Doc of the Dead
USA, 82 min
Directed by Alexandre O. Phillippe
Programme: Nightvision (International Premiere)
When I interviewed him a few years ago, writer-detector George Romero told me he was fed up with the flesh-eating walking corpses he brought to hideous life in Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Dawn of the Dead (1978). “I don’t get it,” Romero said about the pressure to keep the series lumbering along. “Everyone wants the same thing over and over.”
Alexandre Philippe, whose new film Doc of the Dead screened at Hot Docs to an audience that included fan boys and girls in zombie drag, does not see today’s on-going zombie fascination as sterile habituation. In his view, shows ranging from World War Z to TV’s The Walking Dead are vital emanations of pop culture that offer a onfrontation with everybody’s fear of death and chaos.
Philippe’s documentary celebrates zombie culture from top to bottom and past to present. His line-up of horror movie luminaries discussing various aspects of the subject includes Romero, who does not dis the genre here, makeup artist Tom Savini, actor Bruce Campbell, author Max Brooks (The Zombie Survival Guide), Simon Pegg, co-creator of Shaun of the Dead, and producer of The Walking Dead, Greg Nicotero.
Pointing out that Romero thought of his creations as ghouls or dead flesh eaters, not zombies, Philippe flashes back to the origins of the zombie narrative. Unlike literary inventions Dracula and Frankenstein, the creatures were born of anonymous oral tales that might have been inspired by real-life Haitian episodes of people drugged into robotic subservience.
One of the doc’s most interesting and visually potent sequences covers Voodoo zombie lore. Philippe also traces the history of undead movies from 1932’s White Zombie and 1950’s schlock to Romero’s influential innovations and the epic World War Z (2013). Along the way, he addresses the controversy over whether fast-moving or show-moving zombies are more believable (Romero says that if they are dead, how can they move fast?) and the transformation of terrifying monsters into the basis of mass gatherings and social activities.
Overall, Doc of the Dead is a fan’s affectionate Mondo Zombie intended mainly for other aficionados, but also engaging for the uninitiated.