Whilst discussing his new book Monsters in the Movies on Kermode and Mayo’s Film Reviews (aka Wittertainment), John Landis suggested that zombie are bigger and more prolific than vampire movies at the moment. He suggested that there are nine zombie movies in production at the moment including one starring Brad Pitt (World War Z). It could well be that zombies will be the go-to monster of the near future but there have been plenty of vampires movies recently:
The new century began with one of the most original vampire movies in years, Shadow Of The Vampire (2000) is a high concept movie, the premise; the actor Max Schreck who played Graf Orlok/Nosferatu (Dracula in all but name) in F.W. Murnau classic Nosferatu (1922) was really a vampire posing as an actor playing a vampire.
It is impossible to overemphasise the importance of Blade (1998), not only was it an early entry into the current trend for vampire movies but it was also the first credible comic book movie in a long time and the movie that started the Marvel phenomenon. Its sequel Blade II (2002) directed by Guillermo del Toro took a big step forward reintroducing the idea that the monster in the movie may not be the monster of the movie.
Before the battle between vampires and werewolves in The Twilight books and movies there was Underworld (2003), like Blade it is more action orientated than scary but also explores the idea of who the real monster are. It is also incredibly stylish and has a well thought-out back-story that has helped it spawn a sequel (Underworld: Evolution (2006)), a prequel (Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009)) as well as a further sequel Underworld: Awakening due next year.
Directed by Uwe Boll Blood Rayne (2005) is loosely based on a video game of the same name, it isn’t very good, neither are its sequels: BloodRayne: Deliverance (2007) and Bloodrayne: The Third Reich (2010).
Ever since the release of Nosferatu in 1922 vampires have been destroyed by sunlight (unless they just glitter and sparkle), with this in mind, where would you go if you where a vampire? How about Alaska in winter where the sun doesn’t rise for a month? That is exactly what happens in 30 Days of Night (2007). An original and entertain vampire with scary and bloody monsters.
Probably the most successful vampire movies of the century but far from the best, Twilight (2008) and its sequels tells the story of “vegetarian” vampires in a Mormon inspired morality tale. Not as bad as many would have you believe but not a classic vampire movie.
Also based on a novel, the darker and more subversive Swedish movie, Let the Right One In (2008) (original title: Låt den rätte komma in) exploring themes of childhood and bullying, the vampires are almost secondary to the plot. By far the best vampire movie of recent years.
The obvious and overt concept of Daybreakers (2009) is that of a world where vampires outnumber humans who have become little more than food. Behind this, there is a story of hope and humanity.
Thirst (2009) Bakjwi (original title), Oldboy (2003) director Chun-wook Park’s take on the vampire movie is thoughtful and original as well as being full of very dark humour.
Combining a road movie with an apocalyptic story, Stake Land (2010) at times has more in common with zombie movies than vampire movies. There is also a well crafted subtext about fanaticism, one of the best and most original vampire movies of recent years.
Priest (2011) is an underrated action horror that does little to expand the genre but is good fun.
Vampires on TV
Based on a poorly received 1992 movie of the same name, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997–2003) had a perfect blend of comedy, action and horror; its spin-off Angel (1999–2004) was more of the same if a little darker. Lasting 145 and 111 episodes respectively and having the opportunity to develop their characters, both series can be considered a success and are greatly missed by their fans. A movie version is often talked about but has never materialised. A further spin-off based on Eliza Dushku’s character Faith was proposed but never happened. Far less successful but also worth a look Blood Ties (2007– 2008) lasted just 22 episodes over two seasons. The similar themed Moonlight (2007–2008) had just one season of 17 episodes. They were both well made and enjoyable shows but offered nothing new. That is where True Blood (2008– ) succeeded, like Buffy before it, True Blood combined some original ideas with a great cast of varying characters, at times there is so much going on it is almost like a soap-opera, and not in a bad way! Having just finished its fourth season and with a fifth scheduled for next year it is still going strong.
Okay lets kick of with the big question, what is a zombie? For the purposes of this post the simple answer, if I say it’s a zombie, it’s a zombie. I know a lot of people don’t agree that “infected” are zombies, but they are closer to Romero zombies than Romero zombies are to the witch doctor zombie slaves of 30’s/40’s cinema. There is another reason, the zombie side of this debate would be a bit light without the inclusion of the infected.
When people are killed and buried in “The Forest of Resurrection” they come back from the dead thanks to an evil Sprit. If you put a group of gangsters in the middle of this, that’s that happens in the bonkers but brilliant Versus (2000).
