‘Zombieland‘ is a US zombie comedy that was directed by Ruben Fleischer and was based on an original screenplay written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. It was released in 2009 and it quickly gained positive reactions – managing to appeal to zombie aficionados, mainstream movie goers, and the critics all at once.
Let’s get straight to the point, Zombieland does many things right – it throws together a great cast (Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone), it is soaked in blood and gore, it is stuffed with jokes that will appeal to horror-nerds, it is genuinely funny, and it skillfully combines action and humor to create a fast-paced and kinetic movie experience…..oh yeah, it also has a show-stealing cameo (Bill Murray). More on that later.
Despite being a blockbuster movie, Zombieland is fully aware of the genre it belongs to, and it wears its self-awareness with pride….there can a fine line between meta horror and parody, and Zombieland avoids parody successfully.
It’s definitely difficult to pitch a meta-horror movie with just the right level of tongue-in-cheek self-awareness. Obviously, Wes Craven’s Scream series is probably most quoted as being the modern pinnacle of this concept, with other modern horrors like Cabin in the Woods taking up the rear. But these are rare successes in a genre that often seems to fall into the trap of being a little too knowing, a little too cynical, and often guilty of treating its chosen genre with a sneer instead of a nostalgic smile. Getting meta-horror right is difficult, to the point where decent takes on the genre are next to impossible to find. But Zombieland is one meta-horror that has firmly earned its place among the classics, released in 2009, it quickly gained borderline-cult status and is still arguably one of the best zombie movies of the last ten years, for a variety of reasons.
The first of those reasons, obviously are the performances. Yes, Woody Harrelson’s Tallahassee is undeniably great, with his search for the last twinkie on earth becoming a cult in and of itself, but this is really Jesse Eisenberg’s movie. The film kicks off with his explanation of the rules of a zombie apocalypse, outlining everything he’d had to do to survive up until that point, and Eisenberg instantly manages to instill the role with an everyman quality without becoming generic. Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin, as the two con-women Harrelson and Eisenberg meet on their travels, are appropriately conniving and cunning, as well as bringing some real emotional clout to the story as well. And, if you didn’t already know by now, Bill Murray has the cameo to end all cameos, one that has quite rightly risen to almost legendary status.
The Bill Murray cameo in Zombieland (spoilers!):
But what about the actual zombies? As the opening credits play out over some sumptuously shot images of brutal zombie death and destruction, it’s clear that the director really wants to revel in the outright goriness of the genre. And he does – from witty cutaway sequences showing ludicrously gruesome zombie murder, to the creation of everyone’s worst nightmare – a clown zombie. The zombies are really well constructed with great make-up and effects, and they are perfectly pitched between funny and scary – even when they are the subject of the gags or physical slapstick style comedy in the movie they never quite lose their threat, or become so threatening that the film loses it’s comic edge.
But, outside of the performances, and the essentially meandering plot, one thing comes through loud and clear in Zombieland, and that’s an unabashed love for the zombie genre. There’s no doubt that zombie movies are one of the biggest mainstays of the world of horror cinema, and that’s because they’re so utterly adaptable, as Zombieland proves. The premise of zombie movies is so often about throwing a group of mismatched people together under tense and life-threatening circumstances, and that can bring out any number of emotions and conflicts. Pulling together a number of disparate threads through the lens of a zombie outbreak, Zombieland balances a mix of smart comedy, action, horror, and drama with ease – proof that the genre can incorporate anything under the right direction and have it work well.
Watch the trailer for Zombieland:
Zombieland remains that rare beast, a zombie film that can appeal to the horror-nerd, as much as regular cinema-goers. Parallels could be drawn with Shaun of the Dead (2004), but Zombieland is probably even more accessible for a wider audience pitching its humor and jokes at the less nerdy end of the spectrum. We are not saying it is a better film than Shaun of the Dead, just maybe think of it as Shaun’s brasher and more vulgar cousin.
2009 was a good year for zombie movies, with horror fans being able to choose from releases such as Dead Snow, and George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead, but Zombieland is arguably the most satisfying of them all with a lot of joy and love in its rotten zombie heart.
The rules from Zombieland:
As mentioned, Jesse Eisenberg’s character in Zombieland punctuates the film from time to time to expound on his rules for surviving a zombie apocalypse. The rules are presented in random order, and by the close of the movie Eisenberg claims to have 33 of these golden rules for survival (but only a few appear in the actual movie). As part of a promotional push for the movie, Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg appeared in a series of videos that fleshed out the rest of the rules. Here is an example of one of the promotional videos – this is for Rule #29 The Buddy System.
You can find the full list of rules from Zombieland below:
- The Double Tap
- Beware of Bathrooms
- Wear Seat Belts
- No Attachments
- The “Skillet”
- Travel Light
- Get a Kick Ass Partner
- With your Bare Hands
- Don’t Swing Low
- Use Your Foot
- Bounty Paper Towels
- Shake it Off
- Always carry a change of underwear
- Bowling Ball
- Opportunity Knocks
- Don’t be a hero (later crossed out to be a hero)
- Limber Up
- Break it Up
- It’s a marathon, not a sprint, unless it’s a sprint, then sprint
- Avoid Strip Clubs
- When in doubt Know your way out
- Use your thumbs
- Shoot First
- A little sun screen never hurt anybody
- Double-Knot your Shoes
- The Buddy System
- Pack your stain stick
- Check the back seat
- Enjoy the little things
- Swiss army Knife
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Written by: Louise MacGregor