Sunday, October 31, 2010
A zombie thriller with brains...and entrails...and lots of other gross stuff
Full disclosure: I am not a horror fan. I'm just not. Believe it or not, despite my ability to watch such violent and disturbing shows as "Breaking Bad" and "The Shield" without having my sleep disturbed (much), I am totally squeamish and jittery when it comes to things that go bump in the night. That's why I've stayed away from horror classics like "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Exorcist." Hell, I can't even watch the original "Stepford Wives" all the way through (sorry -- robot Paula Prentiss creeps me out like nobody's business).
And don't even get me started on the current genre of torture porn. I've never seen a "Saw" movie; will never see a "Saw" movie -- end of discussion.
So why, you may asked, am I excited about "The Walking Dead," the new horror series that premieres tonight at 10 on AMC?
After all, it is possibly the goriest show to ever pop up on TV (yes, even more so than "True Blood"). And yes, I covered my eyes many times during the two episodes sent to press (including the 90-minute pilot). Yet, I really enjoyed the series, and can see myself braving its yuckier elements to tune in each week.
Maybe that's because there's enough character development, emotion and humor to satisfy those of us who aren't blood and guts enthusiasts.
"Walking Dead" is, in short, about zombies. Gross, oozing zombies who have taken over the planet. But it's also about people. The story, based on a popular graphic novel by Robert Kirkman, centers on swaggering sheriff's deputy Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln, in a breakout performance), who ends up in a coma after being shot in the line of duty. When he wakes up to an abandoned hospital, he knows something's up, but what?
Of course, he soon figures out that the zombie apocalypse has arrived, and steels himself to accomplish two goals: surviving, and finding his wife and son, who have disappeared. The episodes I've seen so far are part horror show, part road movie. Sure, there's some pretty disgusting, entrails-dripping violence as Rick and other survivalists stand up to the flesh-eating beasts that have descended upon them. But the heart of the series is Rick's interaction with the other characters. In particular, a sequence in the pilot involving a heart-broken man (played by the excellent Lennie James, last seen being the best thing about the most recent season of "Hung") and his son, tells a complete and moving enough story to have been a tense short film.
Rick's run-in with a band of survivalists in episode two also has some interesting moments, and I think that, despite the buzz over the show's violence, it's the character bits that will draw people in. Even the gory scenes have a touch of gallows humor about them (which I can't really talk about without spoiling some of the show's most jaw-dropping moments. You'll just have to watch).
The show's agility at mixing the horrific with the human isn't surprising, given that Frank Darabont is an executive producer, writer and director on the project. Darabont, as you may know, has made sort of a mini-career of adapting the works of Stephen King, and can blend violence with character development in a convincing way. The actors also deserve a lot of credit. Lincoln is riveting as a man who's still learning the rules of his new world. He spends a lot of time on screen alone, looking thoughtful and frightened.
I should mention the zombie effects and make-up, which are, admittedly, spectacular. But it's the way the show sells its non-icky elements that makes it a real find.