REVIEW: DOC OF THE DEAD / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: ALEXANDRE O. PHILIPPE / SCREENPLAY: N/A / STARRING: GEORGE ROMERO, SIMON PEGG, MAX BROOKS, ROBERT KIRKMAN, BRUCE CAMPBELL / RELEASE DATE: TBA
As you may well surmise from the title, Doc of the Dead is a documentary about the pop culture juggernaut of zombies. It charts the horror subgenre’s beginnings in the early 1930s (specifically with White Zombie) to '50s sci-fi like Plan 9 From Outer Space, its reinvigoration via George Romero’s seminal Night of the Living Dead, and its subsequent explosion into mainstream consciousness.
The film features a mix of new interviews and archive recordings of Romero and other genre luminaries such as Simon Pegg, Bruce Campbell, Zombie Survival Guide author Max Brooks, Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman and legendary effects artists Greg Nicotero and Tom Savini all discussing the cultural significance of zombies, accompanied by a barrage of clips, and it also has some contributions from other cult favourites such as Alex Cox (Repo Man, Straight to Hell) and Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator, From Beyond).
There are also a few esoteric inclusions such as alt-porn filmmaker Joanna Angel, whose Walking Dead parody was her fastest and biggest selling title, and Joss Whedon alumnus Fran Kranz (Dollhouse, Cabin in the Woods), who, while possibly not an authority on the subject, is still highly opinionated. Whedon himself appears courtesy of a brief clip from his “endorsement” of Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, discussing the zombie apocalypse (look it up on YouTube, it’s brilliant).
A number of themes are touched upon, most significantly Night of the Living Dead’s extensive influence over all that came after it (which gives rise to an amusingly oblivious moment where Kirkman accidentally compares himself to Twilight author Stephanie Meyer), and how zombie films have often dealt with the societal fears most rampant at the times they were made. Discussions from more recent years include the fast zombies vs slow zombies debate (Brooks: “A Fast Zombie Survival Guide would be a pamphlet called Kiss Your Ass Goodbye”), and whether or not 28 Days Later actually counts as a zombie film.
As well as zombies’ cinematic heritage, their origin in the folklore of Haiti – where the subject is taken so seriously there is even a section in the country’s criminal code declaring the use of neurotoxins to zombify a person as tantamount to murder – is discussed by Max Beauvoir, Haiti’s Chief Supreme Vodou Houngan. Additionally, biology professor David Hughes discusses the entomological science behind how a zombie hive mind would behave, the conditions required for an undead outbreak to conceivably occur and, most terrifyingly, which of those factors are already in place. There are also further contributions from people who make zombies their business, such as survivalist companies who specialise in apocalyptic supplies, fans organising zombie walks (or crawls), and professional LARPers who provide immersive zombie survival experiences in controlled environments.
While listening to cultural icons espouse their opinions on the given topics is interesting, the film itself is a little directionless, flitting from one subject to the next with little or no segue. While it’s nonetheless an admirable goal to be an all-encompassing exploration into what over the decades has grown into a global phenomenon, the fact remains that throughout Doc of the Dead’s entertaining and in-depth presentation, it doesn’t actually have a great deal to say.