Friday, December 01, 2006

Zombies and more

VonDarkmoor asked about zombies and my appreciation of the social messages from zombie movies, so I thought I'd expound here a little. A warning: there will be some minor SPOILERS below for some zombie movies.

But first, I want to mention something ... earlier I wrote I didn't like the "Saw" movies because there isn't a plot, or at least not much of one. Then it dawned on me that many people might say the same about the "Friday the 13th" movies I was raised on. I thought, "Oh, how hypocritical of me." Then I realized I had never really cared much for the "Friday the 13th" movies anyway. So I'm not a hypocrite. The only teen slasher movie I really like is John Carpenter's Halloween (unless you count "Psycho," and I don't because it's not a teen slasher flick IMO).

Now, on to zombies. Someone (I don't know who) has recently labeled "zombies the new vampire." And I agree with that. What is always most interesting about vampires, and more recently zombies, is not how different they are from humans, but how SIMILAR they are to humans.

Zombie movies are admittedly cheap, gory feasts on film. I don't care for the gore, which is one reason I tend to prefer zombie fiction over zombie movies (hey, at least I don't have to SEE the intestines being eaten). But zombie movies also have a message, sometimes more than one message, about humanity. The most simple of messages is this: WE are zombies, eating ourselves, destroying ourselves and killing ourselves. It doesn't get much more simple than that. It's pretty dark, but it's also a fairly basic way to look at life (one I at least partly agree with -- humans just love to kill humans, physically and socially and economically, etc. etc.).

To go a little more indepth, consider quite possibly the most famous zombie movie of all time, "Night of the Living Dead." There were a few other zombie movies before this 1968 classic film from George Romero, but this is the one that really began the franchise. Most notably, the hero of this movie is a black male. No big deal today, but in 1968 it was a huge deal. To go further, the black hero (played by Duane Jones) survives battle after battle with the living dead, then is mistaken for a zombie himself and shot dead by a group of white men at the end of the film. If there's not message about race in this story, I think anyone would have to admit at the least there are race-related overtones. (P.S. Don't bother with the lousy 1990 remake of the movie -- it's no good).

Zombie movie are also notorious for attacking capitalism and consumerism. Don't believe me? Come on. Both versions of "Dawn of the Dead" take place in malls. You can't get much more anti-consumerism than undead baddies shuffling through the Gap while ripping apart the latest line from Tommy Hilfiger.

Then there's "Day of the Dead," my least favorite of Romero's zombie flicks, but still with its worthwhile aspects. The movie takes on the hubris of science and the military, while also taking a look at gun violence.

So far I've only talked about George Romero's classic three movies, but there are plenty more zombie movies, and some of them by Romero himself. I don't want to take up a ton more space here, so I won't talk about those other movies other than to say some are good, some are great and some are complete and utter dreck.

Now, on to literature. There's not a ton of zombie fiction, though the list is growing. I want to mention my two favorites.

1.) "Book of the Dead" is a 1989 anthology of short stories edited by John Skipp and Craig Specter. Stephen King has a short story here, as does Steve Boyett, a forgotten fantasy writer who I've always liked. This is my all-time favorite anthology. The stories are fantastic. If you can find this used paperback, and you don't mind blood in your fiction, pick this one up.

2.) "World War Z," by Max Brooks. This is a new piece of fiction. I hesitate to call it a novel, because while fiction, it isn't a traditional novel. It's a collection of interviews with people ten years after World War Z, the war against the zombies. While partly written tongue-in-cheek, this book is eeiry in its realism. It reads real. It sounds real. In some ways I find that scarier than gore. On the downside, the book tends to drag a bit after you've read interview after interview, but it's all interesting.

Enough on zombies for now. I'm even boring myself.


cyn said...

intersting! i have seen ZERO zombie films (refer to last comment) but conjured a major zombie scene for my story months ago for the near-end of my book. now i'm considering tossing it, because it's been so over done. and i don't even know what's over done since i am no zombie expert. zombies are popular in chinese horror. they are about the only scary things in chinese stories other than ghosts. (no vampires or werewolves in traditional chinese tales.) then there are the fox and snake spirits, who morph into hot chicks. differnt type of monster altogether. =)

Ty said...

