Director: Alexandre O. Philippe
Writer: Alexandre O. Philippe, Chad Herschberger
Producer: Kerry Deignan Roy, Robert Muratore
Stars: George A. Romero, Simon Pegg, Bruce Campbell, Max Brooks, Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard, Stuart Gordon, Greg Nicotero, Tom Savini, John Russo
Filmmakers and scholars discuss the contemporary popularity of the zombie and its evolution through media and pop culture.
80 minutes is less time than it takes to watch “Night of the Living Dead” or just two episodes of “The Walking Dead,” even without commercials. With such a brisk runtime, “Doc of the Dead” cannot help but be likened to one of the infected from “28 Days Later” as it zips through key points of zombie history so breezily that it barely pauses to pat each head in a breathless game of Duck Duck Goose.
Dyed in the wool fans of undead horror might instead appreciate a more shambling corpse pace that affords time to sink teeth into meat beneath the skin. But touted as the “definitive zombie culture documentary,” this surface scratch alternative is probably as good as it gets until someone digs in for an in-depth analysis of the phenomenon.
The bulk of the content amounts to a shoulder shrug for those to whom everything in “Doc of the Dead” is old news, which is pretty much anyone who has seen more than one zombie movie. Though the feature can still pull mileage out of functioning as a quick “Zombie 101” primer for anyone who may not know the difference between George A. Romero and George of the Jungle.
As far as interview subjects go, “Doc of the Dead” more than has its ducks in a row. All of the essential names including Romero, Max Brooks, Robert Kirkman, Greg Nicotero, and Simon Pegg are on hand to offer their two cents on the zombie and its revolutionary influence on mainstream entertainment. Too bad that two cents is often all anyone offers, and all “Doc of the Dead” has time for anyway.
What keeps “Doc of the Dead” from entering meaningful documentary territory is a strange notion of where to devote its focus. The first several minutes are given over to man on the street interviews and the founder of something called the “Zombie Research Society” laboriously establishing the definition of a zombie as a reanimated corpse. With information so pedestrian, you have to wonder who the clueless target audience is that the movie means to entertain and inform.
While Romero’s first three zombie movies are covered in under eight minutes, and his most recent ones are not covered at all, “Doc of the Dead” instead occupies itself with flip asides like a music montage of amateur tributes to the living dead, clips from a homemade sock puppet homage, and a lengthy jab at Mitt Romney that only grows less timely as the failed Presidential candidate fades into forgetfulness. It gives the impression that director Alexandre O. Philippe has a sense of the zombie pop culture surge being more of a throwaway fad than a topic requiring a fully sincere exploration.
Adult film director/star Joanna Angel has more time to discuss her “Walking Dead” parody porno than “Doc of the Dead” spends discussing the zombie trend in video games like “Resident Evil.” If the goal of the doc is to provide an informed understanding of major influences on zombie culture’s evolution, then the lopsided favor on glib aspects over material that matters more to undead enthusiasts misses the mark.
There are certainly moments when “Doc of the Dead” shines through the clutter to touch on interesting insights. In particular is a thoughtful discussion about the rise in zombie popularity paralleling a timeline that includes the Y2K scare, 9/11, and Hurricane Katrina. As society reacted to the threat of imaginary doomsday scenarios, real-world catastrophe, and the visualization of government breakdowns during a natural crisis, the public consciousness grew more primed for entertainment reflecting those fears and ideas.
The classic slow zombie versus fast zombie debate also serves up compelling arguments for both sides with intelligent delivery. While the popularity of “Twilight” creates a bone of contention over sparkling skin violating the “rules” of vampires, zombies are presented as more of a public domain monster with flexible standards that people can adapt to suit their own reflective fears of humanity.
Had “Doc of the Dead” stayed on these themes of academically cataloging the history of zombie media and its continued rise in mainstream awareness, it could have lived up to that “definitive” descriptor in its tagline. But the last act spins further into nebulous territory by cramming in mentions of zombie walks, zombie apocalypse plans, and more nuggets of inessential value when chronicling zombie culture.
By the time a gunman goes on ad nauseum detailing the construction of shooting targets to train survivalists, and a scientist explains the biology of spores and viral strains in mammals, “Doc of the Dead” is trying to connect all the dots in a realistic fashion that does not mesh with the casual attitude on display up to that point.
“Doc of the Dead” should have pinpointed its perspective into one specific concept. As is, the “kitchen sink” coverage is unavoidably broad to the point that funneling so much into so little results in the cursory equivalent of “in one ear and right out the other” infotainment.
Review Score: 50