So I have somehow come to review 3 zombie themed films in a row. Two of this are Paul’s fault, that’s fair enough, but Doc of the Dead is all me. Heard about this documentary being made with the involvement of the guys from Red Letter Media, providing some short Plinkett themed gags, a few months back. The film has just appeared on Netflix so I guess I had to review it. Click the link below for words about this.
Doc of the Dead attempts to be a documentary on the culture and history of zombies, both on film and off. This takes the form of a series of talking heads, still attached to living bodies of course, and a few skits from various independent film makers. The zombie history portion of the film follows the inception of zombies on film from White Zombie, through Plan 9 From Outer Space and onto Romero’s classic Night of the Living Dead where the modern zombie was born. There’s discussion on the evolution of the zombie since, the thematics of a zombie and the debate on running vs stumbling. I’m on the side of stumbling because fuck running zombies. They scare me too much. This zombie history then segues into the culture at large such as the success of The Walking Dead, zombie walk enthusiasts and the mainstream acceptance of the zombie mythos today.
As a casual documentary on the culture of zombies Doc of the Dead doesn’t do too badly. It covers all the bases anyone with a passing interest, mostly the casual fans of The Walking Dead TV series I’d guess, would likely have. Educates on the origins of the zombie, where the word came from and the variations on the trope. Unfortunately this is approached in quite a casual manner. The talking heads themselves are fine, made up of exactly the people you’d expect such as Robert Kirkman, George A Romero, Simon Pegg and Bruce Campbell. The fact is they’re only really skirting around the history of the zombie in the most basic manner. Kudos for including the 50s sci-fi influence on the zombie but where is the discussion on Italian Horror of the 70s? Lucio Fulci’s name isn’t even mentioned once, which is amazing to me.
Whilst the complete lack of Fulci and the use of almost only big name mainstream zombie films as reference is a short coming you’ll soon realise why. The second half of the doc is entirely focused on fans of zombies and they events they get up to. The cult of the zombie in mainstream media. Because of this near 50/50 split focus there was going to have to be a sacrifice made to the film based sections of the film. You’ll soon realise that what you’re watching is not going to fulfil any levels of depth you may have been looking for. Essentially what you have is a documentary which plays out almost exactly like one of those Discovery channel fiction themed documentaries. The sort where they talk about super heroes or something without ever delving past the most basic themes.
The focus on fan culture manages to avoid going into a “look at all the weirdos” territory, which is always a thankful plus to any documentary on a subset of culture. Zombie walks are genuinely quite a modern cultural phenomenon and quite worthy of coverage. I have a few friends that have taken part in a number of them around London. Spending about half of the documentary on aspects such of that, though, can lead to fatigue. People dressing up as zombies aren’t as interesting as the film history or just the thematics of a zombie. There’s a portion in the second half devoted to zombie apocalypse survival, a genuinely fun subject, but that is cut short before it really manages to get its legs shuffling at full stumble.
In the end what we have is a documentary that lacks teeth, which would be ideal if the film was a zombie, but the film is about zombies. It needs some bite. They interviewed Brian Yuzna for this film and somehow didn’t utilise the insight he’d have beyond, I believe, one cut. This sort of missed chance is endemic of the faults the film has. Now, viewed as a casual piece of light informative entertainment, it actually succeeds fairly well beyond its pacing issues. But for an old zombie nerd such as myself, it misses the mark a little. Maybe it’s my film obsession that leads me to want more of a focus on that side of the story. The thing is that the modern zombie was born on film and exists predominantly on film. Well, and also video games. Which raises another point, how can the film discuss zombies in video games and only bring up Call of Duty: World at War (or World of War as the credits list it) and one Resident Evil? Even when discussing how mainstream zombies are now they make no mention of a game such as Plants Vs Zombies, a game that is literally the most mainstream, casual, interpretation of zombies so far and has sold millions of copies across multiple formats. I own 3 copies of the first game alone. But no, by all means, discuss the zombie mode in Call of Duty.
So overall Doc of the Dead misses the mark. As entertainment it is fine. Running at only 80 minutes prevents it from outstaying its welcome, which it comes dangerously close to. I can honestly say I have seen much less informative and in depth zombie docs before now, and if Doc of the Dead ends up on that documentary TV channel rotation that wouldn’t be a bad thing. For that sort of film it is fine. I just can’t get past all the bizarre omissions. Why would you ever leave out Fulci? Why go into depth on the justified relevance of Shaun of the Dead and not mention other recent subversions of the zombie genre such as Colin, Pontypool and even Zombieland? And, to go back to Fulci, how do you make no mention of a film featuring a zombie fighting a fucking shark!?! Now I want to watch a zombie doc that doesn’t miss anything, but I can’t go and review 4 zombie films in a row… can I?