I like Zombies!
Before you say, not another one, let me explain. I am not some bandwagon jumper. My love affair with the undead can trace its roots way back to the Eighties, when zombies were just a Halloween B-Movie marathon and that was your only shot at seeing a movie about them. And, you only got one movie, and what a movie it was! ‘Night of the Living Dead’ by none other than George A. Romero.
This was more than just some horror movie. It was a social commentary about the very nature of humanity on par with ‘Planet of the Apes’. With all the mindless gore and saturation in zombie movies today you might find that hard to believe, but like with any great idea, it gets run into the ground.
But, why is Romero’s zombies the pinnacle of horror in my book? Simple. It fulfilled a number or prerequisites of the genre. Firstly, it offered a stark commentary on the times. Coming out in the late Sixties, it struck a chord with the people living under the threat of the Red Scare, but more importantly, our country was in turmoil. Tension between the races were at one of their highest points. The hippie movement had the youth trusting no one over the age of thirty. People over the age of thirty trusted no one. Vietnam had our country torn apart with protests over the war. Literally, America was a powder keg just waiting to explode. Secondly, it scared the pants off you. Nuff said.
Then, comes this low budget movie that portrays all this under the allegory of the dead coming back to ‘life’. Romero not only addressed all these issues, but gave us a protagonist unlike we’d ever seen before. He cast an African American in the lead role, something unheard of at that time. With the world going to hell around them, our band of survivors should have been more than ready to work together, but mimicking the real world that just didn’t happen. Mirroring the racial tensions of the times, our hero had to combat not only the zombies threatening them, but one of the very people that should have been working with him to save their lives.
That was one issue down. Romero didn’t stop there. He went on to show us the tension between those of us who wanted to take an isolationist view of dealing with the world situation surrounding our country, and those who wanted to boldly face the problems assaulting not only our country but the world we lived in. except for Star Trek on television, I can’t think of any other pop cultural icon that did that in such a way that was accepted by nearly everyone who viewed it. True, I believe that some of the more hesitant viewers didn’t even realize it was happening. That is the amazing thing about really good fiction. It has a subliminal quality to it that touches us in ways we never know about.
Romero went on to address the question of humanity in two more zombie epics, ‘Day of the Dead’ and ‘Dawn of the Dead’. Each to me can be seen as stand alone stories, or taken all together as a continuation of ‘Night of the Living Dead’. However you view them, they are indictments of us as a race and offer a glimmer of hope, that even in death we can be redeemed.
Since Romero opened the door, the zombie virus has evolved or mutated, if you will. The Eighties saw it as simply fodder for cheap entertainment producing such movies as ‘Return of the Living Dead’, ‘Night of the Comet’ and ‘Night of the Creeps’, just to name a few. The Nineties saw a reemergence of zombies not in movies but in video games with ‘Resident Evil’. This opened the door not for social commentary but political commentary. What if zombies weren’t some supernatural sentence placed upon humanity by God, or a form of aliens sweeping the earth clean for their nefarious needs, but something the government that is supposed to serve and protect us cooked up in some secret laboratory? This offered a more sinister aspect to the subgenre.
More recently movies such as ’28 Days Later’ and ‘World War Z’ have built upon this premise to offer something more frightening for us to consider. Could a zombie apocalypse truly happen? I say yes, but I’m weird that way.
The television show ‘The Walking Dead’ has done more to bring zombies into the mainstream than anything else. I have been a fan of the comics for years before AMC saw fit to make my dreams come true. What has made ‘The Dead’ such a hit? It took what Romero gave us with ‘Night of the Living Dead’ and showed us that even in the face of unbelievable horror humanity is redeemable. It isn’t who has the most guns or biggest fortress who will win. It is those of us who retain our humanity and don’t give in to our baser instincts that will survive, because we will work together and remake this world into what it once was, or perhaps, something even better.
I couldn’t leave it at that without mentioning a couple movies that touch me on my comedic funny bone. ‘Shaun of the Dead’ and ‘Zombieland’ make fun of the genre by making fun of us normal humans trying to make it out of those movies alive. Someone once said — don’t ask me who, because I’m crap when it comes to remembering things like that — ‘Life is the one thing that you’ll never make it out of alive’.
So next time life is giving you grief, remember that it could be worse. Instead of glittering like a Cullen and being ultra cool, you could be a shambling walker with a crosshairs on your brain pan. That sort of puts things in perspective doesn’t it?
So as I sign off, let me assure you that if there is a zombie apocalypse I am ready for it, and will Shane you in a heartbeat if it comes to me or you.
Happy Reading and Happy Halloween,