It’s hard to fear zombies who lag behind us
This piece is ultimately interesting to me not because a writer-slash-actor I enjoy has voiced his opinion, but it he seems to be fairly knowledgeable about the zombie movie mythos. I hadn’t thought about things the same way he did, and I’ve come to love lurking, stumbling zombies all the more. It’s not just about the dead coming back to life. It’s about a force of nature that comes in droves. You can see it coming, but there’s very little you can do about it. The recourse is to survive. Hole yourself up because nature is coming to swallow you whole. Remember Armageddon and Deep Impact? Zombie films are the allegorical equivalent. I always thought of them as the end of the world, but I didn’t see them elevated to the point of natural disaster.
Zombie films have evolved so much over the years. As Pegg states, they were originally about voodoo curses. Then they became Romero’s force of nature with a strange cannibal and vampire/werewolf twist. Except to be a zombie, in most cases, you simply need to die during the time period – you don’t necessarily need to be bitten. These days there are offshoots. 28 Days Later introduced a zombie-like virus, spread by blood. The allegory has changed. It’s no longer a force of nature but a force accidentally formed by man and spread by blood. Obviously this represents something akin to HIV. I’d almost argue it’s a somewhat more subversive attempt to tackle what slasher flicks tried to represent – the dangers of loose sex. After all, how did so many people get the rage virus so quickly?
They’re not zombies, but I find them much more interesting to talk about than the remake of Dawn of the Dead. I liked the original, so the remake wasn’t all that great to me. Plus fast zombies don’t make sense unless they’re, y’know, not walking corpses. 28 Days Later had an explanation for its change in the myth. However, I don’t agree with Pegg’s view that Dawn made the change to appeal to the MTV generation.
I think it’s a natural changing of the guard. The myths have to change over time because the nature of the myths doesn’t necessarily work anymore. Romero’s last two zombie films tanked at the box office. While I enjoyed them, Land of the Dead and Diary of the Dead didn’t make money, and people bitch about a certain lack of quality in the films. I think the movies are right on par with the original trilogy of Dead films, but maybe I’m behind the times. Maybe tastes have changed because we don’t fear the slow tide of dead-reaping-dead coming toward us anymore.
We’re haunted by 9/11. Hurricane Katrina ravaged our families. Hurricane Ike sent shivers down our spines. Now we’re in the midst of a sudden financial crisis. Impending doom doesn’t seem realistic to us anymore. Getting hit in the face by fate? That’s a whole new matter.
Zombies overwhelming us slowly but surely doesn’t seem to fit snugly with our worldview anymore. Something fast moving for which we can’t necessarily prepare is logical. It frightens us because that’s what we have right now. Our devastation is immediate. Our monsters don’t announce their presence from yards away. Once we know our monsters are here, like Kenshiro says, “You’re already dead.”
The Dawn of the Dead remake doesn’t work because it takes an old myth and fails to update it properly. It’s trying to turn old monsters into new monsters. It’s like taking Dracula and turning him into a raging lunatic beast instead of the monster who invited you into his castle and slowly but surely tried to turn the maiden while fighting off the hero. But this generation praised Dawn because its zombies were made in the image of our current demons.
These days you know what horror films work based on what gets a sequel. Various remakes of Japanese films have been brought over, but they don’t speak to our culture. People see them, then the films rot away. What I’ve noticed work? Hostel and Saw. Our demons take us without our realizing it, and then we’re literally placed in hell. Saw gives the victims a chance, but there’s a price. Our solutions may involve losing a piece of ourselves. In Hostel there are no solutions. Of course, it’s a little more directive if you think about it – the demons are the rich. Come to think of it, Jigsaw in Saw is old. Are our current demons the old and the rich?
The funny thing is that Romero tried to make that point in Land of the Dead. The biggest monster in the movie was the man who owned the safest haven. The rich lived in separate world from everyone else, not spreading the wealth and inviting the other survivors in to help them. It ultimately became their undoing. The problem is that it’s hard to see what Romero is trying to say because viewers have been primed to see our demons in the form of the title monsters. But the zombies weren’t the monsters. Come to think of it, Romero gave up his own force of nature metaphor. He saw that they don’t fit the current concerns. In fact, I’d argue that the zombie world is simply a backdrop now. Maybe the zombie film can’t speak to us anymore.
I hate to turn this in a political direction, but last night there was a pretty sweeping Democratic victory in the United States. The view of the previous Republican regime was crusty old men with wealth and unnecessary power. Our problems are not solved, but many saw their presence in top spots as an issue. Now that they’re gone…will our demons in horror films change?