While the golden age of vampire films is long gone, and their last resurgence with the Twilight saga left us with a bitter aftertaste of toxic relationships, zombies are almost impossible to kill. Because more than any other movie monster, zombies are not the heart or core of a story, but rather a context.
In vampire movies, the vampires are almost always the villains or main characters, and in many cases both – as they are in stories about werewolves or ghosts and just about every other category of monstrous creature in the horror arsenal. Zombies, however, are always an anonymous mass that at best briefly acquire something like a soul, such as when the desperate survivors have to kill a member of their team who was bitten by a zombie shortly before and is now also developing a beastly craving for human brains. Even in the few films that grant zombies the role of a main character (such as Life after Beth or Warm Bodies), they are definitely a very special plot element rather than a fully carved-out character.
It’s the absolute supreme discipline to create a really convincing and rousing story with believable conflicts and convincing characters – such a difficult and challenging task that even the most creative minds fail at it with unattractive regularity. Then they still try to conceal their crimes against the cinema-going humanity with special effects and stars, in order to at least give us visual overstimulation and distract us from their fundamental flaws.
Zombies are to narrative stakes what Sriracha is for our food: it spices everything up and it goes with everything. And the closer you look, the more you realize that the vast majority of zombie movies are in fact just stories with a few splashes of zombies. As Horror is often regarded as the safest genre when it comes to getting your invested budget back as a filmmaker, a story with zombies in it allows you to tell almost any story you like: A road trip movie? Just add zombies and boom, Zombieland! A historical drama from Korea? Spice it up with some zombies and everybody around the world is getting hyped for the Netflix series Kingdom! Fill a train up with zombies and here we go for a heartwrenching and tearjerking drama like Train to Busan.
Besides their bottomless hunger for human flesh and brains, zombies are not driven by any other motivation – therefore they are very underwhelming antagonists. But their sheer mass and their lack of intelligence make them a compelling obstacle and an excellent way to spice things up in almost any genre.
That’s why we will never run out of shows that will incorporate zombies or zombie-like creatures, until even the last of us is finally fed up with high quality dramas with horror elements. But it doesn’t look like that for a very long time – or at least for a few next seasons.