Doc of the Dead
Lightweight zombie doc featuring interviews with George A Romero, Simon Pegg and Bruce Campbell
Zombies are definitely in vogue – they are the monster of the moment, chomping their way through movies, books, comics and TV. The Walking Dead is currently the highest rated show on cable in the US while 2013’s World War Z was the biggest budget horror movie of all time (costing a reported $190 million). So Doc of the Dead is a timely examination of the zombie phenomena from director Alexandre O Philippe (The People vs George Lucas).
The film charts the living dead’s rise though pop culture from Haitian voodoo through 1932’s White Zombie though George A Romero's Night of the Living Dead in 1968 (basically year zero for the modern interpretation of zombie lore) and the introduction of running zombies* in Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later. Predominantly illustrated by choice film clips from across the decades, DotD also features some slightly duff new 'comedy' material, which seems totally unnecessary when (a) there's so much already available and (b) there's plenty of humour already from the various interviewees. And it's an impressive set of talking heads: in addition to Romero, there's Bruce Campbell (Evil Dead), Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead), Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator), Max Brooks (writer of the original World War Z novel) and Robert Kirkman (creator of The Walking Dead comic book). It's not just big obvious names either – a few choice words from Howard Sherman (who played Bub in Romero's Day of the Dead) are a pleasant and very welcome surprise.
Philippe explores the versatility of the zombie metaphor that stretches beyond its voodoo roots to reflect society (for example the imagery in 28 Days Later is linked to 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina). No longer confined to horror movies, the living dead can now be found in comedies and romances (Warm Bodies being the perfect example of all three genres mixing and merging). The film also touches on zombie fan love with the dead stepping off the silver screen with zombie walks and even hardcore zombie porn.
While totally accessible to aficionados and casual fans alike, DotD ends up being a bit too lightweight; there's so much more that could be said especially considering the talent being interviewed. Time is wasted talking to survivalists about plans for the apocalypse and while some of the facts about the genuine possibility of a zombie pandemic are interesting it's glossed over too quickly. In the end, Doc of the Dead feels like a decent TV show padded out to feature length.
Screening at Odeon Lothian Road, Edinburgh, Sat 28 Jun as part of Edinburgh International Film Festival 2014.
* We're fully aware that Boyle's 'infected' aren't technically zombies, but they tick enough boxes – mindless aggression, tendencies to move en masse and attack the non-infected – that they can be comfortably included in the conversation.