If there is one horror film scenario that fans of the genre might project themselves into more than any other, it is perhaps the one where society collapses as the result of a Zombie Apocalypse. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve had conversations on numerous occasions with like-minded folk (and unlike-minded folk who always seem to want to move away from me if I’m honest) about where I would seek to hide out, who I would endeavour to take with me and what possessions I would be prepared to leave behind. Then there is that old chestnut where I’ve asked myself how ruthless could I be in dispatching a loved one who’d received a bite from the undead (I’ve been assured by my girlfriend that she wouldn’t hesitate to put a bullet between my eyes the moment I went green around the gills and started to drool).
For such people, the arrival of season one of The Walking Dead on DVD and Blu-ray, is all of their Zombie Christmases come at once. Telling its story over 6 hour-long episodes, the debut season of The Walking Dead follows a small group of survivors as they travel across Georgia, trying to stay alive in a world where the dead have come to life. So far, so same old story. However, what elevates The Walking Dead above all but a handful of Zombie movies is the time it is able to take to focus on the survivors and their individual stories. So any fan of such classics as Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead or Zombie Flesh Eaters who has ever wondered what happens to the survivors after the credits roll, can get those questions answered as they go on at that very journey with them. Thanks to show runner, co-writer and sometime director, Frank Darabont, it is a journey that is often moving, frequently horrific and never anything less than thoroughly compelling.
Darabont may not have seemed the most obvious contender to bring Robert Kirkman’s comic book series to life but anyone who has seen his adaptation of Stephen King’s The Mist will appreciate his ability to focus on human dynamics, bringing drama to the fore in a tale ostensibly concerned with monsters. It is this human drama that sustains The Walking Dead, with several episodes featuring surprisingly little Zombie action. But that’s okay because as well as having to cope with the end of the world, this bunch of happy campers have to deal with dilemmas such as spousal infidelity, red neck racists, wife-beaters, and Latino street gangs, all whilst looking for a place to which they can retreat and rebuild their shattered lives.
However, Zombie action is never far away and just when you’ve become engrossed by the struggles the survivors are experiencing within their group, a large horde of very hungry Zombies will hover into view to focus everybody’s minds on the overriding issue of the day. It is this balance of the human drama interspersed with adrenaline pumping scenes of action and peril that makes The Walking Dead so utterly gripping. Highlights include Deputy Sheriff Rick Grimes’ (Andrew Lincoln) arrival in a seemingly deserted Atlanta and a daring attempt by Rick and Glen (Steven Yeun) to make their way through Zombie infested streets covered in blood and entrails to disguise their human scent. The cliffhanger to episode three suggests that the second season will see the return of a problem that may force the unwanted attentions of the undead onto the back burner (and if you don’t consider yourself to be in this for the long haul by the end of this thrilling episode, then stories of Zombie survival horror are clearly not for you).
Although this is a television show boasting a wonderful emsemble cast, it is the Zombies themselves who are the stars of the show. I’ve seen a lot of Zombie movies but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a finer array of the undead on screen anywhere before. The series’ make-up and special effects teams have been employed superbly to create an army of shuffling, flesh hungry corpses in various stages of decomposition, all of whom look so thoroughly repulsive that you cannot wait to see various implements and weaponry utilized creatively in an effort to remove their stinking Zombie heads from their filthy, reeking Zombie shoulders. Of course, there’s plenty of that.
In a nutshell this is a DVD that offers everything anybody could ever want from a quality TV serial about zombies. The story arc of this first season sets things up very nicely for a more substantial run of episodes in Season 2, scheduled to air on FXUK later in the year. Season one has done such an astounding job of setting up a variety of enthralling sub-plots and character arcs that I for one cannot wait.
Extras: Quite a bumper package. The "Making Of" documentary includes contributions from all the main players, including creator Robert Kirkman who is clearly delighted with the way season one turned out. There are featurettes that focus on each of the individual episodes as well as a fair bit of on-set footage presented by both Kirkman and Andrew Lincoln. My favourite extras were "Zombie School", where we learn what it takes to be a walking corpse, and Zombie make up tips that illustrate how you can use porridge oats and gelatine to achieve that 'just stepped out of the grave' look. There are also special effects features and footage from a convention panel that includes contributions from all of the producers on the show.