Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Zombies, Zombies Everywhere

So the worlds obsession with the undead has long been a cult phenomenon attracting hordes (living hordes that is) of dedicated fans who mirror the ghouls they pine after in their in consistent pursuit of more zombie materials. Recently I went to see Zombieland and was blown away with how much the people I dragged along with me enjoyed it. Solid acting, a lively script, of course masses of the undead coupled with arguably the greatest cameo in film history made the movie a fun experience even for those outside of the zombie subculture. For the purposes of this piece that subculture will refer to anyone who has attended or contemplated attending a zombie march like the one held in Chinatown over the summer. Seriously though Zombieland was a reminder to a zombie fan like myself that this genre and the concept of the reanimated undead had gone mainstream and likely was not leaving anytime soon. In a sense Zombieland went where Shaun of the Dead never could, it made an American variation on Shaun of the Dead that could not be chalked up to British quirk on its own.

While the concept of the zombie goes back to Caribbean voodoo the modern understanding was developed by George Romero in Night of the Living Dead and his subsequent films. Romero's zombies were the classic ideal of zombiness: slow moving, sluggish, partially decomposed creatures with a taste for human flesh and human flesh alone. Cult filmmakers as well as B movie directors adopted the zombie as a both a means for cheap thrills and a play upon one of humanities most basic fears. Essentially that human beings, especially those that we know could be reduced to little more than ravenous stomachs. These implications were over time expanded to question what the world would look like in the event of a mutation within the human species that caused the reanimation of corpses. The question of such a genetic mutation is interesting as mankind expands the role of nuclear technologies in society and open ourselfs to the possibility of dramatic mutation. The mental state of those survivors became a major focus, their battle with the isolation and constant threat of being killed or worse turned by the zombies outside of their hideouts.

If Romero were to view some of the films being produced today it is likely that he would recognize more in the themes and feelings evoked by the films than in their specific depictions of the zombies themselves. In general the zombies of today fall into two general classes the classic slow moving zombie and the fast zombies introduced into the zombie vernacular by the 2006 era Dawn of the Dead. These distinctions are not the sole dividers within zombie lore. Other works such as Robert Matheson's I Am Legend (the vampire film version with Will Smith aside) in which the zombies retain some of their faculties. However it seems that the emerging Horror-Comedy genre has contributed the most to the canon of zombie film.

It would be remiss of me to not mention the incredible impact that Zombie literature has had on popularizing and modernizing the zombie genre. Specifically the Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z provide the mockumentary look at the importance of preparing for the coming zombie incursion as well as a collection of 1st person accounts as to the reality of a Zombie War. The latter of these was more striking in that it exposed the weaknesses of mankind manifested in the zombies. It is not the zombies that pose the greatest threat to humanity but the divisions amongst men that prevent us from responding to such a major threat. By focusing oin timely human issues zombies provide an opportunity to evaluate what is truly important and what things we simply believe to be.

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