ZOMBIES: A LIVING HISTORY [A History Channel Documentary] Available on R2 DVD 23rd July

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Available on R2 DVD from 23rd July


REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic

Like I imagine many readers of this website, I am a big fan of zombie movies, and not just of the flesh-eating type first brought to the screen by George Romero in 1968 with Night Of The Living Dead and which now is the most common kind of zombie featured in films.  I’m also very partial to some much older pictures which have slightly better mannered zombies, such as White Zombie and The Plague Of The Zombies.  There is something both scary and pitiful about a walking corpse.  Now if someone asked me how the idea of zombies originated I would reply, as I think many would, that it was from voodoo on the island of Haiti, which of course originated in Africa and then  became mixed with certain elements of Christianity.  It is well known that there are many cases where people have been drugged so they look dead, buried and then ‘resurrected’ from the grave so they can be used as slaves, totally under the control of the witchdoctor or whoever was controlling them.

Of course if I had thought about it I would have probably realised that the zombie is something that has existed in folk lore all over the world; I mean, what is Jesus Christ but a friendly zombie?  Zombies: A Living History, which runs just under an hour and a half, devotes most of its first half to examining the idea of the zombie in various cultures.  I was especially fascinated to learn about certain burial rites?  Did you know, for instance, that in China the slightest mistake in somone’s burial can cause the person to come back from the dead in vengeful form, or that the Vikings were so scared of zombies that during burials they would do their best to confuse corpses so they would be unable to find their way home?  As with many modern documentaries, including much of the History Channle’s recent output, most of this is illustrated with actual staging, and I rather enjoyed the odd atmosphere this created.  Unfortunately, it also seems that may modern documentaries are made for dummies, and at times this does include Zombies.  When someone describes being frightened, do we really need to see someone looking frightened?

Nonetheless, all this certainly fascinated me, and occasional light hearted interruptions by a guy demonstrating ways to kill a zombie was amusing relief from the dark and even morbid nature of the main topics, which throws cannibalism in too.  The segments are a little too brief though; I know it’s the norm these days to take things at a very fast pace and not let any shot last more than a couple of seconds, but the constant popping up of the various hosts, which include two popular horror writers Jonathan Maberry and Max Brooks, and then disappearances by again, makes things feel a bit too hectic.  Surely just hearing their voices would have been enough?  I could also have done with less of those two writers and more contributions by some of the other folk on the programme, such as an archaeologist and two scientists.

Those two all but take over the second half, which begins by relating the popularity of zombie tales these days to real world concerns but then concentrates, for far too long, on how people would deal with and survive a zombie apocalypse. I got a little bored with this, and not only because I wasn’t really learning anything.  The constant visual illustration of what is being discussed, which includes a surprising amount of gore [albeit crappy CG gore] for something which is apparently exempt from classification yet even has footage from Night Of The Living Dead,  gives a rather intruguing impression of watching a rough cut of a pretty good zombie film, but this part just drags on and on.  I wanted more facts and didn’t get them.  I got the feeling that it was felt that the target audience would be bored by too much information and so just decided to entertain.  It’s a sad feature of much current programme-making.

Despite much of the second half verging on boring me, the first half is certainly good and I do feel that, if you’re a fan of zombies, and are perhaps one of those people that checks out every zombie picture that is released good or bad, you should give  Zombies: A Living History a go.  I have probably been sounding too stuffy in this review about something that is designed more to entertain than inform.  In the end it’s manly down to taste isn’t it?  I wonder if I would have liked it more if the two portions had been switched round?

Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆


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About Dr Lenera 1985 Articles
I'm a huge film fan and will watch pretty much any type of film, from Martial Arts to Westerns, from Romances [though I don't really like Romcoms!]] to Historical Epics. Though I most certainly 'have a life', I tend to go to the cinema twice a week! However,ever since I was a kid, sneaking downstairs when my parents had gone to bed to watch old Universal and Hammer horror movies, I've always been especially fascinated by horror, and though I enjoy all types of horror films, those Golden Oldies with people like Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee probably remain my favourites. That's not to say I don't enjoy a bit of blood and gore every now and again though, and am also a huge fan of Italian horror, I just love the style.


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