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Vampires vs Zombies: the living dead fight for our affections

Posted at 7:00 am, October 30, 2012 in Arts & Entertainment, TV
28 Days Later, © Channel 4

You may have noticed that vampires and zombies are around all the bloomin’ time nowadays (and not just because of Halloween). Both these undead characters are popping up in films, popular culture, and everyday life with alarming frequency. We look back in time to figure out where all this started…


Basically, vampires are huge business, but no one is the slightest bit scared of them any more. All the original vampire themes and subtexts – sex and death, addiction, nocturnalism, outsider rebellion, agelessness – have been done to death, over and over. There’s no life left in it.

Key vampire moments:

Nosferatu (1922)

The original disease-ridden plague vampire, creepy and disgusting

Dracula (1931) with Bela Lugosi
The slightly sexier version, a bit louche and aristocratic

Dracula (1958) with Christopher Lee
Much more predatory and romantic, lots of sequels. Mid-70s Lesbian vampires suddenly a big thing

Martin (1977)
Vampire realism, horrific and brilliant

Near Dark (1987)
Vampires as outsiders, renegades, like Western outlaws on the edge of society

The Lost Boys
The Lost Boys (1987)

The idea of living forever, being pale and beautiful and killing people you don’t like is pitched to teens, and understandably catches on

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV series, 1997 onwards)
Plays with lots of different vamp ideas – horrifying/beautiful, sexy/deadly – but smartly and comically

Twilight (2008)
Vampires are not threatening, just pitiful and remotely beautiful

True Blood

True Blood (TV, 2009)
Exploring the same avenues as ‘Buffy’ but with more breasts and bums and less wit and intelligence

Cirque du Freak (2009), Hotel Transylvania (2012)
Vampire movies for children, where will it all end?


Zombies, however, have been scary for a lot longer, and have seen many re-generations.  They may soon suffer from over-exposure in the same way as the vamps, but for the moment it’s looking OK.

Key zombie moments:

White Zombie (1932)
Bela Lugosi, the original meaning of zombie eg Haitian voodoo rituals, animated dead

I Walked With a Zombie (1943)
Zombies as something almost beautiful, haunting, a symbol of otherness

Night of the Living Dead

Night of the Living Dead (1968)
The modern zombie is born, and the modern horror film with it. Grim, shambling, feasting on flesh, utterly unreasonable and lifeless. Lots of low-budget zombie movies follow.

Dawn of the Dead (1978)
The zombie as cultural comment: a vision of a hapless underclass, going through mindless routines. Also a figure of fun. From here on, hundreds of zombie movies spring up, often Italian (Zombie Flesh Eaters, 1979, Return of the Living Dead, 1985).

BrainDead (1992)
Zombies go to New Zealand, and Peter Jackson makes one of the goriest films of all time. Zombies are fun!

28 Days Later (2002)
Danny Boyle tries to reinvent the zombie film, but basically rips everyone off. Brings the ‘fast zombie’ to popular attention. Lots of people unaccountably enjoy this utter nonsense.

Shaun of the Dead

Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Pastiching the Romero zombie.

Walking Dead

The Walking Dead (TV, 2010)
The old-school zombie returns in style.


Vampires are definitely more high profile: vampire movies like Twilight are big budget and have the popularity, but they definitely aren’t hip any more, they’re the stuff of tweener fantasy. Zombies, thanks in large part to The Walking Dead and sundry low-budget efforts, are far cooler.

Tom Huddleston

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