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MOVIES/ Zombies: The ingredients of a winning cocktail

The saga of the "living dead" has many ingredients: a good story, above average direction, editing special effects, and a religious inquiry in an apocalyptic setting. By ALESSANDRO RIVALI

From From "The Walking Dead" ( Archive)

I will never forget the first night I was allowed to watch a horror film. At home, my mother (like any good mother) made sure that we did not see any violent movies. The war movies with John Wayne (like The Alamo or The Longest Day) were tolerated because they could somehow be useful for their historical context and for school, but ghosts, serial killers and werewolves were absolutely banned.

The watershed which allowed access to a film was given by the moral value assigned it by Famiglia Cristiana (a well known Italian Catholic weekly – ed.). A bullet or a star meant the most disastrous judgement, that is, a film without any point and terribly violent. Exactly what I was looking for at twelve years old.

One evening (at dinner when there were too many guests around and my mother was occupied with a thousand details) I was able to tune the dial of a Lilliputian TV in black and white: and so I was confronted with the first horror movie of my life. It took me a week (sleepless) to recover from the shock. For two hours I was fascinated by the adventures of a group of boys besieged in a department store by hordes of ravenous, gangly zombies.

The film that I had scored was in fact the famous Dawn of the Dead ("Zombi") by New Yorker George Romero, the second episode of the saga of the "living dead" (the first was The Night of the Living Dead, 1968), a film which cost only $1.5 million and which in the end netted a good $40 million.

That global success decreed the proliferation of those strange creatures who are insatiably hungry for human flesh; following in order (to cite only the more "classic works") were: The Day of the Dead (1985), The Land of the Dead (2005), The Diary of the Dead (2007), The Survival of the Dead (2009). Romero has also given a "social" interpretation of his saga: "I have always sympathized with the zombies, they are a kind of revolutionary. They represent people, usually without independent thought, who at a certain point, tired of abuse, rebel. This was us in 1968. And now we are dead, no? Our ideals are dead, I am a zombie."

Despite the intent, however, the world of zombies always remained confined to the big parking lot of B-movies. Gurgling rivers of ketchup have poured down over the years, come and gone without the need for refined scripts.

One had to wait until October 31, 2010 to have a history of zombies with all the trimmings you could expect (although there are exceptions, like the visionary 28 Days Later, and its sequel) Late that autumn, in fact, the pilot episode of the AMC series The Walking Dead was broadcast, directed by Frank Darabont, who adapted it from the comic book created by Robert Kirkman and illustrated by Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard.

Its reception in the States was phenomenal, and it is easy to trace the extent of its success for the network. Glued to the screen were 5.3 million viewers. It was a record, which immediately opened up funding for a second series (13 episodes instead of the 6 "prudential" ones it began with). Stephen King (who knows something about the thriller) introduced the fifth episode of the first season at the podium of the best TV program of the year. Still, the eight episodes of the second season beat all records of TV series transmitted by cable. And so on, to record heights, but one could also mention the peripheral successes from video games to novels to apps for the smartphone.