Thursday, August 14, 2014

WORDS FROM A DEVIANT...


It's been gradually happening around us. The constant, inevitable deconstruction of the once compelling genre monster: the zombie. How long has it been since you've been truly scared by a zombie in any film? A few years? A decade? More? While I do believe that there are good stories still to be told with the zombie film...I also believe that there are no more scares to be had by this particular movie monster. Let's discuss...shall we?

To be completely honest, the new screenshots just released from the upcoming Schwarzenegger zombie film Maggie  were the basis of my inspiration for this little rant. While the stills revealed a certain tone I liked that I kind of didn't expect from the film (I was expecting more of a dark comedy), it also didn't feel all that scary. It felt more like a dramatic zombie film...which I dug more than it being scary. I'm sure the film will have its shares of generic jump-scares as well as the usual Arnold one-liners...but, I'm convinced that it won't be horror. I mean, sure...one could argue that Maggie  instantly falls under the genre umbrella because of its premise: zombie outbreak, girl gets infected, girl starts craving brains, Arnie must reluctantly stomp in her head and save his farm. But, it is something we've all seen before. Like, a plethora of times before. Like, a Godzilla-sized shit-load before. So, while Maggie  certainly seems a little different from the usual zombie-fare...and I'm already excited to check it out, if only for the potential of witnessing the awesomeness of Arnold Schwarzenegger sobbing with his zombie-kid in his arms, it doesn't seem like a new, scary portrayal of the zombie. Still...that's not what I'm here to talk about. At least, not altogether. In order to really dig into the reason as to why the undead aren't terrifying anymore...let's start with Romero.


George Andrew Romero was really the first to present to us a new vision of the zombie film back in 1968 with his classic film...Night of the Living Dead. It was a perfect horror film unveiling for the very first time the notion of a "zombie apocalypse" in the manner that we are all familiar with today. It was bold and fresh and fucking scary. The dead coming back to life...stalking the living in hopes of eating fresh flesh. The antagonists were ever growing and the thought of barricading yourself in a house/barn/car/whatever while the rest of the world was hungry for your brains terrified millions. It was the best of times. Not too long after NotLD, several filmmakers took a crack at the premise...spawning classic films of their own like Amando de Ossorio's Tombs of the Blind Dead  and Jorge Grau's Let Sleeping Corpses Lie. Soon, the Italians took over and nothing would be the same. Every filmmaker bringing a little something different to the zombie film. Romero continued what he introduced with new concepts that pushed his original premise even further...presenting fresh commentaries that made his films resonate beyond the cineplex. It was a beautiful time for the zombie film.

Hell, even 1985's The Return of the Living Dead  managed to teeter that all too crucial line between hilarious comedy schlock and balls-out horror classic. I have friends who have been terrified by the "tarman" for years. And yet, there were still films out there like Fulci's Zombi, Gordon's Re-Animator, and Soavi's Dellamorte Dellamore  pushing the limits of what Romero first introduced. Zombie fans had much to choose from...and more importantly, genre fans had many examples of films that, were not only scary, but multi-layered as well.


When we entered into a new millenium we were treated to even more ambitious zombie stuff. 28 Days Later  by Danny Boyle and Zach Snyder's Dawn of the Dead  remake were films that literally rushed us into new places. While the fast vs. slow zombie argument still continues to rage on, these films were fast, inventive and more importantly...full of heart. The 3rd act of both films are the stuff of Shakespearean tragedies that tug at the heart. And as we ventured into the last decade, Shaun of the Dead, Dead Girl, The Horde  and Black Sheep  certainly kept things fun and interesting. But, it wasn't until 2007's [Rec]  and 2009's follow-up, [Rec]2  that the sub genre reached a sort of pinnacle of fresh, scary horror. The last minutes of the first [Rec]  film are excruciating and terrifying for anyone who watches it for the first time. Grant it, Paco Plaza and Jaume Balaguero incorporated some familiar genre tropes in order to push the story/premise along...but, the innovative filmmakers also managed to bring some new things into our beloved genre. Who could forget the character of Tristana from the first film. Fuck...I still have nightmares of that thing. And the sequel presents some truly scary twists that bring the franchise closer to Demons  territory than a straightforward zombie film.

And then...The Walking Dead  took over.

Now, I will say that there are a handful of overlooked zombie films that still pop up every now and again. Rambock: Berlin Undead, The Dead  and more recently...The Battery  and it's soul cousin, Dead Weight  still continue to create new things for the sub genre. But, I'm hard-pressed to find zombies scary anymore. Especially when they continue to randomly pop up in every conceivable facet of life. Computer commercials, car commercials, kids' films, video games, sitcoms, date movies, iPad covers, etc et al. You name it...and it, most likely, exists. Hell...my soon-to-be 7 year old son wants a Plants vs. Zombies themed birthday party. Zombies are just not that scary anymore, man.


Getting back to The Walking Dead, for a moment. I'd like to point out that I'm a big fan of the show. I love that Greg Nicotero is finally getting all the accolades that he deserves and it is refreshing to see horror staples like cannibals, child deaths, beheadings and balls to the wall gore on prime time these days. I just feel that, because the show has been put front and center into the the pop culture eye, it has become canon for everything zombie-related and horror-related. The show has infiltrated the convention circuit helping to drive up autograph prices everywhere and diluting the blood-red pool of the long-ostracized horror fan. It's become "cool" to be Walking Dead  fans...and almost sort of...I dunno...hipsterish, in a way to LOVE the zombie movie. Seriously...I never thought that I would live to see the day when such a violently gory show like The Walking Dead  would be such a primetime juggernaut...thus contaminating toy shelves and t-shirt racks everywhere. It's good...and bad. Good...because us horror fans are finally being accepted into social circles now. It's cool...I guess. Although, I do miss the almost secretive head nod that one would give to another fan "in the know" whenever a Suspiria  shirt or a Fulci hoodie was spotted.

But, it is bad because it does dilute the "horror" in these horror films. Someone gets bitten by a zombie on screen and they get infected, die and come back from the dead...it's no longer as scary as it should be. These days boyfriends are trying to keep their zombie girlfriends from eating them...and it's funny. Girls are falling in love with cute zombie boys and turning them back into full-fledged humans...and it's dreamy. It's kind of reached ridiculous levels of unbelievable madness. I mean...are these filmmakers and movie studios even trying anymore?


Back to the Arnold Schwarzenegger zombie movie. As I said...the moment I found out that they were playing things seriously in Maggie, I fell for it. Now...the fear in that one is that they might get a bit sappy with the premise...but, if they keep things brutal...it may produce some really interesting things. I'm hoping that it, at the very least, keeps pushing the zombie film sub genre into new places. And...I guess that's all that I could really hope for these days. Interesting zombie movies. God knows they aren't scary anymore. Perhaps we should just go ahead and remove the "horror" labels from stuff like World War Z  and Resident Evil...and hell...even The Walking Dead. Because in the end they are action, science fiction and drama. Not horror.

Do scary zombie films exist anymore? If you find a really scary zombie film...please let me know! Comment below or email me...please! I long for the days when Romero made you check your doors at night...just to make sure they were locked. I long for the true scare...now more than ever. 



Thanks for reading,

bryan.




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