Posted in Film, Writing

How to Write Horror Fiction that Incorporates Social Commentary


Watching Like a Writer is a movie review series that looks at films from the perspective of a fiction writer, complete with one writing takeaway, and an exercise that will help better your fiction!

Zombie films have been scaring audiences for decades, starting with a low-budget black-and-white film by a young hungry filmmaker who changed the face of the genre forever. Cut to today, when year after year there is plenty of entertaining zombie entertainment.

Let’s take a look at the five best zombie movies ever made…

5. 28 Days Later (2003)

Danny Boyle does it all — unlike a lot of directors who get pigeonholed in genres and make the same movie over and over, Boyle has directed one unique film after another. His sole pure horror effort to date was the icky-to-look-at but mind-blowingly awesome modern zombie classic 28 Days Later, which features Cillian Murphy, Brendon Gleason, and — gasp! — running zombies.

4. Shaun of the Dead (2004)

This is one of the few movies that works both as a horror comedy and as a genuinely thrill-packed horror film, with lots of laughs in the first half, then a good amount of scares and gory kills in the second. Directed by the great Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), this tremendously entertaining film blends plenty of terror with a romantically charged story-line. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have never been better.

3. Zombieland (2009)

While it might be cheating to put a second horror comedy on the list and not a zombie horror film in the classic sense, it just doesn’t seem right to leave this awesome, energetic, perfectly cast movie off the list. Woody Harrelson is absolutely hilarious, Jesse Eisenberg is appropriately geeky and phobic, Emma Stone is as sarcastic as she is beautiful, and Bill Murray gives one of the best movie cameos ever!

2. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

The one. The only. This movie scared the hell out of audiences in 1968 just like Psycho did in 1960 and like The Exorcist would a few years later in 1973. While the whole movie is great scary fun, it’s the opening scene that always gets me the most, planting two friends in a cemetery who just so happen to come across a flesh-eating zombie. And the ending is perfection.

1. Dawn of the Dead (1978)

No zombie movie before or since has come close to this film’s ingenious blend of action, comedy, gore, satire on American consumerism, and overall epicness. It’s long, but it never drags, with one surprising scene after another. The zombies are awesome, the main characters are wonderfully varied and drawn, and the last thirty minutes pack a wallop. Dawn of the Dead will forever be George Romero’s masterpiece.

Watching Like a Writer

The biggest takeaway from Dawn of the Dead is how successful it is at blending gory horror entertainment with a satirical look at growing consumerism. When I write my horror fiction I’m of course free to write stories for purely entertainment value, but the horror that sticks with readers and film viewers is the kind that offers subtext, the kind that goes a step further and gives the writer a take-away beyond just having been through a roller-coaster-like thrill ride.


Think of a horror story similar to Dawn of the Dead that could work as both entertainment and social commentary.

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