Skip to comments.The Zombie Renaissance
Posted on 12/20/2004 9:42:44 AM PST by Warhead W-88
Zombie flicks approach a .500 batting average-- far above any other genre of horror. Is there any other sort of horror movie where you can go into a theater and say, "There's about a 50% chance this is a legitimately good, well-crafted movie"? I don't think so.
Why do they tend to be so good? How do they continue to delight and surprise while working, by and large, within the same basic and narrow parameters established by George Romero's Night of the Living Dead? I think it's a combination of several factors.
1. Zombies are, essentially, uninteresting monsters. They're scary monsters, to be sure -- make-up effects that realistically simulate the ravages of post-mortem degeneration make them the most gruesome of creatures -- but they're not terribly interesting. They're simple, they're undifferentiated, they're a mob of shambling idiots without personality or charisma.
And this is the strength of the zombie film. Because the monsters themselves aren't compelling as characters, the zombie film forces the writers and directors to put the emphasis on the really interesting stuff in any movie-- actual human characters and human interaction.
Dracula is, I suppose, compelling as a character, but directors become so enamored of his Gothic anti-hero angst there's little room to make the human characters anything more than ciphers and cliches. (Fright Night is a good vampire movie that has human characters more interesting than the monster.) Dracula is effectively a Gothic horror superhero, and vampire films are infected with the childlike power-fantasy tropes of superhero comic books.
Now, most good monsters remain memorable because they serve as metaphors for the human condition -- vampires, sexual obsession and sexual danger; werewolves, the animalistic murderous rage that lurks within all of us; Frankenstein, a similar capacity for violence borne not of rage but of moral innocence or, perhaps, moral insanity.
But still, all that is just metaphor. We may see elements of the human condition in Dracula, but only elements. It's hard to glean much about the human state from his transformation into a pack of rats.
In zombie films, the zombies do also serve as metaphors -- often brilliant ones, about the unthinking violence of the mob, unquestioned conformism, the drudge-heavy routines of our everyday lives, and, famously, rampant consumerism (both literal and metaphorical).
But the focus isn't on zombies-as-metaphors-for-the-human-condition. In zombie pictures, the focus is actually on humans, humans dealing with stress and violence, and humans dealing with each other. The most interesting conflicts in zombie films tend not to come between human and zombie, but between human and human.
This is true of the best horror films of course. Whatever your favorite horror picture is, the moments you remember the most-- and quote the most -- are the parts between people, not the conflicts with the monsters. Sure, Sigorney Weaver's power-loader fight with the alien queen was great stuff, but it's Hudson's "Game over, man! Game over!" that sticks most in the mind. The shark in Jaws was okay, but everyone talks about Quint scratching his fingernails on the blackboard, "Show me the way to go home," the scar-competition, and Quint's chilling description of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis. Imagine Jaws filmed more like a Dracula movie, with all the emphasis on the shark itself-- not a very intereting movie.
And in my favorite horror movie -- The Thing -- yes, the part with the head-scuttling thing was great, but the best parts involved the panicked and paranoid human characters arguing who ought to have access to the weapons.
Strip away the lurid premise of zombie films, and you often have, at their heart, a fairly serious examination of human characters and human flaws and the violence humans wreak upon each other when animated by anger, greed, jealousy, or simple panic.
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Bump for a more interesting reply here in a few moments..
that Italian movie ZOMBIE was pretty scary. Though I guess I will go with Night of the Living Dead as the best one.
I think he said: "Blessed are the cheesemakers"
FWIW, I read a very good article in Texas Monthly covering the making and aftermath of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Very good read if you get the chance.
The original (1977?) Dawn of the Dead did it for me. Even at age 16, after seeing it, I was looking over my shoulder when walking alone at night for quite some time... then chiding myself for being a girly-man.
The great thing about it was, as scary as it was, it was also funny (if you have a dark, twisted sense of humor like I do..).
The recent remake was OK but.. Zombies don't run, they shamble!
Slow and rambling or quick and vicious.
"Because the monsters themselves aren't compelling as characters, the zombie film forces the writers and directors to put the emphasis on the really interesting stuff in any movie-- actual human characters and human interaction."
An excellent insight.
Dawn of the Dead (original) is the ultimate Pennsylvania film. It starts in Philly, ends in Pittsburgh and features a reference to rednecks in Altoona.
I remember looking at my parents house afer watching the 1st Night of the Living dead and trying to figure out where the most boards would be needed.
Whoever came up with the concept of fast-moving zombies should be sent to Gitmo.
And Shaun of the Dead rocks...
"28 Days Later" was pretty good, though it does violate the slow Zombie rule.
Can't start a thread about zombie movies without a zombie pic!