Traditional tales from China might not have vampires, but plenty of Hong Kong movies have dealt with them, especially in martial arts flicks.

I don't think zombies have been over-done in any way ... yet ... but I think they're borderline there now. Zombies have had a lot of publicity in the last 4 or 5 years (comcis, movies, books, etc.).

Howard von Darkmoor said...

I'll just get this out of the way right away: I don't like slasher or gore-fest movies. I didn't/don't like the Halloweens, Friday the 13ths, Freddy's (although I have watched 2 of those), I've only seen Grade B (or C or D) zombie movies on the Sci-Fi channel and never in their entirety. I don't like horror movies. . . and the list goes on. Whew, do I feel better after admiting all that!

Now, on to Ty's zombie interest. I love vampires - zombies could never replace them for me. In fact, I'd take practically every monster I could think of right now over zombies. I say all that to establish that Ty has far more credentials in this area than I do. So now I can disagree with him on the social commentary interpretation of zombie movies. We could read similar themes into other movies - in fact, we can read whatever themes we want in every kind of movie. I find it no different than reading themes and hidden meanings and symbology into novels and poetry.

I had anticipated a slightly deeper meaning behind your original comment -- "I like zombie movies for their social message — and yes, there is one." -- I thought you were implying there was more of a universal theme, and yes, I know you mentioned mankinds comsumption of mankind, which I will accept as the most basic message, in addition to the message that we are all just slaves to our appetites and go through life with an almost zombie-like mindless obsession -- but couldn't a zombie movie just be about some reanimated dead guys trying to eat living guys?

I'm of the Hemingway school of writing - there ain't no symbolism in my writing. What you read is what I'm saying and there aren't any hidden layers of meaning.

Also, in regards to this comment -- "What is always most interesting about vampires, and more recently zombies, is not how different they are from humans, but how SIMILAR they are to humans." -- of course we find them interesting - just as elves and dwarves and orcs and goblins and even the gods themselves - they're all versions of us. They get to be everything we think of or fear or envy or desire in their purest forms, while little ol' us, mankind, humans, well, we're stuck being all those things all the time. We've all got a little vampire, a little dwarf, a little dragon, a little Hades, a little zombie, a little Odin, a little imp, a little unicorn, a little Shiva, Dagda, Zeus, elf, hobbit - they're all in us. Shoot, man even personifies animals, weather, ships, events - you name it, we give it our attributes without thought or care that whatever it is might not like that, might even, have thoughts and attributes of its own.

Wow, not sure how I got there but I like it. Ty, you sure make me spend time and thoughts here on this blog of yours. Thanks once again! Oh, and sorry to agrue with you on your own blog, man ;)

Howard von Darkmoor said...

man, they gotta invent a way to go back and fix typos in these blog - i missed my ebonics class today, sorry

Ty said...

Hey Howard, I don't know why we would have to "argue." I mean, I agreed with everything you had to say. Yeah, a zombie movie can be about a bunch of undead just walking around munching on people. Even George Romero "Night of the Living Dead" came together by accident.

The way I see themes is that they are only there if you see them. If you don't see it, there's no theme, at least not for you. I consider themes generally subjective, not objective, unless the themes are so over the top they can't be missed, in which case I'd argue they're no longer themes but outright messages.

As for deeper meaning and universal themes ... well ... they're zombie movies. I think they (mostly unintentionally) have some deeper roots, but again, it's only there if you believe it is. On the other hand, I also think artists (even Hemingway) often unconsciously include themes in their work.

Another example, a favorite of mine, is Sergio Leone's Dollars movies with Clint Eastwoods. They're overly-violent, cheap westerns to some people. To me, they verge on opera.

Geez, I sound like some teen-age goth kid who has played too many violent video games. But I really don't like gore.

Really. I swear.

Ty said...

I want to explain a little further ... While I do enjoy a good number of stories that include violence, I do not enjoy gore in my literature or movies.

That might sound hypocritcal to someone who loves Stephen King books, John Carpenter movies and Sergio Leone westerns.

