Zombies are the new pop-culture darlings, but they've got a long, colorful and disgusting history at the movie theater. And for a definitive handbook to the theatrical undead, check out Glenn Kay's comprehensive Zombie Movies: The Ultimate Guide (Chicago Review Press, $24.95), now out in a second edition.
In its more than 400 pages are reviews for nearly 400 zombie films (and non-films like the cable-TV hit The Walking Dead). Kay rates each film on a five-point scale, with the best getting a brain-eating icon and the worst getting a head shot. And allowing for the genre's frequent ... uh ... artistic and financial limitations, the last category is "So Bad It's Good."
The films are categorized chronologically, beginning with 1932's White Zombie, which tapped Haitian legends and presented the undead as tragic figures. There's a scattering of offerings until the 1968 debut of the "modern zombie" — the violent monster that feeds on human flesh, and infects others — featured in George Romero's Night of the Living Dead.
Like a virus of its own, Living Dead seemingly infected dozens of filmmakers for the next few decades, creating a new genre of shock, horror and free-flowing intestines. There's plenty of entertainment just scanning the film titles: The Grapes of Death, Kung Fu From Beyond the Grave, the hair-metal-inspired Hard Rock Zombies, Erotic Nights of the Living Dead and Beverly Hills Bodysnatchers (starring Lawrenceville's own Frank Gorshin).
Besides the reviews, the book includes: cultural and historical context for each decade's films; nearly a dozen interviews with insiders (including influential Pittsburgher make-up men Tom Savini and Greg Nicotero); and film stills and reproductions of promotional material. How complete is this book? There's even an appendix listing "Zombieless Zombie Films."