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.
More at Ace of Spades HQ.
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!
Great stuff. Thanks for adding a political angle!
I blogged your pic & caption on my site.
I thought "28 Days later" was really weak and derivative. In the very beginning the hero wakes up in a hospital to general devastation. This conceit was was lifted whole from a 60's cult film "Night of The Triffids". The rogue soldiers were cliched beyond belief - are we to beleive that the rest of the world is functioning outside the British Isles but not talking to anybody on the radio? 28 days is a short time for military discipline to fall apart, especially when it was obvious that these creatures were going to run out of steam eventually all on their own. Which they did.
All "28 Days later" did for me was conjure up images of the better movies they stole their ideas from and make me wish I was watching THEM instead.
Was that the one with the trailers that ended "We are going to EAT you!" ??
That trailer still scares me.
Fair Play for the Metabolically Challenged!
Zombies may be the perfect metaphor for shambling politically-correct group-thinking Liberals, but unlike Liberals, they are not actually a waste of oxygen.
Oh, all right then.
if you geta chance you absolutley haveto see shaun of the dead a spoof on the genre it is hilarous
Technically in 28 Days Later they aren't zombies they're sick but alive, though genrewise the movie fits best in the zombie apocalypse crowd (has more zombie movie flourishes than pandemic movie stuff, though the line between the two has always been pretty thin).
But that whole movie is made by the first 20 minutes, that whole "dead London" sequence is amazing.
It creeped me out, that's for sure. Reminded me of "The Omega Man" with Charlton Heston, which had me really creeped out as a kid.
Definitely. All around one of my favorite movies in years. Creative and interesting and very well acted.
That is the part of the movie that made it even freakier. I can deal with slow moving zombies, but fast ones freak my sh!t out. ;-)
The section with the soldiers seemed needlessly tacked on. And you're right about the whole radio thing. I think that had to do with the fact that they filmmakers hadn't really figured out what the ending was going to be. Originally, it was much darker, with no happy ending, but audiences hated that.
The remake of Dawn of the Dead this last summer was pretty good. And the bad girl who get chainsawed by accident was really hot, IMHO.
Err...wha? <------ why post gibberish?
Well I generally enjoyed 28 days later,it struck me as odd that it took about a month for a bunch of Military guys to become sadistic rapists.
Also 28 days later was a very weird sequel to that Sandra Bullock movie 28 days.
I saw Shaun of the Dead this weekend and it was really a lot of fun. The makers of that film totally understood the rules of zombie movies.
I always prefered walking zombies to running zombies it reminds me more of a nightmare. In a nightmare when someone is chasing you no matter how fast you run and no matter how slow they are , they are always right behind you. You can't escape them.
Hillary!, McCain, Kennedy...
I believe so. It did have the only Zombie vs Shark fight sequence ever.
Those Italian horror movies still give me the creeps.
Now that is one hideous zombie.
'I was a middle-aged zombie' (Land of the Dead filming now)
28 Days Later is another one. Truly a riveting movie.
They're busy sending e-mails saying "send us 1000 dollars, we'll let you keep your shoes after we get done emptying your account."
Zombies have that brain diet thing going, and that gets expensive after awhile.
Amen on the original black and white NOTLD being the best zombie movie.....as a young teenager watching it at the drive-in (I date myself) then going home (where we lived right below a very large cemetery) and not having air conditioning and having my bed within "arms reach" of an open window, I couldn't sleep with my back turned towards the open window for weeks !! (cue the burning truck zombie feeding scene...)
They're coming to get you, Barbara !
did someone say zombie?
I thought it was fantastic. One of the best remakes I've seen. I love zombie movies!
Zombie movies are always pro-Second Amendment. In the remake, a big part of the movie was getting to Andy's gun store. Of course, all the firepower in the world couldn't save them from thousands of running zombies.
28 Days Later was set in gun-free England. I never understood why they didn't try to go to a police station and acquire some firearms.
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