Book Review: ZOMBIES! AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF THE UNDEAD
Are you one of those folks who complains that zombies do not speak when the increasing legions of zombie fanatics yell 'Braaaaaiiiins!' during festival screenings? Or perhaps you are one of those higher-on-the-geek-scale types that cites Return of the Living Dead as the origin of that particular trend? (Editors Note: Guilty!) Do you debate with your friends about the nature of running zombies vs. shambling zombies, or whether or not Danny Boyle's 28 Weeks Later even qualifies as a zombie film? Jovanka Vuckovic is here to make sure that we can all just get along by educating expert and novice alike in Z-lore, according to history, legend and the ever increasing swell of popular culture. The horror-subgenre, (i.e. the zombie movie) has had a long and elastic history in literature and folklore, from The Bible to Haitian Voodoo, and in past couple of years was/is at its cultural zenith, particularly in the movies. Thus, Zombies! An Illustrated History of the Undead arrives with some pretty impressive release timing to bring everyone up-to-speed (so to speak.)
Vuckovic's prose is functional and matter of fact as she walks the reader through nine odd decades of undead cinema in a thorough, yet efficient manner. The strength is certainly in the "Illustrated" portion of the book, as presented here is a treasure trove of iconic and nearly forgotten one-sheets and film stills from just about every zombie movie ever made up until the 1980s, when the growing list of low-budget zombie productions gets a little to unwieldy and cuts have to be made. One enjoyable aspect in the writing is that the author does occasionally inject opinion or a critical statement, which comes highly appreciated, from my circle at least, namely a bit of defense of Romero's Day of the Dead, whilst calling out Survival of the Dead (the 2009 Romero zombie picture) for the crapfest that it is. Of course Romero factors heavily into the proceedings, he writes the foreward in the book, and lengthy spreads are given to the three original entries in the ...of the Dead series. Some harsh (but appropriate) words are leveled at the each of the three remakes (with a soft spot for the Tom Savini 1990 update of Night, and an outright dismissal of the Steven Miner Day There is a very detailed section on pre-Romero zombie cinema that (for my money) demands attention. From the days of post-Universal-Monster Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi to 'poverty row' studios taking their own kick at the can with details on more upscale efforts by Jean Rollin all they way up to the first adaptation of Richard Matheson's seminal novella, I Am Legend (Last Man On Earth) acknowledged here as the catalyst of the modern zombie picture as big Z moved from Haitian black-magic to 'unexplained' apocalypse. There are also loving (and critical) examinations of the stretch of Italian exploitation cinema of the 1970s and 1980s (From Fulci to Soavi) and looks at China, Hong Kong, Japan and the recent burbles and gurgles from the UK, France, Africa and Canada. There is fair case made for the convergence of video games and films (The Resident Evil series, for instance) kicking off the latest (and peak) craze of the sub-genre and the book closes out on how everything is multimedia (from comics and how-to manuals, to series television, rock'n'roll and performance art from Urban walks to viral videos set in Philippines' incarceration centres.)
As a more-than-casual fan of all things Zombie for decades, sure, much if it is well known, but Vuckovic's skill is making this sort of compendium-style narrative look easy! The through-line of the zombie and his constant metamorphosis makes for a real page-turner. Perhaps more importantly, there are several titles I've missed or was unawares that have been brought to my attention. And that is the real goal of books of this kind for the film-lover. Hidden Gems. Oh, and the extra Braaaaaiiiins go down nicely! ("Send ... more ... paramedics.")
As Zombies! An Illustrated History of the Undead hits shelves today, we have a pair of signed copies of the book for two lucky Twitch readers that can tell us what Horror Magazine was author Jovanka Vuckovic the former editor-in-chief. Email your answer and your mailing address to email@example.com and we will pick the winners next week.
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