Starring Bruce Campbell, Simon Pegg, Alex Cox, George A. Romero, Robert Kirkman, Greg Nicotero, Max Brooks, Steve Barton
Directed by Alexandre O. Philippe
Distributed by Altitude Film Distribution
Over the course of the past few decades, zombies have gradually shambled, groaned and munched their ways into the collective subconscious, becoming a pop culture sensation – showing up in just about every facet of entertainment, media and modern life. With Doc of the Dead , director Alexandre O. Philippe aims to take a look at just what happened to chart the zombie’s meteoric rise to fame, and why we’re all so obsessed with the walking dead.
Helping him to do so are a swathe of genre professionals and aficionados such as Bruce Campbell, Simon Pegg, George A. Romero, Tom Savini, Greg Nicotero, Robert Kirkman, our very own Steve Barton, the legendary Sid Haig, author Max Brooks and many, many more. To say that there’s a comprehensive set of interview subjects (and a wealth of knowledge on the subject) here is an understatement.
Tracking the origins of the modern day zombie in cinema, Doc of the Dead focuses strongly on Romero’s seminal Night of the Living Dead before moving through to modern day blockbuster World War Z, taking regular detours in between to investigate the various permutations of flesheater – from voodoo zombies and fast zombies through to talking zombies and dedicated brain-eaters.
However, as detailed as it hopes to be, Doc of the Dead is less an exploration of the cinematic evolution of the zombie as it is an insight into how this particular creature has worked its way towards becoming a pop culture sensation. Due to this, the chronology often feels shaky, and it seemingly does away entirely with the highly influential Italian entries of the ’70s and ’80s – particularly the works of Lucio Fulci. With this is mind, Doc of the Dead is unlikely to fully satisfy the most experienced fans of zombie cinema with the breadth of its exposure… but it very capably makes up for this in other ways.
Detours are taken from the cinematic aspect to discuss the penetration of the zombie into nearly every facet of everyday life – from insurance commercials to sponsored “Zombie Walks”, video games and, yes, porn, with interview subjects gleaned from each industry. There’s exposure to the likes of the UK’s “ZED Events”, who host live interactive zombie survival events, and zombie-themed self defense and survivalist suppliers in the US. That’s not to mention interviews with the likes of Max Beauvoir, Supreme Vodou Houngan and Biochemist, with regards to the real practice of creating Haitian zombies and David Hughes (Assistant Professor of Entomology and Biology at Penn State University) talking World War Z research and hive mind behaviour alongside a brief look at currently existing parasitic fungi which cause insects to act in a zombified manner. Simply speaking… evolution just hasn’t caught up with humanity yet.
We’ve got debates over fast and slow zombies, Robert Kirkman and artist Charlie Adlard discussing The Walking Dead comic and TV show, humorous footage from various panels including Romero and Brooks (where George plainly states his bemusement at just why people love zombies so much!) and even more touched on within a very short running time of just circa 80 minutes.
But when you factor in the amount of segues taken during the course of the documentary – TV ads, music video snippets, film clips, Max Brooks filtering and drinking his own urine, and a genuinely hilarious original set of segments filmed in first-person with a voiceover from an old man who has just woken up during the zombie apocalypse – that short running time starts to become very, very crammed. This restriction sees the sheer number of interviewees that Philippe wants to include become relegated to not much more than the occasional sentence of input, steering the documentary along certain paths.
Still, it works in the sense of keeping the pacing up and the doc moves along in a lively, entertaining manner. There’s no shortage of love for the genre on display, right from the opening credits and the choice of soundtrack – No More Kings’ “The Living Dead” opens, while Stephanie Mabey closes with “The Zombie Song” – and a few amusing answers from the interviewees to the “how would you survive a zombie apocalypse?” question are almost worth watching for alone. Again, though, Doc of the Dead isn’t going to completely satisfy nor have anything new to say to the experienced zombie scholar in cinematic terms – but it does a swell job of capturing the societal zombie zeitgeist, remaining thoroughly entertaining and accessible while doing so.
Altitude Film Distribution’s UK DVD of Doc of the Dead features only a trailer as an extra – which is very disappointing as one assumes that, given the rather truncated-feeling input from many of the interview subjects, a wealth of cutting-floor material would have been available for inclusion here.