Sunday, December 9, 2012

HAVE ZOMBIES STOPPED BEING SCARY?


While at the movies the other day, a teenage horror fan rolled her eyes and asked me, “Did you see that preview for WARM BODIES? It’s trying to be a TWILIGHT movie…only with zombies.” Well, not exactly. But I suppose it’s a fair question. It could appear to some that zombies have oversaturated the horror genre. With so many of the ‘walking dead’ marauding about on film and TV, it begs the question if they’ve left too many horror fans bored and dare I say, a little brain dead.

One could certainly make the case, as there have been a ton of zombie projects out there stomping around, clawing for our attention. Just check out all the zombie movies, some still to be made, listed at Wikipedia:http://bit.ly/Us7Oe  In the last few years, zombies have really captured the zeitgeist what with the hugely successful graphic novels and AMC TV series of THE WALKING DEAD; the zombie mash-up books like PRIDE & PREJUDICE & ZOMBIES; and popular movies from ZOMBIELAND to the countless reboots and remakes of George Romero’s classic film series that started with THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD back in 1968.
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http://http://In the last few years, zombies have really captured the zeitgeist what with the hugely successful graphic novels and AMC TV series of “The Walking Dead”; the zombie mash-up books like “Pride & Prejudice & Zombies”; and popular movies from “Zombieland” to the countless reboots and remakes of George Romero’s classic film series that started with “The Night of the Living Dead” back in 1968.
But somehow they find ways to stay, ahem, fresh. ZOMBIELAND (2009) is an interesting example of how the sub-genre stays legit even as it satirizes the excesses of the form. The zombies in this movie are drooling, shuffling doofuses ripe for the picking off and the parody. But even while the zombies invite ridicule, the human characters can never underestimate them for the undead just keep coming, in larger and larger numbers, with a relentless nature that would make cockroaches envious. The climactic scene finds the zombies tracking them to an amusement park. Amusement indeed.

There’s obviously so much appeal to the living dead but is there a point at which the market becomes too saturated to the point where zombies stop being truly scary? So far, I’d say that answer is no. As long as filmmakers are finding new shadings for the sub-genre, zombies will continue to stalk us. Danny Boyle spun a different take on the zombie world with 28 DAYS LATER (1992) about a plague-ridden world turning everyone into flesh-eating maniacs. I love the fact that in his movie, they all ran really fast. It literally was like a zombie movie on speed. And it shows that there are all kinds of nuances that the zombie film world can hold.
Another rather recent effort that stood out to me for trying something different was the English comedy SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004), a zom-rom-com about a nerdy working class stiff trying to save his girl from the zombie apocalypse. Edgar Wright (SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD) cleverly directed this witty farce with a deep appreciation for the lurid as well as the laughs. I also enjoyed DEADGIRL, a quite disturbing tale about high school teen losers finding a teenage zombie and keeping her as their personal ‘girlfriend’. This film brilliantly illustrates the point that in monster movies it's often the humans who are the most monstrous. 

Entertainment Weekly columnist Mark Harris makes the case that zombies are permeating our culture these days due to the economic disaster of 2008, causing fear that we can lose everything we know instantly, which is one of the recurring themes in zombie films. He may be onto something with that theory, considering we’re still living on the precipice of fiscal cliffs and worldwide recession. Annihilation continues to creep up on us again and again, ready to gut us all, doesn't it? And if that isn’t the world of zombies, what is?

What I love about the zombie world is that it is often so deceitful. Zombies are usually slowed, unthinking and almost comical at times, but that’s what makes them so utterly lethal. We underestimate them. We think we can outrun them, outthink them, and blow them away as long as we’re armed. But as Jesse Eisenberg explains in ZOMBIELAND, “In those moments where you're not quite sure if the undead are really dead, don't get all stingy with your bullets. I mean, one more clean shot to the head, and this lady could have avoided becoming a human Happy Meal.”

They're also deceitful because so often in zombie movies, good people are bitten and don’t want to reckon with the fact that their time is up. To compound matters, their friends and loved ones never want to put them out of their misery and it drags out the agony. That can be taken as a metaphor for old age, death, AIDS, fatal illnesses, you name it. We all have it coming, but few of us want to confront our mortality.


And those universal themes will continue to inform both the films and the audiences, and make us hunger for more. Thus, we have something to look forward to in 2013 as the aforementioned WARM BODIES haunts cineplexes starting in February. Nicholas Hoult (X-MEN: FIRST CLASS) plays a teenage zombie who falls for a live girl and starts to find his soul again. (IMDB info here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1588173/) And after that, WORLD WAR Z premieres nationwide. The Z stands for zombies of course, as the whole world goes to crap and in this one, it’s up to Brad Pitt to save us.

Even though the first half of the third season of  THE WALKING DEAD is history, it raises all kinds of questions and promises for the concluding eight episodes due in 2013. Who’s in charge and even so, what are they in charge of? One of the truly brilliant things about the series is contained within the title itself. Aren’t the ‘walking dead’ really the surviving humans in the piece? The poor survivors are just suckers marking time with nowhere to go. And they're faced with the unenviable fate of waiting to get theirs.  

So I say, bring on the zombies - more and more of 'em! What zombie love stories are out there waiting to be told? Couldn’t the STEP UP movie series do a monster mash-up with zombies and create a new dance craze while they’re at it? How about a zombie western? A zombie political thriller? And yes, why not a zombie musical? The mind reels at the possibilities. Who says the genre is brain dead? Just like its inhabitants, it has a never-ending appetite. Chomp! Chomp! 

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