Back in May, the whole zombie apocalypse thing got a lil’ too real when news broke in Miami that a drug-fueled Rudy Eugene publically attacked Ronald Poppo and literally ate his face off.
Then about a month later in Maryland, Alexander Kinyua admitted to murdering his Morgan State University roommate and eating portions of his heart and brain.
And then there was the very serious Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announcement that zombies were fake and that the governmental agency knew of no virus or condition that could regenerate the dead.
But try telling that to a fan of the AMC smash The Walking Dead. The spooky series about a world in ruins after a mysterious zombie apocalypse, which begins its third season on October 14, is very, very real to them. Old fans like the congruency to the famed graphic novel. New followers appreciate the pacing and strong character development. Critics love the smart dialogue. Everybody digs the sound of zombie skull being pummeled by a sharp knife.
“It's a show about a world that's overrun by flesh-eating zombies,” tells Mark Harris, horror and suspense guide for the popular advice site About.com. “But it's more about the living than the dead. It's gory and violent, but it's got a surprising amount of heart—so much so that some hardcore horror fans have complained that it's too slow at times. But I think it's commendable that the show takes the time to focus on human drama rather than have a decapitation every five minutes.”
The Walking Dead’s spectacular second season ended with a cliffhanger folks are still trying to wrap their head around. A fearless crew of survivors, led by Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), had to cut its stay on Hershel Greene’s (Scott Wilson) farm short after it was overran by undead visitors. During a gripping search for safer grounds, new characters were introduced (the machete-wielding Michonne, played by Danai Gurira) and frightening new worlds (West Georgia Correctional Facility) were hinted at.
If Season 3 even creeps within Season 2’s ratings range, AMC will be laughing all the way to the blood bank. While The Walking Dead is far from the only show that lures viewers to the network (Mad Men also sparks big Nielsen numbers and water-cooler convo), the dreary drama hauled in 9 million viewers for last season’s finale. In comparison, Breaking Bad’s Season 5 premiere back in July attracted nearly 3 million fans.
But AMC isn’t the only channel getting its hands in the filth. Right now, horror fans have plenty of ways to ease their hunger for rotting corpses that won’t rest in peace. So, no, it’s not just your paranoia leaving you to think there’s been an influx of zombies in pop culture of late. The epidemic is real.
TV is definitely getting bloodier and more edgy. Premium channels like HBO and Showtime are killing it with the viewers and the accolades, so other channels don’t have a choice but to keep up with True Blood and Dexter. The fall TV slate is filled with FX’s creepy American Horror Story and NBC’s kooky Grimm. Fresh takes on Dracula and Hannibal Lecter will try to scare off small-screen competition soon, too.
As for the whole zombie infestation that resurrected with big-screen joints like 28 Days Later and Dawn of the Dead in the early 00s, it’s only beginning. Whereas, in the past, vampire/zombie/horror genre’s popularity seemed to come and go; this is really the first era to see that fare consistently cross over into the mainstream.
Back in September, Resident Evil: Retribution, the fifth movie translation of the popular zombie-exterminating video game, hit theaters. Keepin’ it 100, it’s hard to fully grasp how the campy, somewhat obnoxious series has managed this long. Harris says it’s the over-the-top action sequences and general blockbuster feel that people like. We say it probably has more to do with watching Milla Jovovich kick ass in tight leather outfits. Either way, the series has generated nearly $240 million, and like any zombie worth his weight in tattered slacks, shows no signs of dying off.
Really though, who are the people forking over the cash to catch these flicks? Don’t be so quick to simply say it’s the odd-acting, Doc Martens-rocking dude with all the tats purchasing the tickets. Hell, we all probably have a homie who’d pay to see Saw 8.
On the flip, you probably have a significant other who won’t watch Gremlins for fear of nightmares.
But generally speaking, the reactionary energy that tends to come from a movie-watching experience in a full black theater flows with the interactive nature of horror movies. “I don't have any facts to prove it, but I think African-Americans like going to horror movies,” details Harris, who also runs BlackHorrorMovies.com, a cool site spotlighting the urban contribution to A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Hills Have Eyes 2 and most freaky flicks in between. “But I don't get the sense it's because they enjoy them as diehard fans. They tend to be more casual viewers looking for some fun, a quick escape.”
The five top-grossing true horror movies of all-time –The Blair Witch Project, The Ring, The Grudge, Paranormal Activity 3 and Paranormal Activity (we left out dramatic pics like Jaws and The Sixth Sense)—steer more towards apparitions and applied fear rather than all-out blood splatter. But like Harris says, they’re still escapes from nagging spouses, shady coworkers and cable bills – escapes to a world where you can be scared to death (so to speak), without putting yourself in actual danger. Interestingly though, as Harris adds, horror flicks are probably the most unfiltered genre of film outside of porn, so they present an interesting reflection on the morals and prejudices of society.
With moral tussles and power struggles as the backdrop, The Walking Dead’s third season creeps its way back into the mainstream conscious. The AMC smash may draw you in with hordes of undying bodies terrorizing a prison, but it plans to lock you in with relatable takes on survival, infidelity and right vs. wrong. Blacks, whites and maggot-stuffed grays can all relate.
From now until Halloween, Hollywood will offer up a steady dose of Sinister, Paranormal Activity 4 and other flicks that go bump in the night. You might not fully understand the phenomenon, but recognize that it’s real. And like one of the lumbering extras from Dead, it ain’t going anywhere anytime soon.