This year, zombies have shuffled their way into public consciousness as never before -- the Oct. 14 Season 3 premiere of The Walking Dead attracted nearly 11 million viewers -- so, in honor of Halloween we're offering the unbitten a guide to the zombie essentials. Here are the best zombie-themed movies, books and TV.
1. Night of the Living Dead (1969) -- Though George Romero has turned films about zombies into a cottage industry, his first is still the best. This low-budget, black-and-white scarefest -- in a which a group of the living huddle in a farmhouse under attack by the dead -- sketched the blueprint for many zombie and horror films to follow. That, like Invasion of the Body Snatchers a decade earlier, it can be seen as a metaphor for social upheaval (the Vietnam War, racial tension) adds an extra dimension to its terror.
2. Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Dawn of the Dead (2004) -- As much as I like the original (which was Romero's sequel to Night of the Living Dead) and as much I prefer Romero's slow flesh-eaters over the undead Usain Bolts you get in the remake, Zack Snyder's version bristles with a combustible energy. And he does it without destroying the underlying message about soul-deadening consumerism.
3. 28 Days Later (2002) and 28 Weeks Later (2007) -- It's hard to pick between Danny Boyle's jumpy Days and Juan Carlos Fresnadillo's relentlessly grim follow-up. In both, England has been emptied of humanity by a virus that turns people into ravenous monsters and it's up to a few surviving souls (including Jeremy Renner in Weeks) to make the world right again.
4. Shaun of the Dead (2004), Zombieland (2009) and Juan of the Dead (2011) -- Who knew zombie movies could be funny? In all three, a nerd -- Simon Pegg in Shaun, Jesse Eisenberg in Zombieland and Cuba's Alexis Diaz de Villegas in Juan -- become reluctant, and often comic, heroes when they have to lead the battle against the hungry hordes. Juan carries extra weight as it was shot on the streets of Havana and is a sly commentary on Cuban politics.
5. Dead Snow (2009) -- What's worse than a zombie? A Nazi zombie, of course. As a group of vacationing Norwegian med students find out when they arrive at an isolated mountain cabin for a ski weekend.
1. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War (2006) -- Inspired by both Romero and Studs Turkel's The Good War: An Oral History of WWII, Max Brooks' novel uses a variety of points-of-view to paint a portrait of a world gone zombie. Brad Pitt and Matthew Fox are set to star in the movie coming in 2013.
2. The Walking Dead Book One (2006) -- What is now a hit TV show began life as a series of graphic novels by Robert Kirkman. If you're at all a fan of the show, it's time to start at the beginning. And if you can't get enough of reading about Walking Dead the series, a new magazine for print and digital was announced this week.
3. The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead (2003) -- Before penning World War Z, Brooks wrote this instruction manual for the end times that includes such sage advice as "use your head, cut off theirs" and "ideal protection = tight clothes, short hair."
4. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2009) -- This bestseller from Seth Grahame-Smith (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) transformed Jane Austen's watercress-sandwich of a novel into something just a bit more visceral.
1. The Walking Dead (2010-present) -- There really is only one show that's all zombie all the time. After a somewhat slow second season, the third season so far -- with our plucky survivors taking over a prison they thought was abandoned -- is like being pushed head first into a buzzsaw. 8 p.m. Sundays, AMC.
2. Talking Dead (2011-present) -- The Walking Dead has spawned its own talk show. Hosted by Chris Hardwick, it features WD stars and show runners and the occasional Hollywood fan like Patton Oswald or Kevin Smith. 10 p.m. Sundays, AMC.