Let’s Talk About Zombies..

Horror movies are best when they manipulate our true, modern fears.  Though the surface of the story may appear to be monsters and gore, underneath, the filmmakers toy with the anxieties people possess about actual things happening in the present day.  For example, Frankenstein (though first a novel, not a film) was going after readers’ fears of scientific and technological progress when its mad scientist used a lab and scientific tools to reanimate a sewn-together corpse and create life.

A machine gone wild, an individual breaking down or broken by society, mother nature in all its animal and terrestrial fury— the psychological foundation of anything a filmmaker puts up on screen to scare the shit out of you has always rested on a real concern, a real fear, a real terror.

The horror genre is a wide open field; there’s something for everyone.  You got your movies about human knowledge gone wild, your “nature strikes back” stories like Jaws or Anaconda (which while technically not horror, did have Ice Cube going toe to toe with Jon Voight in a world of giant snakes and gianter booty—utter horror any way you slice it).  You also got your “social outcast gets revenge” fliks, a la Carrie and Friday the 13th.  And then there are those that touch on mystical themes, like dreamwalking, seeing dead people, or going all-out on your hymen with a crucifix.

One sub-genre, however, has stood out in recent times, blowing all other horror films out the door.  Zombie fliks.  What were originally just a bunch of wormy, low-budget corpses staggering the streets in search of teenage brains, zombies have since chomped down on the jugular of horror cinema, ripping off its dome and feasting on the goo.  You got zombies in everything now.  Civil war zombies.  World War 2 zombies.  Science-mutated zombies.  Zombies in space.  Zombie father/son comedies.

No longer are there set places, times or reasons for zombies; no longer is there a standardized form.  All the rules have been thrown out; it’s only a matter of time before someone gets hurt…(a dude I knew who was writing a zombie short story for Creative Writing class got his ass kicked in front of Del Taco).

The most peculiar part to me of the whole zombie phenomena is the change in social role that the zombie has undergone these past 20 years. Before, back in the days of Dawn of the Dead and Night of the Living, zombies were known for eating the brains of the socially corrupt. They would go after some asshole cop, or some pot-smoking kids getting it on down by the lake.  And they were always the reanimated corpses of dead people.  Some supernatural event created them and they wandered about aimlessly.

But these days, zombie fliks are more often about genetic or viral catastrophes. Researchers were pushing the limits of science, they got a little too brash, a little too arrogant, pushed the experiments over to the bad place, and shit got out of control.  Zombies are once again manmade creatures. The results of scientific error and vanity.  The new Frankensteins.

We’ve come full circle.  We love and respect our science, but at the same time we fear its awesome powers.  We see what it has done; we fear what more it will do.  Science out of control.  Fear of what new psychotic gadget will be created and find its way into the hands of the bad people.  Fear of the next new health pandemic. The next war.   And then there’s the environment (which has been affected by science, as well).  The next earthquake.  The next tidal wave.  The next flood.

Back in the day, we used to think we were the shit.  We had monster fliks about stupid monsters chasing stupid people and eating their stupid brains.   Nothing could touch us, so we would titillate ourselves with horror porn about out-the-grave zombies who could never even take down a suburban town, let alone influence public policy.  But today’s modern zombie influences public policy by destroying the entire earth and sending every normal human running for their lives.  But there’s nowhere to go.  It’s a fools gambit.  You’re fucked.

The old time horror movies served as cautionary tales, warnings against excessive ego or acting in a derelict fashion.  You smoke pot, you get decapitated.  Do it in a hammock with a girl you just met, expect a pitchfork to the abdomen.  And with zombies it was the same, except they ate your brains.  Now, it’s barren wastelands at the end of time and every human is, as I said before, right-fucked.   Modern zombies wander post-apocalyptic landscapes so much that it might as well be said to be a part of the modern zombie itself.  They seem to be invariably tied in with a mass breakdown in social order.

And that is what we fear, really.  Chaos created as a result of civilization itself: its science, its overpopulation, its destruction of the environment, its mental health.

The modern zombie stalks a world where humanity has failed and is being systematically exterminated.  It is the monster of choice for an exhausted people, people who see themselves powerless in the face of the world their minds have created.   And what better way to ameliorate the pain than watching heads ripped off and brains consumed?

None, as far as I know.

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