Television is getting into the zombie business – just in time for All Hallow’s Eve. First, the British import “Dead Set” hit IFC Oct. 25. But the show zombie fans have been salivating over arrives tonight at 10 p.m. EST.
AMC’s “The Walking Dead” is based on the popular graphic novel by artist Tony Moore and writer Robert Kirkman. The series boasts some serious screen cred – executive producer and writer Frank Darabont previously gave us “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Mist,” while co-executive producer Gale Anne Hurd’s credits include “The Terminator” and “Aliens.”
Horror fans can expect a gaggle of undead delights from the series, including special effects equal to most big-screen shockers. Plus, the show delivers that creeping sense of doom that’s the hallmark of any worthwhile zombie entry.
Darabont directs the first installment, a 90-minute affair which drops audiences directly into the action. Lawman Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) wakes up, a la “28 Days Later,” alone in an abandoned hospital. He stumbles out of the building to find empty streets, overturned cars and nary a sign of life around.
The zombie apocalypse has begun.
Grimes finds some fellow survivors, including a father haunted by the vision of his zombie wife pounding on their house’s front door and a motley crew with one seriously bad apple (Michael Rooker of “Slither” fame).
The world as Grimes knows it is no more, but all he wants is to be reunited with his wife and son. More on that in a moment.
The first episode doesn’t so much as tweak the official zombie rules and regulations. The “Walkers” need a smack in the head – or a bullet – to be taken out, and they shuffle along in clumsy homage to zombie king George A. Romero. The harried faces of the survivors – and their often irrational way of viewing loved ones who have since been “turned” – will also ring a bell with genre addicts.
It’s still well-crafted television, driven by competent acting and enough bloodshed to make up for the lack of originality. Then, in the episode’s waning moments, one of our heroes gets trapped in a way we’ve never seen before and the stakes suddenly spike.
Episode two runs with that sense of abandon, as Grimes finds new allies and the story expanding to show his wife’s duplicity. That subplot offers the kind of moral twist that can sustain a series like this indefinitely, even more than an endless array of clever kills.
Some of the dialogue in “Dead” feels as stiff as a corpse, with phrases spilling from the actors’ mouths that would have worked better on the printed page. But it’s hardly a downgrade from your standard horror film,.
The series moves with a real sense of purpose, and even the quieter moments reveal motivations and character shading that seem vital to events sure to develop in subsequent episodes.
Broadcasting the show on cable allows the filmmakers to cuss when needed and splash blood across a number of intense sequences. Consider our heroes’ brilliant scheme to wade right through a mob of zombies unscathed in episode two as an example of what you couldn’t see on broadcast TV.
Rooker’s character could either be a boon or bust for the story. He’s a racist thug whose hatred for others hasn’t dimmed a lick since the zombies took over. Should the series use the actor wisely his character could come to define the series’ dark side.
“The Walking Dead” knows the zombie genre isn’t broken. Bringing the undead to the small screen, and allowing enough time for survivors to develop into flesh and blood characters, is all the innovation the series really needs.