Body Count: Volume 2
I was recently asked to write a horror script that would be produced by a local group that’s trying the Sam Raimi/Robert Rodriguez means of raising money for real features by making schlocky b-pictures as a revenue source. They’re hell bent on producing a zombie picture because everyone seems to have a boner for zombies these days. I also recently wrote an article in praise of Robert Kirkman’s bleak-as-hell but amazing zombie horror comic, The Walking Dead, and in the process of putting it all together, it occurred to me that even though I had spent 1,500 words praising the weight of the book’s setting, characterizations and art, I was absolutely sick to death of zombies. Aren’t you?
I posed the question to my Twitter pool. Have zombies jumped the shark? Rather, if you follow Lucio Fulci’s logic, have zombies eaten the shark? The net result was a casual dismissal of the notion of zombies getting old. As bored as I am with dreary apocalypse stories and gory but silly riffs on the Dead Alive (aka Braindead) routine, there’s still a ravenous legion of fans out there that will watch anything zombie related. My ho-hum review of the recent Norwegian hype festival, Dead Snow, stoked the ire of many zombie fans who couldn’t believe that I wasn’t balls out ecstatic over it because, hey! Nazi zombies, dude! You love zombies!
This is, in fact, inaccurate. Everyone assumes that because I run a website dedicated to horror movies (another inaccuracy), that I’m automatically dedicated to the genre because they happen to be the flavor of the month, or decade depending on how you look at it. There are certainly reasons for zombies being so popular now. Waves of social and cultural symbolism bring certain monsters in and out of fashion all the time, but the zombie and everything that it represents has a certain post-industrial revolution vibe that will forever be relevant. Rampant, mindless consumerism, our innate mob mentality and an ever widening generation gap that threatens to consume the establishment are a series of concepts that have been around since the 60’s and are more or less here to stay. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that we, as horror fans, have to tolerate the sea of cut-rate bullshit that saturates the present horror market. Even George Romero can’t seem to pull out anything fresh or original these days and he’s the guy who started this whole mess! Did you actually see Diary of the Dead? What the fuck was that all about? Land of the Dead practically punches you in the face repeatedly with its ham-fisted message about class warfare! There’s a festering pit of garbage out there with its hand in the cookie jar, a whole cottage industry of zombie horror or zombie-derivative horror that has its merits but is mostly a flawed old whore.
I find myself occasionally captivated by a fresh take on the very tired formula and even though my belief is firm that all the good zombie movies have been made, I’m always happy to find myself proven wrong from time to time when I find something that I haven’t seen before. Case in point, Shaun of the Dead. Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg genuinely understand the zombie movie. They made a movie that was, at its heart, a love story and put the focus, for the most part, on the lengths that Shaun would go to win back the love of his girlfriend, Liz. The zombies were simply a catalyst for a series of extremely funny situations and a means of getting from Shaun and Ed’s apartment to the Winchester. And somewhere in the third act, the movie loses the funny and becomes an actual zombie horror movie.
If you look hard enough online, you can find a pilot for a TV show that nearly had a network run called Babylon Fields, which put people in a situation similar to The Rapture where suddenly the dead came back to life but rather than clawing at your doors and windows with a hunger for your flesh, these corpses only meant to resume their old lives. It was a clever cash-in on the popularity of scripted genre-oriented dramas dominating networks right now but it was also far too abstract and morbid for the average Nielsen Family.
Original twists on the zombie aren’t necessarily locked in to television and movies, either, people. Three websites are offering Joe User an opportunity to be a part of the production and allowing the mob to steer the plot of a larger story in whatever direction they choose. Lost Zombies (link to www.lostzombies.com), who just won best community website at the recent South By Southwest interactive festival allows anyone who wants to to jump in and submit their man on the street videos of the zombie apocalypse in action. Nation Undead (link to www.nationundead.com) throws aside the notion that this is real and asks you to submit fictional narratives that work within a system of rules based on where in the country you base your movies. Finally, if you have the artistic touch and feel like animating, Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated (link to www.notldr.com) is an animated remake, shot for shot, using the original film’s soundtrack of George Romero’s classic movie. Methods of animation range from traditional cell animation to puppets to a segment made with the Half Life 2 sandbox, Garry’s Mod.
Zombies probably aren’t going anywhere any time soon but the ease with which the movies are made and the fantasy shared by so many people to make their own zombie movie means that we are going to be inundated with trash made by people who have no business making movies. There’s good zombie media out there, it just means that you have to dig deeper to find it.