The Walking Dead Brings Cinema-Quality Horror To Television

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.

Frank Darabont

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…

Dead Busey?

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!):

2 replies
  1. John Gallino
    John Gallino says:

    I watched the pilot last night because I have an assignment for film class to shoot a new intro sequence for the series. I gotta say I wasn’t all that impressed. Though the effects are great and the show has some of the best-looking zombies I’ve ever seen, I was bothered by the “wake up in an empty hospital” thing that 28 Days Later already did years ago. I also didn’t find the protagonist very likable. He seems like more of an asshole cop that pulls you over for going 10 over the speed limit than someone I want to cheer for for an entire season. I think it would’ve been far more interesting if they made the black father the protagonist, source material be damned.

    • Dan
      Dan says:

      Interesting take, John. I can see the waking up in the hospital device as cliche, but I definitely am rooting for the lead cop character Grimes. I think they’ve done a good job of establishing his moral code by throwing extreme conflict at him that threatens that code. E.g., the very first scene where he has to kill a zombie child — he’s conflicted about it. They could have made him a “bad-ass” type who just blows away the kid without a second thought. I’m glad they didn’t.

      As for the father, I thought the scene where he was sighting his wife in the crosshairs of the rifle was very powerful.


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