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No-brainer 

Television documentary Zombiemania examines pop culture’s fascination with the undead.

There was a big one in December: I Am Legend, starring the world's biggest movie star Will Smith, which broke box-office records. There were a couple last summer: 28 Weeks Later (the sequel to Danny Boyle's shockingly good 28 Days Later), and Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror segment of Grindhouse. We even had one homegrown: Fido, with its depiction of an alternate 1950s suburban universe, where humans have won the war against zombies.

Yes, zombies. These are all zombie movies, part of a trend that's white-hot. Unless perhaps you're amongst the undead, you will have noticed the sudden preponderance of rotting, ambulatory corpses in the culture—from movies to video games (Resident Evil, House of the Dead and Dead Rising) to books (Max Brooks's Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z). Halifax even has its own annual Zombie Walk.

Zombiemania, a documentary produced by Halifax's Sorcery Films, and playing January 3 on the SPACE channel, attempts to get to the root of people's fixation with flesh-eating corpses by interviewing filmmakers, authors, make-up artists and academics.

The zombie is "beating out Frankenstein, he's beating out the vampire," says producer/director Donna Davies. An AFCOOP veteran, Davies, along with producer Kimberlee McTaggart, has found a niche in supernatural material under the Sorcery Films shingle, having previously directed a National Film Board picture about women's wisdom, psychics and fortune tellers called The Kitchen Goddess and a 13-part series on the paranormal—edited by McTaggart—called Shadow Hunter, which also played on SPACE.

"We looked at the idea of trying to understand why," zombies are so popular, says Davies. "We sent our idea off and SPACE was very keen. They know their target audience very well, and zombies are very hot in every market, but probably 35-and-under, more so. Although many people in their 40s and 50s have seen Night of the Living Dead."

Directed by George A. Romero, Night of the Living Dead, is considered by most to be the picture that started the zombie craze—a movie that spawned many sequels, tributes and rip-offs. For Zombiemania, Davies and McTaggart found genre godfather Romero in Toronto, where he now lives and continues to direct zombie pictures, such as Land of the Dead. The documentary explores the subtext in these low-budget horror films: what Romero was trying to say about race, about class and about a variety of societal anxieties.

"We did manage to track him down," recalls Davies. Romero was in the midst of post-production on Diary of the Dead and not too interested in being interviewed. "He agreed reluctantly that we'd meet in a hotel somewhere, an hour of his time. By the time we were done we were actually in his condo for the whole night. He broke open a bottle of good scotch...once he realized we were really in awe and wanted to hear how he created this whole subgenre."

An interesting coincidence: the source material for I Am Legend, a novel by Richard Matheson, was one of Romero's main inspirations for Night of the Living Dead, making this past year something of a cinematic rebirth of the bloody craze (even though Will Smith's zombies were practically vampiric). Davies figures it's only a matter of time before the undead become a sexual fetish.

"Sorry to Anne Rice and all the women who like the steeped-in-sexuality idea of the vampire. The zombie, he's not a sexy dude," she says, laughing. "But zombies can do just about anything now; they're thinking, they can run fast. In Fido, the zombie kissed somebody. When they start getting it on, it'll be pretty scary. There's going to be zombie porn before you know it."

Having thoroughly explored the genre, can Davies answer her own question? Why are zombies eating our collective brains?

"I'm always learning new reasons. You can get as deep as saying zombies represent our forefathers, our "unburied dead.' Zombies are a metaphor for what we aren't dealing with, the stuff we can't face, in a time when we're not facing up to some real political concerns. Some people make it very simple: We're all afraid of dying, it's the inevitable stage."

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Vol 27, No 17
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