Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Mist, Frankenstein (1994)) and Gale Ann Hurd (The Terminator, Aliens, Armageddon, The Incredible Hulk) have an incredible pedigree in genre movies so it’s no surprise to see that their first television collaboration is on the level of a studio-quality horror film. The aesthetics of The Walking Dead (which premiered with a 90 minute pilot on Halloween night on AMC and became the highest-rated cable premiere of the year) are superb: production design, makeup FX, creature design, extra work, action sequences, locations and performances are all top-notch.
When I first heard about the show, I immediately wondered why no one had previously thought to make an episodic series in the incredibly popular zombie genre? Over the past 10 years, zombies have invaded pop culture en masse, in movies, comic books and video games, so it seemed like a no-brainer to do a high-quality one hour drama set in a post-viral devastation setting that called for numerous point-blank head shots to survive (was that enough hyphens?).
Speaking of which, the show adheres to most of the traditional zombie conventions, one of which is that zombies can only be killed by major trauma to the head. I can safely tell you that if you love head shots, and I’m not talking about those glossies that actors carry around, then this is the show for you!
And look, they even got Gary Busey to play a zombie…
In keeping with the commitment of budget and resources to the show, AMC sent me an incredible press kit for The Walking Dead that’s sure to be a collectible. The kit includes a hardcover book of photos and artwork, an exclusive illustration by legendary artist Drew Struzan and even a graphite miniature Colt python that is one of only 1,000 commissioned pieces. My camera phone doesn’t even begin to do it justice…
The promotional campaign also included this worldwide zombie invasion in an impressive number of cities…
As for the story, it’s off to a great start as it’s character driven and we’ve got some very interesting personalities in the mix. There are shallow stock characters, of course, like Michael Rooker’s racist bully Merle Dixon, but this is just the beginning of a long story arc that comes from a long-running popular comic book series so there’s no telling how these characters will rise and fall. Well, if you’ve read the comic book (I have not) then you probably have a good idea, but in the hands of a craftsman like Darabont, I’m confident that changes will be made to the source material that respect it but make it work better for the screen. In other words, the well is deep and we’ve got a very capable keeper of that well. (Keeper of the Well…sounds like a horror movie or an art film?)
But the action set pieces are what really stand out. A man stuck in a tank with only a strange voice on a cb radio to guide him, a sheriff riding a horse through a zombie-infested business district, a husband putting his undead wife in the crosshairs of a rifle…all tension-filled sequences that advance the plot in exhilarating ways.
There’s just something so primal about a man being surrounded by a blood-thirsty crowd and something so satisfying when that man has a shotgun and the will to live.
In other words, Officer Rick Grimes is all out of chewing gum.
I’ve also seen the second episode and I can report that the action and character development keeps escalating, so stay tuned for some surprising turns.
And look out for a very tense sequence that invents a clever new device for the zombie genre! I can’t wait to see what people think of this, um, “smelly” scene.
It’s one to watch and I’m along for the ride. How about you?
For those not yet dead, here’s the EXTENDED TRAILER for the show (WARNING: lots of spoilers!):