"You know, I don't think I've got it in me to shoot my flatmate, my mum, and my girlfriend all in the same night," says Shaun, one of the beleaguered non-ghouls in Shaun of the Dead. That 2004 film is a send-up of zombie movies, but you know what they say about every joke containing truth. Ever since director George A. Romero released his 1968 shocker Night of the Living Dead—which reimagined zombies, the dark magic-entranced slaves of voodoo folklore, as shambling fiends that crave warm flesh and can only be offed with a head shot—the zombie genre has displaced the western as cinema's most popular and durable morality play. As the video essay "Zombie 101" demonstrates, while the genre's superficial appeal is the spectacle of torn and mangled flesh—living and dead—its deeper resonance lies in its portrait of ordinary people struggling to survive in extreme circumstances.
Matt Zoller Seitz is a filmmaker and the founder of The House Next Door. To read the rest of the written introduction, or to view this video at the web site of Moving Image Source, click here.