28 Days Later… (2002) is so good that I am sorry to say its downhill from here, but it does set the bar pretty high, Following a group of survivors after an zombie apocalypse, its as much a road movie as a horror, the key to its success is putting likeable characters that we care about in (surprisingly believable) dangerous situations.
Less well received but surprisingly good, the video game derived Resident Evil (2002) is the start of a franchise, the fifth part of which is due out next year. The classic fight for survival against a zombie hoard is given a little extra edge by setting that amounts to a claustrophobic underground maze but the success of the movie hangs on the appeal of Milla Jovovich.
Don’t dismiss Shaun of the Dead (2004) as a comedy horror, it is a knowing and cleverly constructed story from a team well versed in zombie movies.
If you take Dawn of the Dead (2004) on its own merits it is a great movie, it does feel a little lightweight and less relevant than the classic 1978 original but it will make you jump more often.
If subscribe to the philosophy that people infected by a virus aren’t zombies, you really won’t like the idea of aliens turning people into zombies as they do in Slither (2006). A silly and insignificant movie elevated by a charismatic and funny performance from Nathan Fillion.
The Spanish horror [Rec] (2007) is one of the few found footage movies that really works. Filled with jumpy and scary moments and anchored by a fantastic performance from Manuela Velasco. The sequel [Rec] ² (2009) picks up where the original left off, it isn’t as good but is still far better than your average Hollywood movie. Speaking of Hollywood, [Rec] was remade as Quarantine (2008), I haven’t seen it so can’t comment on how good it is, but understand it follows the story of the original film pretty closely relocating the action from Barcelona to an unnamed American city. Interestingly, its sequel Quarantine 2: Terminal (2011) takes the story in a new direction telling of a new outbreak on a passenger plane.
28 Weeks later (2007), the sequel to 28 Days later tries to be bigger and more expansive than the original movie but actually suffers for its grander scale. Well worth seeing but not as good as the original.
Planet Terror (2007) is for me, the weaker half of Rodriguez and Tarantino’s Grind house project (although it has a higher rating on IMDB than Death Proof) it is a real throwback to the 80’s toxic waste zombie movies like The Return of the Living Dead (1985).
Pontypool (2008) where does this one come on the is it, isn’t debate? A zombie virus spread by “infected” English words forcing the inhabitants of a Canadian town to communicate in French. There is probably some political statement that goes over my head, putting this aside, as a film it is original and brilliant.
The French movie, The Horde (2009), isn’t a great movie but it is a effective one. There is no explanation of where the zombies come from but killing them follows all the genre “rules”, the escape from a confined space is also an archetype.
George A. Romero is still making zombie movies more than forty years after his first, Night of the Living Dead (1968). Land of the Dead (2005) is a good addition to the “of the dead” series. In keeping with the social commentary of the earlier movies it is a good allegoric tale of the distribution of wealth. Diary of the Dead (2007) is less successful, using mocumentary/found footage as a basis it is a stand a lone story. Not a bad movie but the format has been better used in [Rec]. Set on an isolated Survival of the Dead (2009) has good concept but is all a little lightweight. He is also credited as an executive producer on The Crazies (2010), a remake of his 1973 movie of the same name. Not a zombie movie but it does share a lot of similarities with them, a surprisingly good movie even if it lacks the killer ending of the original.
Zombies on TV
The Walking Dead (2010– ) is the only zombie show on the list, but what a show, based on a comic book series of the same name, the story follows a small group of survivors and presents a gritty almost realistic aftermath of a zombie apocalypse.
As I started writing this article I had no idea if there had been more vampire of zombie movies in recent years. I was of the opinion that recent vampire movies where better than their zombie equivalents. What I soon came to realise is that they both have a few great movies, a few rubbish ones and lots of mediocre ones. The whole zombie issue is further clouded by the debate of what is and isn’t a zombie movie. For me it is a genre that is as wide or as narrow as you want it to be. As for what is coming soon, the vampire movies of note are: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Dario Argento’s Dracula 3D, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2 and Underworld: Awakening. Far more interesting is World War Z. Based on the novel World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks that was inspired by The Good War, an oral history of World War II by Studs Terkel as well as the movies of George A. Romero. The movie that is in production now is set for release this time next year, directed by Marc Forster and starring Brad Pitt whose Plan B Entertainment reportedly won a bidding war over Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company Appian Way. Only time will tell which genre will be best or most prolific and you will have to make your own mind up as to which has been better so far, personally I am happy to watch many more of both types of movie.