As the author of The Zombie Survival Guide and the recent zombie-invasion novel World War Z, Max Brooks is the ideal person to answer the question of why the zombie genre is so popular. "The genre cannot exist outside of the apocalyptic," he says. "Since we are living in times of great uncertainty, zombies are a safe way of exploring our own anxiety about the end of the world."
Brooks was just 12 years old when he saw his first zombie movie. "I saw [George A Romero's] Night of the Living Dead. The idea of a creature that was driven by pure instinct to kill, eat and multiply scared the hell out of me."
Paramount Pictures may now make a film of World War Z. "It is a deadly serious oral history of a future conflict with an invading force of zombies," he says.
Brooks has now chosen five films as part of the Barbican's short zombie season, including two from Japan. "The Japanese don't make the best - but perhaps they make the craziest," he says. Wild Zero (2000), directed by Tetsuro Takeuchi, follows the fate of a rock band after a meteor strike results in aliens attacking the earth and turning people into zombies. Ryuhei Kitamura's Versus (2000) is a yakuza-themed movie with martial-arts action.
Brooks has also chosen an Irish film, Conor McMahon's Dead Meat (2004), in which a mutant strain of mad cow disease defiles the countryside with living corpses.
Naturally, Romero's classics Night of the Living Dead (1968) - zombies attack a remote farmhouse -and Dawn of the Dead (1978) - set in a shopping mall - will rear their ugly heads. "No one can replace Romero," says Brooks. "He was the first, and there can only be one first."
He regrets, however, that the season doesn't include Lucio Fulci's Zombie. "A zombie fights a shark - how cool is that?"
14-18 November (020-7638 8891; www.barbican.org.uk)
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