AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” which premiered Oct. 31 and was green lit for a second season yesterday, is not your usual zombie shoot-em-up, race for survival. Instead, it’s an unnerving, lingering portrait of survivors and the deceased that eats away at your mind.
The show starts off with Deputy Sheriff Rick Grimes getting out of his car on a deserted road. As the camera follows in front of him and keeps a close, tight shot, the viewer slowly sees the extent of the desolation of unoccupied cars lying dead in the middle of nowhere.
Then there’s a faint noise.
The sheriff drops to the ground to look under the cars and sees two pale, dirtied legs shuffling forward with fluffy slippers flecked with dirt. A hand drops down into the shot and picks up a teddy bear.
You think it’s a sign that whoever this person is, she’s definitely cognizant — not dead but possibly stunned or starving.
Grimes gets up and calls out to what appears to be a lost little girl. She stops.
Slowly she turns around to reveal she’s one of the walking dead; a zombie. The flesh to the side of her mouth has been torn away to reveal her exposed and rotting teeth. The sound of her sucking in the saliva and groaning can be heard right before she shuffles forward, arms outstretched as if gesturing for a hug.
Needless to say, he’s forced to shoot her and leaves the audience stunned right before the opening credits start.
Seeing a little girl as a zombie isn’t the terrifying aspect of this scene if you’re a seasoned zombie fan. In fact, the most recent “Dawn of the Dead,” which played right before the premiere of “The Walking Dead,” in one scene had a baby born a zombie.
But the show’s creator Frank Darabont takes care to give the girl and other zombies a vestige of humanity. All the while, the living must grapple and struggle with this hellish nightmare.
Some of you may know Darabont’s other works, such as “The Shawshank Redemption” or “The Green Mile.” Those are both emotional tours de force, but they aren’t horror films.
That’s where Darabont is playing on his home turf with this new series. He doesn’t pull any zombie babies to pop out and scare you in the first episode. He sticks to the hallmarks of classic terror from movies such as “Night of the Living Dead,” with solid human elements coupled with undead gore to forever haunt you.
Take a look at entries in the current zombie genre and you may notice that the faster, more agile zombies are in everything from “28 Days Later” to the game “Left 4 Dead.” This newer zombie isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There’s definitely a terror to accidentally setting off a car alarm that alerts a screaming, raging horde of zombies sprinting toward you — but that’s not “The Walking Dead.”
One of the first looks that viewers get of a real zombie is the upper torso of a woman pulling herself through an empty park on a sunny day — hardly fast or deadly. The horror comes from watching as her entrails drag behind her, flesh rotting, thinning hair hanging over her decomposed face as she tries to grasp at Grimes.
And the camera takes its sweet time to remain on that image until you realize this was once a living human being who’s been stripped of dignity, awareness and emotion. All that remains is half of her body, a ceaseless cannibalistic desire and maybe the occasional vestigial memories.
The whole series is the exact opposite of the modern horror that pops out and scares you. Instead, it won’t let you sleep because your mind keeps going back to the details of that woman n the park or the girl with her teddy bear.