon’s American Nightmare.
Criticisms aside, Doc of the Dead is a decent and light-hearted introduction and jumping-off point for anyone new to zombies, and it should provide them with just enough know-how to cope when the dead do begin to rise and feast on the flesh of the living… Any day now.