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Book of the Dead: The Complete History of Zombie Cinema Paperback – April 10, 2005
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About the Author
Jamie Russell is a freelance film journalist, author and broadcaster with a PhD from London University in English Literature. His reviews and features have appeared in numerous film publications and on radio and TV. He also writes DVD film notes.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Few horror movie monsters are as maligned as the zombie. While vampires, werewolves and even serial killers command respect, the zombie is never treated as anything other than a buffoon who stumbles around in the cultural hinterlands messily decaying. There are no aristocrats, blue bloods or celebrities among zombies, no big name stars or instantly recognizable faces, just low-rent, anonymous monsters who usually cant talk, can barely walk and spend most of their energy trying to hold their decomposing bodies together. Zombies are the great unwashed of horror cinema, soulless creatures that wander around without personality or purpose - a grotesque parody of the end that awaits us all. For all their lack of finesse or style, though, the living dead have been a constant presence in horror films since the 1930s. In the many ways it has been deployed in western popular culture, the zombie has slowly been transformed, signifying something much more complex that just the fear of death. Bound up with a wide range of cultural anxieties - from American imperialism to domestic racial tensions, Depression era fears about unemployment, Cold War paranoia about brainwashing, post-1960s political disenfranchisement and AIDS era body horror - the zombie has become, as we will see, a potent symbol of the apocalypse. Its a monster whose appearance always threatens to challenge mankinds faith in the order of the universe. Forever poised in the space between the traditional Western understandings of white/black, civilized/savage, life/death, the zombie is a harbinger of doom. Its very existence hints at the possibility of a world that cannot be contained within the limits of human understanding, a world in which these binary oppositions no longer stand fixed. Trampling over our cherished certain certainties, the zombie is, above all else, a symbol of our ordered universe turned upside down as death becomes life and life becomes death. In the chapters that follow, this book hopes to explain the allure of such a catastrophic occurrence, placing the development of the zombie in its socio-historical context in an attempt to understand why it is that, after all these years, we are still so fascinated with the dead that walk.
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Top customer reviews
Being a zombie film having this book helps me find films i may have missed so got it next to my videohounds vampires on video and regular videohound books they are a must for fans of horror and film.....
Still a essential guide to the living dead genre!!
Book of the Dead is not merely a zombie fan's ode to these films, filled with uncritical praise. Instead, Russell provides a history of the zombie movie that is both informative and entertaining. He starts with the Caribbean origins of the zombie and its relation to voodoo and the early, often sporadically factual accounts of these creatures. The first zombie movie would also be a horror classic: White Zombie with Bela Lugosi. Like many early films in this genre, the zombies were little more than automatons.
Unfortunately, after White Zombie, the zombie movies would be pretty weak for a while, and often limited to Poverty Row studios. The one exception was I Walked with a Zombie, one of Val Lewton's classic horror films for RKO in the 1940s. Overall, there would be little to celebrate until 1968 when Night of the Living Dead resurrected (pun intended) the zombie. While there would be plenty of awful zombie movies in the next four decades, there would also be some really good ones, such as Dawn of the Dead, 28 Days Later and Shaun of the Dead.
Russell provides a pretty comprehensive list of zombie movies, though it is cuts off at 2005, so it omits movies like 28 Weeks Later, Fido, American Zombie, Diary of the Dead, Planet Terror and Black Sheep. Prior to that date, you'd be hard pressed to find a zombie film Russell has missed, and certainly those few would be very obscure. If there is a flaw in his book, it's his loose and rather flexible definition of a zombie movie. While it makes sense to include 28 Days Later even if the monsters aren't true zombies, why include movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers (which may have influence on the genre but is also clearly not a zombie flick) while not including mummy movies (after all, aren't mummies little more than zombies in bandages?). Regardless of these quibbles, Russell's book is a real treat for zombie film fans, chock full of facts and (often gory) photos and artwork.
The book is a chronology of zombie events. It serves as a history guide to undead cinema but goes even further back to the origins of voodoo, discussing the written works of Lafcadio Hearn and William Seabrook. We are treated to a comprehensive review of what I would have to guess is every movie ever done all the way up to the latest installment from Romero and every other movie that has come up in the past few years.
An exhaustive filmography is another treat at the end of the book with a brief synopsis of each film. Excellent pictures and detailed analysis of every significant movie and pretty solid details on lesser movies make this tome absolutely essential for any fan.
Jamie Russell has made a reference work that for me will give me a chance to look at some lesser known but high quality films such as 'The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue' and 'Shockwaves' which I was unfortunately unaware of and also serves as a reminder of how incredible the works of Fulci were. I think any fan will find something new and intriguing to pour over in this fantastic book.