Zombies offer social commentary on a host of social ills from consumerism to the fear of population-decimating pandemics.
Have you noticed that, lately, zombies seem to be everywhere? They are giving the bloodsucking, pointy-toothed brand a run for their money in the Undead Hit Parade, as ink on paper, in movie theatres, on the small screen – recall the popular series Walking Dead – and that’s not counting the ones lurking on the roads, in malls, and aboard commuter trains.
Resident Evil’s latest and boringly evil outing reinforced my annoyance with zombies. Despite leaving the movie brain-dead, I felt zero empathy for the mindless undead who careened across the mindless movie.
While I nurse an indulgent affection for the species with the bad makeup and hammy moves in Michael Jackson’s Thriller, I decided I really didn’t get what all the recent undead fuss was about.
Then, funnily enough, I stumbled across a re-run of Dawn of the Dead – not the George Romero original but the Zack Snyder remake, which reminded me of some oddly entertaining aspects about zombies.
I recalled how I shambled along to the 2004 movie with a vacant gaze and no real hope of enjoyment – and how I was jolted awake by its energy. In its time, Dawn of the Dead offered real scares and dark, sly humour all the way to its nihilistic end.
Perversely appealing in Dawn of the Dead is the bit where the zombies are killed off one by one – the targets being selected on the basis of their likeness to celebrities such as Burt Reynolds or Jay Leno. Controversially, the zombies in Dawn of the Dead didn’t shuffle aimlessly about; rather, the ravening brutes chasing our heroes holed up in a Midwestern shopping mall were a vigorous bunch.
Eventually, Snyder’s remake turned out to be one of those rare zombie films that appealed across boundaries and raked in over a hundred million dollars at the international box office.
While I wasn’t converted into an instant undead acolyte, it did open my mind to other zombie movies and subgenres such as zomcoms. I did laugh out loud, many times, at the blackly comic Shaun of the Dead about a 29-year old drifter who finds a purpose in life when his town is inexplicably overrun with empty-eyed, flesh-craving masses.
I also looked up some well-reviewed zombie flicks that turned out to be sneaky good fun, notably Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, where Cillian Murphy had far spookier eyes than the undead. Or even the original Resident Evil, a suspenseful film with an arty Alice in Wonderland subtext.
Still, I don’t generally enjoy the gore fest that is the zombie universe – or pretty much any kind of blood-soaked slasher movies for that matter. When I see the bloodbath, there’s the instinctive “ewww” response accompanied by eyes shut tight. Meanwhile my brain switches on a running commentary along the lines of “did they really use tomato ketchup for blood, or is it just an urban myth”, which is distracting to say the least.
Because this leads you to wonder about the nitty-gritty of how the shambolic lot actually survive; if all their systems have shut down, for example, how are they able to digest their food; or, assuming their noses are as dead as their eyes, how do they sniff out human beings; and pray why, given their cannibalistic tendencies, do they not eat each other?
Why does the movie-going public love walking in zombieland? Learned arguments have been put forth about zombies offering social commentary about a variety of social ills from consumerism to the fear of population-decimating pandemics.
Zombie films, or so it goes, are Lord of the Flies light, i.e. a note on man’s ultimately savage nature when all pretexts and trappings of civility are stripped away. We then become worse than animals, cannibalistic and mindless in our quest for satisfaction.
To such academic discourses I would add my two cents worth, that zombie movies are reassuringly consistent. You pretty much always get variations on the template set by the all-time classic, George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968), when flesh-eating undead graced our screens for the first time.
Inevitably, in this type of film, the world is overrun by the zomboid lot – barring a handful of ubiquitous survivors. Such remaining dregs of humanity are holed up somewhere – a home, a mall, a cutting-edge industrial facility – from which they must escape to avoid a fate worse than death.
Yet zombie movies have legs – albeit decaying ones – because they permit every combination and permutation from Nazi zombies (Dead Snow), to a best-friend-zombie who also happens to eat the neighbour (Fido) to Cuban zombies (Juan of the Dead), and even such unlikely pairings as this year’s Cockneys vs Zombies.
We might as well face the living truth: Zombies will never die, not while Hollywood cash is around to reanimate them from time to time.