OUTSIDE OF MONKEYS, pirates, and possibly ninjas, is there anything more played out than zombies? Once one of the most metaphorically charged conceits in all of horrordom, the concept of the walking dead has long been run into the ground by sheer repetition. The image of Grandma back from the grave will always carry a bit of a charge, granted, but when even George Romero seems to be running on fumes, it may be time for the genre to shamble over to the corner and have some quiet time.

Or, you know, maybe not. The new horror comedy Zombieland somehow rises above the Hot Topic-ization of its subject matter and becomes an absolute, occasionally surreal hoot. Beginning with the best credit sequence of the year, director Ruben Fleischer's film follows a dweeb (Jesse Eisenberg) whose Warcraft expertise and lack of social skills serve him well during the zombie apocalypse. Teaming with Woody Harrelson's psychotic, garden-tool-festooned loner, the duo head, to Hollywood, location of a rumored zombie-free zone.

Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, previously responsible for the mock reality show The Joe Schmoe Show, clearly came up with the punch lines first and the connective tissue later—but the loose, episodic feel serves the material well, with numerous well-orchestrated moments of splatstick mixing with one or two genuine jolts. (Note for the phobic: one involves clowns.) It's difficult to talk much more about the film without divulging the identity of its super-secret guest star, who walks in halfway through and evokes one of those cartoons where Daffy Duck would stop the action and browbeat his producers. Suffice it to say that the appearance transforms a sloppy, charmingly gooshy flick into one of the most unexpectedly entertaining movies in recent memory. Now let it die, already.