Director – Alexandre O. Philippe, Screenplay – Chad Herschberger & Alexandre O. Philippe, Producers – Robert Muratore & Kerry Deignan Roy, Photography – Robert Muratore. Production Company – Exhibit A Pictures/Geekspace/RedLetterMedia.
Charlie Adlard, Steve Barton, Dr Arnold T. Blumberg, Max Brooks, Bruce Campbell, Alex Cox, Dr Peter Dendle, Stuart Gordon, Sid Haig, John Harrison, Robert Kirkman, Fran Kranz, Theresa Marcardo, Thea Munster, Greg Nicotero, Judith O’Dea, Simon Pegg, George A. Romero, John Russo, Tom Savini, Howard Sherman, Russ Streiner, Brian Yuzna
Doc of the Dead – presumably so titled so as to avoid confusion with Roy Frumkes’s Document of the Dead (1989) – is a documentary about the popularity of the zombie film. Alexandre O. Philippe is a director who mostly specialises in documentaries about fandom. He has also made Earthlings: Ugly Bags of Mostly Water (2004) about Star Trek fandom; The People vs George Lucas (2011) about Star Wars fandom; The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) about the octopus that has made accurate predictions about the outcome of the World Cup; and subsequently 78/52 (2017) about the making of the Psycho (1960) shower scene; Memory: The Origins of Alien (2019); Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist (2019); and The Taking (2021) about the use of Monument Valley in Westerns.
Doc of the Dead traces the history of the zombie film. It sets out covering the two most famous early variants, the Bela Lugosi starring White Zombie (1932) and the Val Lewton film I Walked with a Zombie (1943). Both of these featured zombies within the framework of their original cultural foundations in voodoo – it is pointed out how both films draw interesting thematic connections between the idea of slaves revolting against their former colonial oppressors. (Neglected in this section of the film for some reason are the various zombie B movies that we had in the 1940s such as Revolt of the Zombies (1936), King of the Zombies (1941), Zombies on Broadway (1945), Revenge of the Zombies (1946) and so on). We then move into the 1950s and films such as Invisible Invaders (1959) and Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) and the theme of the undead human as an alien-controlled puppet.
The film then moves to discuss the seminal classic, George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) – the work that influences all modern zombie movies and forever associated the image of the zombie as an undead creature that devours human flesh. Interviewed, Romero interestingly states that he was simply trying to create a new type of screen monster and never even thought of his dead as zombies until an article in Cahiers du Cinema labelled them as such. Several of the interviewed discuss their memories and the influence of the film.
The film then skips most of the early Romero imitators to focus on Dawn of the Dead (1978) and to a lesser extent Day of the Dead (1985). The commentators offer often wry commentary on the various films – says Howard Sherman of Dawn of the Dead: “Every time you see Black Friday, how can you not think of Dawn of the Dead?” Max Brooks wryly draws an analogy of Dawn as being a metaphor for the death of the 1960s Love Generation and the rise of the consumer-driven Me Generation.
We get discussions of the importance of other works like The Evil Dead (1981), Re-Animator (1985), Return of the Living Dead (1985) and acknowledgement of its associating zombies with wanting to eat brains, and Peter Jackson’s Braindead/Deadalive (1992). (Here there is the gaping omission of any mention of the gore-drenched, principally Italian-made zombie films of the early 1980s). We move into the zombie revival of the 2000-10s, which brought a vast horde of films, although Doc of the Dead tends to skate over most of these, covering 28 Days Later (2002) and the question of whether it can be considered an infection outbreak or a zombie film, Shaun of the Dead (2004), which George Romero calls the best zombie film not made by himself, tv’s The Walking Dead (2010– ), Warm Bodies (2013) and World War Z (2013).
We get no mention of Zack Snyder’s influential remake of Dawn of the Dead (2004) and almost nothing of any of Romero’s revival trilogy – Land of the Dead (2005), Diary of the Dead (2007) and Survival of the Dead (2009), excepting some brief touching on Land. The vast horde of low-budget zombie films of this period is largely left unmentioned, although the film does touch on some zombie porn films such as Beyond Fucked: A Zombie Odyssey (2013) and The Walking Dead: A Hardcore Parody (2013).
After charting the history of the genre, Doc of the Dead covers some of its controversies – slow-moving vs fast zombies – to which Greg Nicotero has the most succinct answer to the issue: “Fuck fast zombies.” It is pointed out that the very first modern screen zombie – John Russo in Night of the Living Dead – was actually far more fast-moving than any of the subsequent Romero zombies, while Romero states that he wasn’t aware of any rules of the genre when he was making the film. The film also touches on the historical and cultural origin of the zombie in Caribbean and African voodoo, even travelling to interview two real voodoo priests, as well as briefly alighting on the explanation of the zombie as social metaphor as put forward by Wade Davis of The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988) fame.
The film gains some amusement out of covering zombie fandom. It covers the popularity of Zombie Walks – interestingly here, George Romero seems puzzled as to who his fanbase is and wonders what people would get out of dressing up as zombies. Bruce Campbell tells the story of how he was hired to officiate at a zombie wedding.
The film shows how the popularity of zombies has spilled over into popular culture – companies that makes zombie survival kits, including Zombie Industries who make terrorist, Nazi and ex-girlfriend realistic zombie head targets for shooting practice. Even medical insurance companies that use zombie imagery in their television ads. There is some discussion of preparations for a real zombie apocalypse, including an interview with the disturbingly serious Ron Hubbard who sells survival shelters and makes the claim that come the zombie apocalypse it would be the liberals who would become the zombies first.