Tallahassee, Columbus, Wichita, and Little Rock had been wandering a post-apocalyptic landscape for almost a decade before Double Tap gave us the chance to catch up with our favourite dysfunctional family.
Ruben Fleischer’s 2009 horror-comedy harnessed that elusive lightning-in-a-bottle formula which makes this genre fusion such a difficult one to achieve, let alone replicate ten-years-later.
The title Zombieland: Double Tap refers to Rule #2 from the list Jesse Eisenberg’s Columbus created to keep himself alive. The Double Tap reminds him to unload a second shot to a zombie’s head. Never assume that it’s dead. The same could be said of this franchise, with the further adventures of the Twinkie tweakers in pre-production limbo for years. Thankfully never receiving its own Double Tap.
So we thought we’d use the rules laid out by Columbus to try and get to the bottom of why Zombieland joins an elusive group of horror-comedies, alongside Shaun of the Dead, One Cut of the Dead, An American Werewolf in London, and The Evil Dead, to set the heart racing (Rule #1: Cardio) and tickle that funny bone (Rule #32: Enjoy the Little Things) at the same time.
Rule #5: No Attachments
Of all the rules on the Zombieland list, ‘No Attachments’ is the one to ignore when it comes to making a successful horror-comedy. You can have all of the gross-out-gags or comedic blood splatter you like, but if you don’t care about those being pursued by the undead, then the audience is going to become as brain-dead as the shuffling spectres.
The stylistic flourishes of on-screen titles and hilarious slow-motion shots which made you sit up and take notice back in 2009, wouldn’t be reason alone for fans to clamour for a sequel after all these years. Zombieland was always about the relationships, the attachments.
Much in the same way Shaun of the Dead had Shaun and Ed, and Shaun and Liz, or An American Werewolf in London presented two affable friends, before literally ripping them apart, Zombieland ensures that it establishes dynamics between its characters that are as important to care about as they are to laugh at. This leads us nicely onto….
Rule #8: Get a Kick-Ass Partner
The meet-cute between Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg on that deserted freeway is physical comedy at its finest. Columbus is all suitcase pulling neuroses, while Tallahassee emits the same steely front as his suped up car. No words are exchanged between the two, but the way in which it flits between tense stand-off and belly-laugh inducing tics is symptomatic of the brilliant way in which the film walks that fine line between serious and silly.
Rule #14: Always Carry a Change of Underwear
Zombieland had clearly listened to the rules laid out by Jamie Kennedy’s Randy in one of the defining films of the genre, Wes Craven’s Scream, when establishing its own set of survival dos and don’ts. Treating the viewer with a level of respect that acknowledges the fact they’re potentially fatigued by numerous horror tropes, let alone multiple re-watches of the George A. Romero classics, ensures that Ruben Fleischer’s comedy remains one step ahead of a knowing audience.
However, you can be as smart as you like, but you still need to be able to deliver the occasional underwear Malteser, or watch-through-fingers scene for an audience who’ve just been laughing their heads off. Conflicting emotions delivered within a heartbeat of one another are the moments that truly elevate a horror-comedy above the also-rans of the genre.
Zombieland is infested with such moments: chuckle as the bloody-faced neighbourhood girls cling to the getaway van of a soccer-mom, only for ‘Rule #4: Wear a Seatbelt’ to come into effect as she bounces down the road on her face. Ooof! Or giggle as Columbus reveals how he has always wanted to brush a girl’s hair over her ear while comforting his hot-neighbour, only for her to go full-on vomiting Evil Dead in one of the film’s most disturbing sequences.
Rule #32: Enjoy the Little Things
Zombieland is a clear example of ‘come for the scares, stay for the heart’ storytelling. You might wince at the inventive methods by which they dispatch of the zombies, or laugh at the multitude of ways that people fall victim to the undead, but the moments that stay with you are the character driven ones. Tallahassee’s Twinkie, Columbus and Wichita sharing a bottle of wine and ‘firsts’, or Bill Murray.
It appears that the foundation to making a successful horror comedy lays in the creation of likeable and memorable characters: Ash Williams, Sean and Ed, the entire ensemble, but particularly Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford from The Cabin in the Woods, David and Jack from Werewolf, and more recently Samara Weaving’s stellar turn in Ready or Not.
With this in mind, let’s hope it’s not another decade before we get to hang out and bust zombie brain with Tallahassee and Co. again, but in the meantime you can watch Zombieland: Double Tap, available to Download & Keep on 10 February and own on DVD, Blu-ray™ & 4K Ultra HD™ on 24 February.