I’ve watched a lot of zombie movies. Some are very bad; some are very good. Some, like Shaun of the Dead (2004, dir. Edgar Wright) and 28 Days Later (2002, dir. Danny Boyle), are excellent.
You’ve got red on you.
I’ve seen Shaun of the Dead more times than I can count. Billed as a rom-zom-com, it’s doing multiple things at once – and it is doing all of them very well. Even after so many viewings, it is hilarious; it’s sweet; it makes me cry (aww, Philip, Shaun’s mum, Ed…); and it has some scary moments. Its scary moments are solidly grounded in the characters and their relationships, however, rather than the zombies as monsters.
Plans are pointless. Staying alive is as good as it gets.
28 Days Later is a much more serious zombie film, and its approach is quite different from that of Shaun of the Dead. Where Shaun includes relatively little blood and gore and small-scale and even domestic action scenes, 28 Days Later is violent and works on a larger scale. It achieves this partially through its rage zombies – the very kind of fast zombies that Simon Pegg of Shaun of the Dead so effectively argues against:
More significantly, the fast zombie is bereft of poetic subtlety. As monsters from the id, zombies win out over vampires and werewolves when it comes to the title of Most Potent Metaphorical Monster. Where their pointy-toothed cousins are all about sex and bestial savagery, the zombie trumps all by personifying our deepest fear: death. Zombies are our destiny writ large. Slow and steady in their approach, weak, clumsy, often absurd, the zombie relentlessly closes in, unstoppable, intractable.
However (and herein lies the sublime artfulness of the slow zombie), their ineptitude actually makes them avoidable, at least for a while. If you’re careful, if you keep your wits about you, you can stave them off, even outstrip them – much as we strive to outstrip death. Drink less, cut out red meat, exercise, practice safe sex; these are our shotguns, our cricket bats, our farmhouses, our shopping malls. However, none of these things fully insulates us from the creeping dread that something so witless, so elemental may yet catch us unawares – the drunk driver, the cancer sleeping in the double helix, the legless ghoul dragging itself through the darkness towards our ankles.
I find this argument compelling, and I teach this piece regularly whenever I assign a zombie film, so I feel a little bit bad pairing these two films. But, despite the appeal of Pegg’s argument, Danny Boyle’s rage zombies are frightening and the film is great.
Earlier countdown entries:
- Night of the Living Dead, dir. George Romero (1968)
- Dawn of the Dead, dir. George Romero (1978)
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers, dir. Philip Kaufman (1978)
- Get Out, dir. Jordan Peele (2017)
- Hellraiser, dir. Clive Barker (1987)
- Psycho, dir. Alfred Hitchcock (1960)
- The Birds, dir. Alfred Hitchcock (1963)
- Jaws, dir. Steven Spielberg (1975)
- Teeth, dir. Mitchell Lichtenstein (2007)
- Candyman, dir. Bernard Rose (1992)
- Creep, dir. Patrick Brice (2014)
- The Wicker Man, dir. Robin Hardy (1973)
- Texas Chainsaw Massacre, dir. Tobe Hooper (1974)
- Cabin in the Woods, dir. Drew Goddard (2012)
- Suspiria, dir. Dario Argento (1977)
- The Witch, dir. Robert Eggers (2015)
- Rosemary’s Baby, dir. Roman Polanski (1968)
- The Babadook, dir. Jennifer Kent (2014)
- It Follows, dir. David Robert Mitchell (2014)
- Carrie, dir. Brian de Palma (1976)
- Ginger Snaps, dir. John Fawcett (2000)
- American Werewolf in London, dir. John Landis (1981)
- The Thing, dir. John Carpenter (1982)
- The Fly, dir. David Cronenberg (1986)
- A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, dir. Ana Lily Amirpour (2014)
- It Comes at Night, dir. Trey Edward Shults (2017)