Who’s Cashing in on the Zombie, Vampire Craze

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LOS ANGELES (TheStreet) -- Do you shriek when a doctor pricks your finger for blood work, but swoon at the thought of Robert Pattinson draining your capillaries? Do you wish your home was a few stories higher just in case the dead come back to life?

No? Congratulations, you're the last normal human being on Earth among hordes of horror nerds and bloodthirsty romantics. In case you've been too busy playing with troll dolls and collecting angels to notice, vampires and zombies have been locked in a pop culture death match lately -- with corporations and Hollywood studios struggling to catch up. It's not just your brains and blood they want, but every dollar and waking minute you have left.

"Vampires represent a kind of classic female nerd fantasy: Pale stranger walks into your world, takes you away from your apartment full of cat hair into a world of sexy darkness," says Jake Swearingen, author of Diary of the Living Dead or: Are You There God? It's Me. Also, a Bunch of Zombies. "Zombies are a flip side of that, but for dudes: the zombie apocalypse takes you away from your job at GameStop (Stock Quote: GME) into a world of gun-toting alpha male."

In both cases, the nerds have gone all-in. Stephenie Meyer's Twilight (Little, Brown Young Readers 2006) book series has sold more than 70 million copies worldwide. The movie adaptation from Sony's (Stock Quote: SNY) Summit Entertainment has raked in more than $380 million worldwide, adding $161 million in DVD sales.

The first season of HBO's decidedly less prudish True Blood, which earned three Emmy nominations for its portrayal of sultry Southern bloodsuckers, has sold 1.3 million copies on DVD and Blu-ray discs. The show has inspired a blood-orange drink, which leaves less of a smudge on Dracula's cape than the forthcoming Twilight line of beauty products launching just before the New Moon sequel opens in theaters in November. The CW hopes to squeeze a few dollars out of fang mania when it turns The Vampire Diaries into a show this month.

While zombies aren't as fashion conscious as vampires, they're surprisingly literate. Max Brooks' World War Z, a journal of a zombie apocalypse, went for readers' brains by combining Studs Terkel's The Good War with the George Romero films Night of The Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead before selling 600,000 copies.

The more lighthearted mashup of Jane Austen and the undead, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Quirk Books 2009), has 750,000 copies in print and has inspired other monstrous remakes including Mr. Darcy, Vampyre (Sourcebooks Landmark 2009) and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters (Quirk Books 2009). Romero released his latest film Diary of the Dead in 2008 and the Norwegian Nazi zombie film Dead Snow and Woody Harrelson's comedy Zombieland will shuffle in this year.

"While there isn't a charisma or specific personality to latch onto, as there are in vampire films, it's not about that," says J. Cannibal, host of the bi-annual zombie film night "Feast of Flesh" in Brookline, Mass. "At root, what we love about zombies isn't so much the creatures themselves but the challenges they pose to our own existence"

Such is the case in video games, where exploding zombies oozing pus helped Electronic Arts' (Stock Quote: ERTS) survival shooter sold nearly 3 million copies and followed in the lumbering footsteps of other zombie franchises like Capcom's Resident Evil and Dead Rising and Sega's House of the Dead. However, it was the much less violent realization "zombies is dumb" that made Plants vs. Zombies PopCap Games' fastest-selling game.

"There is no question that the popularity of the game hinges on zombies," says Garth Chouteau, vice president of public relations for PopCap Games. "If it was 'Plants vs. Aliens,' people may have played, but the zombies draw people into the game."

Much like their namesakes, the zombie and vampire genres have proven extremely tricky to kill. The taste of vampire blood has run hot and cold since the days of Bela Lugosi, tracing its pulse through TV offerings like Dark Shadows and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and movies like the Corey-heavy The Lost Boys. The zombie march of Romero's films, the Evil Dead series and even comedies like Dead Alive were nearly decapitated by subpar schlock in the mid-80s before it was reanimated by fast-running zombie flicks like 28 Days Later and comedies like Shaun of the Dead.

"I think it helps that major-market zombie projects lately have veered toward comedy, like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which makes the whole thing a lot more palatable for a lot of people," Swearingen says. "That said, I think a certain kind of exhaustion is settling in, with zombies becoming kind of a too-easy joke."

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