There was a time when the zombie was considered the less illustrious horror stablemate to the sexier, more outwardly alluring vampire. The shift in popularity has risen significantly of late, and given the increasing prominence of the zombie mythos in mainstream entertainment, Doc of the Dead (2014) is both a welcome and long overdue look into the history and cultural impact of the humble flesh-eater. With the added movie geek credential of being co-produced by popular online cinematic commentator RedLetterMedia, director Alexandre Phillipe has carefully put together a documentary which appeals to both dyed-in- the-wool George A. Romero devotees and newer, Walking Dead-era converts.
While genre grandaddy Romero is offered substantial coverage throughout (thankfully, the exhausted satirical analysis of his work doesn’t factor too heavily), Phillipe brings a broader scope in his contextualising of the phenomenon. Having assembled an assortment of big- name cinematic contributors (amongst them Simon Pegg, Bruce Campbell and Tom Savini), a variety of bearded and bespectacled scholars also offer their insightful musings on the genre, pulling from the early folkloric Haitian influences, right through to the apocalyptic Walking Dead and War World Z (2013) survivalist theorising. Every aspect of the zombie timeline is explored here. The divisive ‘fast vs slow zombie’ debate is amusingly analysed, throwing up some interesting arguments on both sides.
Entertaining footage of a college campus conversation between Romero and zombie-themed author Max Brooks is peppered throughout, working as a nice bridging device between topics. It’s only in the latter part of the documentary where scientific hypothesis comes into question that there’s the nagging feeling the makers are beginning to add unnecessary padding, moving away from the fun and breezy tone which has been initially established. An interview with a survival shelter proprietor also feels a little arbitrary and awkwardly shoe-horned in. Overall however, Doc of the Dead is an entertaining journey through the annals of zombiedom, covering much ground in its seventy-odd minutes running time. Phillipe delivers on fan’s expectations (there’s even a touching appearance from Sherman Howard who played arguably the world’s first loveable zombie ‘Bud’ in Day of the Dead (1985) and for now, this documentary stands as pretty much the definitive exploration of this topic.