By Christopher Campbell
Publisher Quirk Books and author Seth Grahame-Smith have come up with the best way to make a literary work more accessible since the creation of Classics Illustrated comic books: they’ve added “all-new scenes of bone crunching zombie action” to Jane Austen’s 19th century novel Pride and Prejudice. This new version, out in stores this May, is titled Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance – Now With Ultraviolent Mayhem! And if you didn’t think it was a masterpiece before, chances are you will now.
Could we do the same thing to classic films? Well, the technology to add extraneous enhancements to movies exists. Just check out The Curious Case of Benjamin Button for proof. But like Pride and Prejudice, we’d need to “enhance” films in the public domain if we wanted to get away with it. Fortunately, there are hundreds of such titles, some of which actually already have zombies (Night of the Living Dead, White Zombie, Revolt of the Zombies, and in a way the “scientific” film Experiments in the Revival of Organisms).
Avoiding the majority of public domain movies already consisting of horror and science fiction elements, we’ve come up with ten great classic films that would be even greater with the addition of zombies.
New title: Mutinous Zombies of the Battleship Potemkin
Synopsis: A Soviet cinema masterpiece, Eisenstein’s film depicts the 1905 uprising of zombies on the titular vessel against the oppressive officers of the Tsarist regime. It begins when soldiers aboard the Potemkin are forced to eat rotten, maggot-infested meat, which turns the men into mutinous zombies. Later, the city of Odessa becomes overwhelmed with undead citizens and the Tsarist military is sent in to massacre them. In the end, though, even the soldiers are converted. Other Eisenstein films, particularly October, may also appropriately receive similar special zombie editions.
New title: The General and the Zombies
Synopsis: Buster Keaton’s greatest silent blockbuster is kind of like the Shaun of the Dead of its time. The film begins with Keaton’s character losing his girlfriend due to his inability to prove he’s not a coward and a bum, but then by happenstance he ends up a hero and, most importantly, salvages his relationship in the process. In this special edition, Johnnie Gray still has to rescue his train (and his girlfriend) from the Union army, but now those Northern spies are zombies. Like the title character in Shaun of the Dead, Johnnie must in one new scene impersonate a zombie in order to fool them. The stone-faced Keaton is a natural for this masquerade, but of course then soldiers on his side mistake him for being a Union zombie, with hilarious consequences.
Abraham Lincoln (D.W. Griffith, 1930)
New title: Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies
Synopsis: Griffith’s biopic about the 16th President of the United States was filled with historical inaccuracies when first released almost 80 years ago. The main complaint? Griffith left out Lincoln’s triumphant one-man battle against a Confederate brigade made up completely of zombie soldiers (yep, the South had them, too). Now, in a special edition release timed to coincide with Honest Abe’s 200th birthday, scenes depicting that battle, as well as a new ending, in which Lincoln recommends the enslavement of zombies, because they are not technically men and therefore are not guaranteed Constitutional freedom, are included. Also, on the DVD: a bonus behind-the-scenes supplement featuring a still-undead Lincoln zombie overseeing the restoration; an exclusive look at Lincoln’s famous stovepipe hat, which he wore to keep zombies from getting at his brains.
New title: At the Zombie Circus
Synopsis: The Marx Brothers’ films were crazy enough without the addition of zombies, but this late episode from Groucho, Harpo and Chico just wasn’t anarchic enough for their fans. So, now the plot involving the stolen money has been eliminated and the film consists of the three Marx boys trying to stay alive inside a circus tent filled with zombies. There’s a strong man zombie, a dwarf zombie, and then there’s Margaret Dumont, who is so dull Groucho thinks she’s a zombie. Or maybe he just stabs her in the brain for fun?
New title: His Girl Zombie
Synopsis: Despite the new title, Rosalind Russell is never turned into a zombie. Rather, the zombies are merely in the background, causing even more fast-paced hysterics (yes, they’re the quick sort of zombies that are all the “rage” these days). Actually, at one point Ralph Bellamy’s character is thought to be a zombie, but then it’s realized that as much as he appears to be the walking dead, he’s just too slow to be one of the zombies running around outside the courthouse. Again, His Girl Zombie has something in common with Shaun of the Dead (not to mention Twister), in that it’s another story in which a couple attempts to separate but is thrust back together during a chaotic event.
New title: Angel and the Badman and the Zombies
Synopsis: In this early precursor to the ‘80s Harrison Ford classic Witness Zombies, John Wayne plays a shootist and womanizer who is wounded near a Quaker family home. Brought in and nursed back to health, he attempts to tame himself after falling for a young Quaker woman. But his desire to become a pacifist is made difficult when brain-hungry zombies attack the house, and he must choose to either commit himself to the Quaker ways and “die” with his new religious society of friends, or go out and kick some zombie ass.
New title: Z.O.A.
Synopsis: The film begins with Frank Bigelow, filmed from behind, entering a police station to report that he’s been murdered. The reason he is able to do this is not because he’s not yet died from the poison; it’s because he is a zombie, which we finally discover when the camera finally shows us his face. The film then goes to flashback and details the events that lead to Bigelow’s zombification. After the back-story is complete, the film returns to the scene in the police station, where cops proceed to shoot Bigelow in the head. His file is then marked “Z.O.A.,” meaning “zombie on arrival.”
New title: Zombie Wedding
Synopsis: Fred Astaire and Jane Powell star as a brother and sister song and dance duo in this musical classic, which features two of Astaire’s most famous scenes. “Zombie Jumps” has him dancing first with a coat rack, then with a corpse, Weekend at Bernie’s-style. The latter of these objects ends up coming to life, a metaphor for Astaire’s famous ability to animate the inanimate. In “You’re All Zombies to Me,” Astaire playfully escapes from the zombie he’s created by dancing on the walls and ceiling of a room.
New title: Beat the Devil and the Zombies
Synopsis: It’s been called the first camp movie, but unfortunately it wasn’t the first camp zombie movie. That all changes now with newly added scenes in which Humphrey Bogart and a great ensemble of character actors, including Peter Lorre, must fight off zombies while killing time at an Italian port. It’s very likely that Huston and co-screenwriter Truman Capote would have no problem with this additional subplot. Anyone familiar with the background of the film knows its makers didn’t take it seriously in the least. Actually, let’s just go ahead and add zombies into every section of the film. Zombies on the boat, zombies in Africa, zombies everywhere. Heck, make Bogie a zombie due to a lack of money. After all, as his character sets it up with the line, “I’ve got to have money. Doctor’s orders are that I must have a lot of money, otherwise I become dull, listless and have trouble with my complexion.”
New title: It’s a Zombie Life
Synopsis: On Christmas Eve, George Bailey wishes he were a zombie. But before he can find another zombie to bite him, an angel comes down from Heaven and shows him what his life would be like if he were undead. Zombie George infects the whole town of Bedford Falls, all except the wealthy Mr. Potter, who manages to take over the town by enslaving and exploiting the zombified citizens. In the end, George realizes that he’s better off simply shooting himself in the head so that he can’t possibly become a zombie. (Note: It’s a Wonderful Life is actually no longer in the public domain, but we just couldn’t not include it).