Special Guest Writer: Dr. LaBeaver
When I grow up, I want to be an International Hip Hop Superstar.
When I die, I want to be a zombie.
And I’m not talking about the kind of zombie found in Haitian voudous ("voodoo") ritual. Sure, it’s cool to almost die and be revived by zealots who put you into a mindless trance through hypnosis/herbs/magic. It would be cool to be the zonked-out, nonverbal minion of some evil priestess, as described in such "based-on-a-true-story" books as The Serpent and the Rainbow (which made a fine film and presents a much more realistic version of voudous than does the Lugosi classic White Zombie).
But, no, I’m talking about the "living dead" variety of zombie, perhaps best known in George Romero’s incredible "Dead Trilogy" (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead). The voodoo zombie seems kinda wholesome when compared to a rotting, totally brainless walking corpse which is driven by a mad hunger for human flesh, often fond of brains in particular. If a zombie catches up to you (which can be hard, as they’re typically pretty slow and virtually devoid of conscious thought), it will either tear you apart and eat you in one of the horror genre’s most gory scenes, or, if you’re "lucky," give you a non-fatal bite which will soon turn you into a drooling, undead brain-eater. And then you’ll join the mob as it staggers around looking for its next meal.
Romero’s movies are in many ways the best. Night of the Living Dead pretty much invented the modern horror film as we know it, has one of the bleakest film endings I can think of, and is a pretty damned good "commie scare" allegory to boot. Dawn of the Dead is one of the coolest action/adventure movies of all time, and it’s here that we first learn that zombies spend their non-killing-and-eating time attempting out of habit to do what they know best – in this case, puttering around a mall in Pittsburgh. Day of the Dead ups the gore ante plenty, and features an Army-trained zombie just smart enough to use a gun…so it’s MUCH harder to outrun him. The later so-called "Living Dead" movies, from the mid-eighties forward, are pale imitations of the brilliance of these three.
But there are classics by other directors. Topping my list is the ASTONISHINGLY gory Dead Alive, also known as Brain Dead, by Peter Jackson (Meet the Feebles, Heavenly Creatures, the upcoming Lord of the Rings). The zombies in Dead Alive (who carry the infectious bite of the New Zealand rat-monkey) are too busy eating oatmeal and screwing to hang around in a mall…or maybe there just aren’t any malls in 1950s New Zealand?
Stuart Gordon’s The Re-Animator has similar zombies, except these ones can’t spread their disease…instead, it arrives in the form of a shot of glowing green elixr which brings the dead to life. Problem is, it doesn’t exactly bring them back sane. When this movie came out, it set a new standard for torn flesh and guts in a movie. Come to think of it, those standards are usually set by zombie movies.
Lucio Fulci’s Zombie, originally intended as the sequel to the European release of Dawn of the Dead, features a Trent-Reznor-lookalike zombie fighting a shark on the ocean floor! This led at one point to late-night conversations in my college apartment about who would win in a fight between Jackie Chan and a zombified shark…let’s hear it for art school.
There are no zombies in Zombie Holocaust, but the one in Porno Holocaust (by king of sleaze, Joe D’Amato) not only kills people, he rapes them first – and his name is Romero!!
Hell, even David Cronenberg made a pseudo-zombie movie called Rabid, starring Marilyn Chambers from Behind the Green Door!
When Night of the Living Dead came out, a lot of critics read zombies as representation of subversive thought during the Cold War – they look like us, but they’re not like us, and if they catch you, you could end up like them…or dead. With AIDS and other horrific diseases, "infection" takes on a whole different meaning.
But do we really need to read into it? Isn’t it scary enough to think of a reanimated corpse to rip you apart and eat your brains?rpse attempting to rip you apart and eat your brains?
I can't let this slip away without mentioning my favorite zombie film, Return of the Living Dead. Sure, it was played mostly for laughs, but the punk atmosphere and insane costumes and effects make it the most fun zombie film I've ever seen. Previously, zombies were comatose plodding retards that you could practically walk away from if you just kept your wits about you, but these guys were pretty formidable. They could run, they could use the police radios to "Send more cops!", and could be cut to bits and still flop around. You needed an incinerator to get rid of these bastards! It's long out of print in the USA on video, and has never been on DVD due to some licensing issues with the soundtrack, but let's hope the right people get their acts together, and it's finally put out.
And let's not forget those loveable "Deadites" from the Evil Dead films. Though not pure zombies in the classic sense, you can't deny they're some truly kicking living dead bastards!