Are zombies the new vampires in Hollywood?

Thu Sep 9, 2010 10:52pm EDT
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By Jay A. Fernandez and Borys Kit

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - What's that shambling over the curb toward the local theater? No, behind the vampires. Could it be a stampede of the undead about to take over Hollywood?

Cable channel AMC's new drama series "The Walking Dead" debuts on Halloween, and more than a half-dozen zombie-related feature projects are on their way to theaters -- including Friday's "Resident Evil: Afterlife" -- or in development at the studios. With this many flesh-rotting grave-jumpers on tap, could zombies be making a run -- or, perhaps, a very slow, clumsy walk -- at the pop culture crown?

"Zombie movies, much like zombies, could become this horde that just marches across the world," said Rhett Reese, who co-wrote last year's breakout hit "Zombieland" with Paul Wernick.

The movie, TV and publishing industries have been feasting on vampires for material the past few years. But like every profitable trend, the obsession with bloodsuckers must eventually head back into the coffin for a nap (the last "Twilight" adaptation opens November 2012). Staring down that inevitability, the networks and studios may be turning to zombies to step up from understudies to stars.

But can zombies compete at that level? With "Twilight" and "True Blood" as pop culture's current twin hundred-million-dollar genre powerhouses, does Team Undead have that strong or deep a bench?

Zombies have always been part of the B-cinema mix, and George A. Romero showed how the rising hordes could stand in for any number of political or social scares when he unleashed his 1968 shocker "Night of the Living Dead." Now 70, Romero has explored variations on the themes (racism, consumerism, conformity) with "The Crazies" (1973), "Dawn of the Dead" (1978), "Day of the Dead" (1985), "Land of the Dead" (2005) and "Diary of the Dead" (2008). But these films have never been hits, and his most recent, "Survival of the Dead," was relegated to a VOD offering in 2009.

But a couple of recent developments have hinted at new potential for zombies on the big and small screens. Sony's "Zombieland," a comedic take on the material, scrambled into theaters in October and grossed $76 million domestically on a budget less than a third of that, making it the highest-grossing zombie movie ever. Naturally, Reese and Wernick -- who intended to make a TV series with "Zombieland" -- are deep into writing a sequel for Ruben Fleischer to direct, perhaps next year.

The higher-budget "Resident Evil" movies, based on a video game about a virus turning people into zombies, have done well for Screen Gems since the franchise launched in 2002. The three films (the fourth will be in 3D) have grossed $378 million worldwide.   Continued...