But it's not hypocritical. Here's why: There is next to no gore in King's writing, Carpenter movies or Leone's westerns. There is, I'll admit, a good deal of violence. But the violence is not overly bloody, and usually doesn't deal with ... gooshy parts (for lack of words that aren't so disturbing).

Halloween is a horrifying flick. But there's next to no blood. Don't believe me? Watch it again. There are a decent number of murders, but the killer doesn't generally linger on them and the killings themselves are not splashed on the screen in scarlett.

Howard von Darkmoor said...

Yeah, argue was way too strong of a word and I debated using it, but I couldn't come up with a decent substitute (I know, I know, I'm supposed to be a writer, right?!).

I agree most definitely with ". . . unless the themes are so over the top they can't be missed, in which case I'd argue they're no longer themes but outright messages" -- Yes.

Unless the author either specifically identified his intentions/meaning/goal, or is there to question in person, every supposed 'theme' is naturally subjective - it's a reader free-for-all. I loved taking Literature courses in college but I hated instructors who, first, wanted us to identify the themes or symbolism in each piece and then, most irritating of all, told us which of us were right and wrong! Arrgh! I took several of these, sort of like a pleasure/pain addiction thing, but my last one was the absolute best - I had the best intructor, on loan from some prestigous school in Spain, and she rocked. I've never taken one of those courses since; perhaps my pain/pleasure need in this area was met and I've never needed to.

Now look what you've done, Ty! I'm psycho-analyzing myself in front of everyone here. All because of zombies to boot!

Howard von Darkmoor said...

oh, and you're right about those older horror/slasher movies - they were more about the psychological drama, the influence of the musical score; today's crap are just competitions in who can be the grossest.

and I love the Eastwood/Leone movies - I love Clint, but I'll take his westerns over his cop flicks any day, and his Leone movies over the others.

when you moving up here? I can picture our coffee house discussions now . . .

Ty said...

It looks like I'll be moving ... elsewhere ... than your neck of the woods. I don't want to say just where yet because I've had multiple disappoints of late.

As for literature classes in which you spend gobs of time looking for symbolism and themes and "meaning" (a word I detest) ... I had a few in high school and college. I think that's why I hate Charles Dickens to this day. Looking for the hidden secrets in "Great Expectations" still makes me shudder 20 years later.

As for Clint's cop movies, the only one I really loved was the first, the original "Dirty Harry." The rest of 'em I didn't care much for. But Clint on a football field in the night, with a .44 magnum in his hands while he's stomping on the bloody wounds of a serial killer ... man, as I've said before, that's opera. Sick, maybe, but it's still opera.

Hey, look where we've gone with all this talk! And you didn't think zombies could be deep. Sheeyooot.

Howard von Darkmoor said...

I'm sorry to hear about the recent disappointments - not fun, especially at this time of year. I wish you well and hope whatever happens, happens at an opportune time.

Nothing like a couple of zombie posts to get a good conversation going. I'm saying g'night now, afore I'm a zombie at work tomorrow.

Steve Boyett said...

Forgotten by whom?

Ty said...

My apologies. No offense was meant. If anybody, forgotten by me as I've not been aware of anything Boyett has published in several years. "Ariel" has always been a favorite fantasy novel of mine. I've still got my paperback from the early 80s on my shelves, as well as my copy of "Book of the Dead."

Looking over, I see Steve Boyett has been busy. But, unfortunately, his is not a name I often run across nowadays on the shelves of my local book store. I'll have to talk to the book store's manager about that.

Steve Boyett said...

I appreciate it, but the truth is, he won't find anything in print that he can stock. My blessing and my curse is that I don't wear any one hat; I've written SF, fantasy, horror, literary stories, comic books, articles, reviews, movies, commercials, ad copy, and (sudden left turn here) become a semi-famous DJ. Not the best approach if you want name-brand recognizability, but I've had a ridiculously implausible and interesting life, and I wouldn't trade that for being a sitting target for anything. :)

I'm glad you liked ARIEL and "Like Pavlov's Dogs."

Ty said...

Thanks, Mr. Boyett, for the response. I'll keep my eye on your Web site for that sequel to Ariel.

And an interesting life is the best we can hope for! :-)