Zombies have been around since the mid-19th century and are generally considered to originate from Haitian folklore.
In fact, such was the people's belief in them that they were written into Haitian law in 1864. They are essentially humans in undead form neither dead nor alive in any true sense but, rather, dead people reanimated.
They have been used in horror movies to bring fear to audiences ever since the horror genre first hit the big screen. It wasn't until George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead in 1968 that zombies hit popular culture in the West and interest in them grew and grew. Yet, there is another side to the zombie too. Perhaps due to their increased popularity, a more light-hearted, humorous take on them has developed that started on the big screen and has now transcended to smaller screens in the form of video games and television shows.
When did zombies get so funny?
There have been a number of zombie comedy movies over the years, but they were rarer before the turn of the millennium. Films such as Braindead that was directed by Peter Jackson have grown a mass cult following, even more so since the director hit fame with his work on Lord of the Rings. This film was released in 1992 and although it was a commercial failure - having only made $242,623 in the US as compared to the $3 million it cost to make according to The Numbers - it developed a cult following thanks to its irreverent humour. Together with cult horror comedies such as the Evil Dead franchise starring Bruce Campbell, and 1981's An American Werewolf in London, they were the foundation and inspiration of the revival of horror comedies in the '00s and zombie comedies such as Shaun of the Dead released in 2004. In fact, Simon Pegg attributed Jackson’s movie as a big influence on Shaun of the Dead in his book Nerd Do Well, which has a very respectable rating of 4.5/5 stars on Amazon. The movie was a big success, with Shaun of the Dead bringing in £1.6m on the opening weekend in the UK and grossing more than $30 million worldwide. Since Simon Pegg’s brilliant offering there have been a number of others exploring the zombie comedy route, but the rising in popularity of this genre has also seen the development of a number of video games that take a humorous look at the undead too.
Humorous zombie video games abound
The fun of wiping out a zombie in all its gory detail is part of the comedy and humour of this type of genre. Games have marketed themselves to audiences almost purely on this fact alone. The Dead Rising series, developed by Capcom, has made slashing zombies into an art form. There are so many different ways to take down your undead foes that it becomes part of the challenge and appeal perhaps more so than the narrative. The first Dead Rising was based in a shopping mall, paying homage to George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead movie from 1978. It sees the player having to use any object at hand to slay the zombie hordes that are sieging the mall. The inventive ways of defeating the zombies is the comedy of these games. They certainly hit a chord with their target audience, with first game sales hitting 1.8 million units and the sequel selling 3.1 million units according to the company investor relations page of Capcom.
Other games making light of the undead include Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel without a Pulse, developed by Wideload for Windows, Xbox and Mac, and the comedy classic Plants vs Zombies. The latter is an amusing tower defence style game from Popcap Games that came as a bit of a surprise on release. It sees a homeowner using plants to defend their property against a horde of zombies trying to break through. The aim of the zombies in this game is to eat the brains of the inhabitants of the houses - but the plants are there to protect them! Another humorous zombie offering is the quirky Space Pirates and Zombies 2 launched in 2016, which allows games to destroy zombie hordes in outer space using a variety of advanced weaponry. The game is fun and engaging with a light-hearted approach to the undead. Nature's Zombie Apocalypse is a shooter from developer Aniode. You control animals and use a varying arsenal of weaponry to take zombies out in spectacularly gory fashion. Mobigames offer a similar experience with side-scrolling mobile game Zombie Tsunami which uses cartoon graphics and a more comic gore spectrum to depict hordes of zombies rampaging through a town picking up bonus points for the number of humans you can turn into zombies while avoiding dangerous objects such as traffic and bombs.
Funny zombies are all over
There are plenty of other examples of creators choosing to take zombies beyond the horror and into comedy territory. Zombie comedies have now found a place on mainstream television with the series iZombie, which was developed from the DC Comic series of the same name. The television series was first aired on the CW network in March 2015 and hit 2.29 million viewers according to TV by Numbers. Another example is Netflix's The Santa Clarita Diet, where a middle-class woman (Drew Barrymore) has to resort to eating brains. The realm of casino games has not ignored this trend either, as online slots tend to take on popular culture themes. Using a darker sense of humour, the Betway Casino's slot game Lost Vegas allows gamers to play as either one of the survivors of a zombie apocalypse or as one of the horde. If you play as the undead, you will be joined by Elvis and his army of zombies to infect the reels helping the gamer to win cash prizes. The zombie comedy has even found a home in popular literature with the 2009 novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith. The book hit the shelves in April 2009. It is published by Quirk Books and is a mashup of Jane Austin’s 1813 classic Pride and Prejudice with elements of modern zombie fiction. Grahame-Smith’s novel was also made into a 2016 feature film of the same name.
Where next for zombies?
The zombie movie will unlikely peter out with the genre as popular as ever but audiences might expect to see more spin-offs from the traditional narratives. Comedy zombie movies could see a spike in numbers and there will certainly be many more games in both comedic and horror fashion with reviewers already going crazy waiting for the release of The Last of Us 2 and Days Gone. Even though they are undead, there is plenty of life in the zombie yet.