Wednesday, November 3, 2010

"The Walking Dead" Deserves Cred

“I can’t believe this is on cable.”

That sentence was the refrain of my experience with the pilot of “The Walking Dead,” AMC’s newest original series. “Dead” took over “Mad Men’s” timeslot on Halloween night (10 p.m. Eastern), and was watched by a record number of viewers.  Its 1.5 hour premiere was nothing short of a horror movie – there was plenty of action, and its not exaggeration to say it showed the goriest images I’ve ever seen on television.  “Dead’s” incredibly high production values make it truly cinematic, and will potentially earn it a place in the extremely elusive A-list horror genre (think The Shining).

“The Walking Dead” presupposes some knowledge about zombies.  I watched the premiere with my roommate, and found out that you're at a bit of a loss if you don't know your zombie basics.  Granted, all zombies are not created equal (there are fast zombies and slow zombies, smart zombies and dumb zombies).  Fortunately, the pilot episode cued us into which zombies we’re dealing with in “Dead:”

  1. They’re slow. This is important because it dramatically affects the playing field. Traditionally, all zombies were slow, but then movies like 28 Days Later re-imagined the undead as sprinters. Slow-moving zombies don’t seem as threatening, until you find yourself facing hundreds of them. The lack of control and level of exhaustion, surrender, and panic involved when you're finally overtaken by a slowly staggering corpse makes them scary (it's the Mike Meyers phenomenon - he never ran, he just walked calmly towards you). Spoiler: it should be noted that the “city” zombies in Atlanta seem to move faster than the “small town” zombies.
  2. They’re dumb. This is one of the big distinctions between Vampires and Zombies, and a major reason why Vampires lend themselves to sexualized teen-girl movies where Zombies tend to corner the more awesome B-movie market.  Vampires are intelligent, attractive and persuasive, but zombies are literally just animated corpses.  Zombies can’t think; they can only act on their single driving impulse: to eat you. This is a major reason zombies are so much scarier than vampires – zombies don’t have a conscience, and they don’t have a brain that makes choices. You can’t seduce a zombie out of killing you; you can only try to kill it first.
  3. They're attracted by loud noises. Cars, screams, and unfortunately gunshots will draw a pack of zombies, so make sure you have plenty of bullets before you fire off one. Plus side: this seems to be the only really active zombie sense, so if you creep silently near one you might be safe.
  4. To kill a zombie, you need to target its head.  In some movies, you have to actually decapitate the zombie, but apparently in “Dead,” shooting it or smashing it in the head is sufficient.
For those of us living in Atlanta, there’s an extra bonus to watching “Dead.”  It’s not everyone who gets to see their hometown reduced to post-zombiepocalyptic rubble.  (In Hi-Def, no less.)  At one point the main character rides up I-75/85 North into the city, and we get a gratifying shot of the zombified Atlanta skyline (hilariously, though the cars are all abandoned, there’s still bumper-to-bumper traffic on I-85 South).   The final scenes of the premiere were shot right downtown, where many of my lawyer friends and I work.  As my friend Jerry put it “just think, if you’d been working when they were filming, you could’ve seen a horse disemboweled!”  That I could have, Jerry. That I could.

The point is, “The Walking Dead” is closer to serious, high-concept shows like “Six Feet Under“ and “The Wire” than self-mocking “horror” shows like “True Blood.”  Unlike “True Blood” (which, for the record, I adore), there’s nothing campy or kitschy about “Dead;” its violence is startling and sordid, not sexy.  There are no necks with delicate puncture wounds, but rotting faces and bodies.  And let me tell you, the creatures in “Dead” are not for the faint of heart: they’re so extremely foul and disgusting that I, a self-proclaimed lover of gore, had to watch parts of the pilot through my fingers.

This is the major reason “The Walking Dead” will probably avoid comparison to the other A-list horror guru, Alfred Hitchcock.  Hitchcock made thrillers, not blood baths.  The violence in “Dead” is more akin to The Evil Dead, but higher-brow.  Let me give you a visual: the bathtub scene in The Shining. Yeah, that’s the level of disturbing I was going for.

(If you missed it, AMC is streaming the whole pilot episode for free here.)


  1. I'm afraid of monsters only if they are RUNNING at me...

  2. The running ones are bad, but I'm sufficiently scared if they're lumbering at me.

  3. My girlfriend asked me what the show was like. I said, "it's pretty much the Mad Men of zombies."

  4. great review. but there was one thing i noticed (i read the comic religiously and this isnt in it), that you overlooked: apparrantly, although the zombies may be "dumb", they seem to have some type of memory. the dudes wife did not just walk to the door, she tried to actually get into the house. and whenever she came out (i found her to be pretty high on the creepy scale fyi) she went and stood directly in front of the house. i thought that was an interesting addition to the zombie lore i know and love.

  5. i love zombies... i too find myself loving your blog...

  6. Some more Walking Dead talk this week, just for you iZombie.

  7. Great Site. The sow is really a soap opera with zombies. Nothing really makes sense to me, there is no real survival after the zombie apocalypse;Gas, food, medicine...they seem to have more than Wal-Mart..and they actors are looking healthier each week....hard to please a purist I guess!
    Elijah Trotsky
    The Zombie Hunter