Comments & Curiosities: The era of 'Zom Coms'

Do you believe in zombies? I don't.

Ghosts, yes. Zombies, no.

A person can only deal with so many paranormal issues at one time. But believe in them or not, zombies are coming to Costa Mesa, sort of. Not real zombies — movie zombies, and their fans, some of whom are wannabe zombies.

Here's how it all works. On April 28, the Newport Beach Film Festival opens at the Starlight Triangle Square Cinema in Costa Mesa, which is different, but it won't matter to the zombies. They're never sure where they are anyway.

This year's festival offers a staggering 350 films from 40 countries, but none more loopy or fun than the world premiere of "DeadHeads," a zombie comedy, and yes, there is such a thing. Actually, there is an entire genre of zombie comedies, but more on that later.

Are zombie comedies big box office? Not really, but what their fans lack in numbers, they make up for in enthusiasm. Think Trekkies or "Rocky Horror Picture Show" devotees who live for the midnight screenings of their faves and can shout every punchline in the script back at the screen.

Just days after tickets for the premiere of "DeadHeads" went on sale, it was a sell-out. It is not easy being a zombie, especially when you can barely walk and for some reason your elbows no longer work, but zombies love movies.

"DeadHeads," which has nothing to do with the Grateful Dead, was co-written and directed by two Chicago guys, Drew and Brett Pierce. This latest tale of the undead is a zombie/buddy/road trip flick about two pals who just happen to be zombies and are trying to find themselves as they navigate the twists and turns of non-life.

Both the festival and the filmmakers are expecting a brisk turnout of zombie fans from far and wide, some of them decked out in their undead finest, which brings us to the zombie comedy genre.

The first hint that audiences could find zombies both scary and funny was a 1945 film called "Zombies on Broadway." But the real seeds of zombie comedy were planted 20 years later by the father of horror-comedy, George Romero, most notably with his "Night of the Living Dead" in 1968, then "Day of the Dead" in 1978. Romero could always get an audience to jump and shriek on cue, but his early films were so cheesy that the laughs in between were as loud as the screams.

Intentional or not, the whole "do we laugh or do we scream" thing is unavoidable when you're watching onscreen zombies. Not only do zombies look goofy, but a toddler with a pull-toy and an ice cream cone could outrun them. The Romero legacy continued with remakes of "Night of the Living Dead" in 1990 then "Dawn of the Dead" in 2004, "Diary of the Dead" in 2008 and in 2009, the most inexplicable film title in history — "Survival of the Dead."

I'm sorry. How does that work exactly? If someone who is dead doesn't survive, they are, what, double-dead? Really dead? Dead again? I don't get it.

Once Hollywood realized that there was an audience for funny zombies, the floodgates were open and the genre became so popular it even got a nickname — "Zom Coms."

There was "Redneck Zombies" in 1986, then "Night of the Creeps," "Zombie Strippers," "Bio Zombie," "Tokyo Zombie," "Zombie Dearest" and "Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead." But here is the all-time funniest Zom Com title ever — "My Boyfriend's Back."

Ironically, from that totally whacked collection of films came two Zom Coms that were not only monster hits but got critical raves: "Shaun of the Dead" in 2004, with Simon Pegg and Bill Nighy, and "Zombieland" in 2009, with Woody Harrelson.

In "Shaun of the Dead," which was actually marketed as a romantic zombie comedy, or "Rom Zom Com," Shaun is a young Brit who is a lonely loser, trying hard to deal with his mom, stepfather and girlfriend but doing none of it well. He spends most of his time at the local pub, where he learns that the entire neighborhood has been set upon by zombies with, of course, no explanation.

Incredibly, it is Shaun of all people who beats them back to wherever they came from and utters this million-dollar line … "I will kill every zombie and save me mum."

You go, Shaun. If a son can't save his mum from zombies, what good is he?

It is impossible to explain "Zombieland" but we'll try. An especially virulent strain of mad cow disease has turned most humans on Earth into zombies, and for some reason people only use cities as their names.

Columbus, played by Jesse Eisenberg, is trying to fight his way back to Ohio to find his parents without being eaten by zombies. He runs into a character named Tallahasse, played by Woody Harrelson, who is bizarre even by Woody Harrelson standards and on a quest that is less noble than Columbus'. Tallahasse is also trying his best not to get eaten by zombies, but he is on a mission to find the last Twinkies on Earth.

Don't ask. If there is a zom com as funny as "Zombieland," I am unaware of it.

I think that's it. "Zombie Dearest," Twinkies and "Shaun of the Dead." If someone could just explain to me why their knees and elbows don't work, I would be grateful. Keep your doors locked. I gotta go.

PETER BUFFA is a former Costa Mesa mayor. His column runs Sundays. He may be reached at

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