Zombies are everywhere!
You only have to turn on a television or pick up a magazine and somewhere there will be a zombie. Hollywood claims that this is the tale end of the uprising and everything that could be done has be done; but did it?
Zombies didn’t really enter our collective mindset until the 1930’s when “White Zombie”(1932) hit movie theatres. “White Zombie” was still based on Haitian mythology, that a witch doctor or voodoo sorcerer could reanimate a corpse to be used as their personal slave. A myth steeped in African lore from when people were transported from Africa and brought over to Haiti as slaves. When they arrived they mixed with the native Taino people and through a mixture of cultural beliefs – Zombie legends were born.
During the early part of the twentieth century many reports were coming out of Haiti of the newly reanimated dead. Wade Davis later claimed that any human could be turned into a zombie by the mixing of two powders. His book “The Serpent and the rainbow” later became a film in 1985. A drug that could cause zombie effects is not that far fetched, “Bath salts” a home brewed Meth variant caused many heinous zombie like attacks when it hit the streets.
The Hollywood machine churned out Haitian Zombie films until they waned in popularity and nothing truly mainstream was heard about Zombies until George A. Romero’s “Night of the living dead” in 1968.
Night of the living dead is an important cultural film for a few reasons. Number one: the first film to star Duane Jones an African American man Number two: It was a social statement on racism. It took a snap shot of people’s attitudes towards race relations at that time. Although, colour films were widely used – it is debated whether the use of black and white film for budget reasons or as a technique to see that world in with only black or white.
George A. Romero’s follow up film “Dawn of the dead” (1978) – took us into a world of a boom economy and rising consumerism. Where else would zombies go to mindlessly consume but a shopping mall? That film was an allegory for our excesses and keeping up with the Jones. There probably were more socio-economic messages in that film but sadly missed them for being distracted by watching the kick-ass film and looking out for the Tom Savini cameo.
After Dawn came “Day of the dead” (1985)- it was set in a missile silo in the Everglades. I’m sure there was a message about nuclear weapons, the cold war and mankind’s ultimate destruction but I felt it was over shadowed by the sheer carnage that was in that film. The hidden meaning or the morals in zombie horror seemed have been replaced by a splattering of gore after that- you could no longer use the excuse of a social commentary study.
By 1985 there was an influx of video nasties and the market was flooded and the likes of Jason Voorhies and Freddie Kreuger. The zombie was still shuffling around in the background not doing very much but banging it’s undead head again a wall- with the wall winning.
In 2002 a revelation happened- 28 days later. Some will argue that it isn’t a zombie film- it is an infection film. The one thing that bothered me about that film is that no one got eaten; the infected… zombies…- let’s just call them “the Ragers” for argument sake. The Ragers only real mission was to regurgitate blood on you.
Now a personal note: 28 Day later was the first film to scare the life out of me- ever. Let me tell you, that is no easy feat. When other kids where getting fake ID’s to buy beer, I was getting one to be able to rent horror films. What freaked me out so much, is the possibility that some nugget in a lab somewhere is now playing around with something and rage monkeys exist. So, in essence, my theory of “The Ragers” only wanting to vomit on me like some hen night out in Cardiff – is what allows me to sleep at night.
What 28 days did for the zombie genre is made them fast. It doesn’t sound like much but until then zombies were shambling decrepit things that could be defeated mostly by power walking away. Fast means you are doomed when a rabid horde of zombies comes at you as fast as Usain Bolt .This jump started a new lease of life in the zombie genre. Shaun of dead was next in 2004 and coined the phrase Zom-com and stared a whole new sub-genre. Warm Bodies in 2013 even gave us the first zombie romantic comedy.
The funniest film since Shaun of the Dead has to be “Cockneys v zombies” (2012) mostly because it tried to emulate Guy Ritchie’s “Lock stock and two smoking barrels” but the elderly stars Honor Blackman and Alan Ford really stole the show. Who could forget the iconic scene of Richard Briar’s trying to outrun a zombie while walking in his zimmer frame. The film was a commercial flop but there were some great comedic moments and it was nice to see old age pensioners kicking ass for change. The humour was very British and had a lot of blitz spirit to it and probably did not appeal to viewers in other countries where “EastEnders “is not shown on TV.
Television in the UK has produced some of the best zombie shows. Channel 4’s “Dead set”(2008) combines the reality show “Big Brother” with the Z-Apocalypse. The house-mates are locked away in seclusion, totally unaware of the carnage that is happening in the outside world- until the outside world tries to get in. The result are quite unforgettable. “Dead Set” is free to view in the UK on 4onDemand.
Derrin Brown, the famed television mentalist also had a go at creating the zombie outbreak for one rather unlucky slacker . With just his parents permission and not his, Derrin Brown hypnotised Steven Brosnan into believing a meteor crash caused a zombie outbreak. This was must see viewing as Steven tried to bond with other survivors and try to make sense of what happened.
There were many complaints about this series, the main complaint was that it was staged and Steve was in on it from the start . I would like to believe it was fake and Steven was in the know from the beginning because this social experiment did turn cruel. From the introduction from his parents who claimed he had an entitled attitude towards life, lazy and failed to leave him in his mid-twenties, it did seem like over kill. They could have just asked him to move out.
Did he deserve what happened to him? Whether you believe it was fitting, cruel, justified or just great entertainment- it left quite a life changing impression on Steven Brosnan. In a after interview with Derrin Brown he talks about the trauma and after-effects that haunt him until this day.
Where Hollywood goes, so does television and the graphic novel “The walking dead” was brought to small screen; and the show has no intention of leaving us any time soon.”In the flesh” BBC’s zombie show has been giving another series that starts in July.”In the flesh” is about life after a zombie invasion and the rehabilitated zombies are sent home to resume a kind of undead life. Watching that show made me think it is more of an allegory for the alienation of teen homosexuals coming out to their family with the prejudices and ignorance they face, or it could just be about zombies.
Zombies seem to be alive and kicking on TV but is the case with the rest of the industry? The publishing industry has been a flooded with Zombie fiction. So much so that publishers now have to state on their submission pages “No zombie books! Independent film makers are still trying scratching away to find something fresh. “Colin” (2008) was a film seen through the eyes of Colin the zombie. Interesting as it was as an experiment in film making, it didn’t capture the hearts of film going fans because of the lack of dialogue- very few actual words were spoken and none by Colin.
Zombie culture has spawned many zombie walks and LARP’s through cities and towns worldwide. There are even organizations like Z.E.R.T who openly recruits and trains people for the apocalypse. I’m not at the stage of selling up my worldly good and moving to some bunker like so many Y2K’ers did in 1999 but I do notice that when I go some place new, I subconsciously survey the place for how it would hold up in a zombie invasion scenario.
I don’t think this is the end of zombies, maybe a hiatus- because after all what could be more scary than your fellow man? Zombies terrify us because they are us. There is nothing alien about them, they aren’t robots or weather patterns that involve sharks either (Sharknado 2013)- they are human and as humans we must consume or die. Ultimately, Zombies represent the biggest cultural taboo- Cannibalism and mankind’s ability to destroy itself.
Just in case the unfortunate happens here are some tips from the Centre for Disease Control (CDC). This is a real government page and not a hoax . I don’t know what is next for zombies, perhaps another twenty year rest will do the genre some good. One thing I know for sure, zombies can’t die unless you go for the head.