Invasion of the zombies: Horror fans turn to the living dead

Cinemas across the UK are about to be invaded by legions of shambling, catatonic, bug-eyed creatures. Fortunately, most will be on-screen. The zombie film, long thought dead and rotting in television's graveyard slots, has been reanimated.

More than 50 zombie films – from low-budget schlock such as Spring Break Zombie Cruise to big-budget schlock such as Resident Evil: After Life, directed by Paul Anderson and starring Milla Jovovich – are scheduled for release in the coming year; leaving the trend for vampires and werewolves in the shade.

There are comedy zombies, such as I Spit on Your Rave, which stars The Mighty Boosh's Noel Fielding; sci-fi zombies in Astro Zombie 3D, and even cartoon zombies in a film called A.D.

George A Romero, the "godfather" of the zombie genre, whose 1968 film Night of the Living Dead is credited with kickstarting the zombie myth in popular culture, returned earlier this year with Survival of the Dead and The Crazies, which he produced

The writer and film critic Colin Odell says the genre's popularity is perhaps a reflection of people's growing disconnection from other people, caused by iPods and mobile phones.

"The romantic vampire film is very bourgeois, with its affluent characters," he says. "Zombies are more about the fear of the masses. I only have to walk into Coventry and see the consumerism to be reminded of the remake of Dawn of the Dead. With our iPods and mobile phones, we are disconnected from the other people around us and zombie films tap into this sense of alienation and isolation."

Zombie expert Professor Jim Kendrick, of Baylor University in Texas, states that before Romero reanimated corpses, zombies were traditionally living people put under a spell. "It is Romero who came up with the idea of the resurrected corpse," he says. "Zombie films are popular because they're easy and cheap to make – all you need are lots of people to lumber around and some make-up. Also they're hugely popular among horror fans, perhaps as vampires and werewolves have been co-opted by the mainstream. Vampires have been made human and sexy in films such as Twilight. You can't really do that with a zombie, so they have been embraced by the horror community because they're more 'pure'."

He adds that zombies are also "malleable" – they can be played for laughs as in films such as Shaun of the Dead, written by and starring Simon Pegg, or last year's Zombieland, which starred Woody Harrelson, or made harder to emphasise shock and gore.

Alan Jones, organiser of the annual Frightfest horror film festival, which takes place in the UK every August – and the "Zombie walk" along the River Thames in London – says the horror fan community is alive with debate over the current craze for zombies.

"I think people like the idea that you can come back from the dead. There are more zombie films than you can shake a stick at, at the moment. Around 75 per cent of the films sent to us are zombie movies. I think the film Colin (made in 2008 for just £50) showed how easy it is to make these films very cheaply. The zombie film we're showing this year, The Dead, is a little different: it's set in South Africa and has political undercurrents."

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

The unusual craze for rewriting classics with added zombie zest has given rise to this take on Austen's comedy of manners. Natalie Portman has reportedly signed up as Elizabeth Bennet in another zom-romcom in production.

Shaun of the Dead

Simon Pegg's 2004 zom-romcom proved that the stumbling people-eaters could be played for laughs, and has spawned a thousand imitators.

The Crazies

George A Romero is still churning out zombie films. He produced this offering, released earlier this year, in which neighbours in a small Iowa town turn on each other.

Survival of the Dead

Why change a winning formula? Romero again, this time the inhabitants of an island off the coast of North America fight off zombies while trying to find a cure for their zombie relatives. It was released in March.

The Dead

Flesh-eaters hiding in the African bush are out to scoff American actor Rob Freeman whose plane has crashed. The film is seen as a big break for the Ghanaian actor Prince David Osei.

Set in South Africa, it has political undercurrents and will be premiered at the UK's Frightfest in August.

Condition Dead

Saving Private Ryan with zombies, according to Patrick Lussier, the director of this flick about a group of government specialists who are called into action when zombies rise from the dead. Due for release next year.

Night of the Living Dead

Granddaddy of the zombie genre, George A Romero's low-budget black-and-white classic was released in 1968 and established zombies in popular culture as resurrected dead people, created by fallout from a crashed satellite.

I Spit on Your Rave

Noel Fielding is king of the zombies in this comedy horror which holds the record for most zombies on film – 4,026. A music festival is organised for zombies after they have wiped out humanity. Due out next year.

First Platoon

Another zomcom, this time starring Malcolm McDowell. Former soldiers take out pockets of the undead in the American desert two years after a zombie apocalypse. It is currently in production.

Resident Evil: Afterlife

Paul WS Anderson's franchise just won't die. The $60m fourth film in the series – originally inspired by a video game – stars Milla Jovovich, who takes on the undead in Los Angeles following sabotage at a top secret chemical plant. Released in the UK in September.