Finally finished the third and hopefully final (for now) draft of Dark Future this weekend. Despite taking forever to get it finished, I didn't rewrite that much in the end. I added a couple of extra scenes and cut a couple of unnecessary ones, but mostly it was an overall dialogue polish.
Part of the reason it took me so long is that I was toying with the idea of changing the script completely. This was partly due to recently seeing Flight of the Living Dead, Diary of the Dead and the rather excellent [REC] in that order (and also in that order of quality). What I realised from seeing those films was that I really didn't care about zombies anymore. The genre had been fairly limited to begin with and now even Romero had seemingly failed to do anything interesting with it. And while I do think [REC] was brilliant and innovative, I found the set up and creatures as tedious as ever - we've all seen zombie films, we're not surprised when the dead bodies get up for the tenth time. But the characters have to be surprised because in real life we would be too, and that's really the essence of the problem. While there's a case for arguing that similar sub-genres of horror such as the vampire film have managed to sustain itself over the years through constant innovation (The Hunger, Near Dark, Blade etc.) I can't say that's true of the zombie film. Which is a problem when you're asked to write one.
Back when I was asked to work on the film the first thing I did was read a lot about zombie films and the origins of the creature in Haitian folklore, and then watch as many of the films as I could. I saw a lot of bad films, and didn't really learn anything more than I already knew - essentially the only zombie films worth watching are White Zombie (the 1932 Bela Lugosi film), Plague of the Zombies (the 1966 Hammer film and my personal favourite) and Romero's first three films (which I don't think have lost any of their power over the years). There are odd films of note - some of the European zombie films (Zombie Flesh Eaters, the Blind Dead series) are worth seeing for their innovative use of gore and occasionally interesting ideas, the Romero re-makes aren't bad (Savini's Night of the Living Dead has some nice moments and Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead was a solid film), and even 28 Days Later which I personally never got on with, at least tried to do something a bit different with the genre. But really the only ones that you need to see, as in they would go on one of those daft list things like 1000 films to see before you die, are the five I mentioned first. At least I thought that was the case until I saw two films by Andrew Parkinson - I, Zombie and Dead Creatures.
Although they suffer from extremely low budgets Parkinson's two films were the first I'd seen that tried to do anything truly different with the genre. While Romero's zombies can be seen to represent the decay of civilised society, Parkinson's films were much more concerned with the decay of the civilised individual. I, Zombie tells the story of one man struggling to cope with the fact that's literally falling to pieces, Dead Creatures tells a similar story but this time about a group of women who are similarly afflicted. Bleak, challenging and original, Parkinson's films are the best thing that came out of my research into the zombie film and I only hope he goes on to make more films.
The effect this research had on the Dark Future script was to make it the first script I've ever written completely to the specification of the director. I toyed with the idea of crossing the traditional Romero-esque story with some of the I, Zombie ideas and having the main characters in a state of constant decay whilst also fighting for their lives. I also considered bringing in some of the ideas from the Resident Evil series and having the virus evolve beyond the walking dead into mutant creature territory (speaking of which I do think the first Resident Evil film is underrated - it's not a masterpiece and nowhere near as good as any of the other films mentioned here, but the creepy atmosphere and practical gore effects made it watchable. Also it was the first time we'd seen zombies on screen for a long time - without Resident Evil I doubt the zombie revival of the last few years would ever have happened). I included a bit of mutation in the script, but in the end both these ideas would have increased the budget and I was having trouble fitting them into the story we'd already decided on.
So I decided instead to put originality to one side for a moment and concentrate on writing a solid, entertaining horror film. Glenn had spent a lot of time on the synopsis meaning it had good characters and a nice structure before I'd even looked at it. The rest came out of discussions we had about the film. And in the end I think it works as a straightforward horror film - it's fast-paced, the characters are interesting and there's a lot of zombie action. Anyway, it's out of my hands now, although I haven't ruled out the probability of working on more drafts in the future. It's a script that will need a lot of time and money to film so it all depends on being able to get funding, but Ross is taking the idea to Cannes along with several others I might be working on, so hopefully I'll have some news in the next couple of weeks.
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