Original zombies have lost their luster

I’m taking it way back to the middle of the semester when we had our zombie category. I’ve been waiting to make an argument about how zombies aren’t respected anymore.  They’ve been the butt of all the jokes and they simply aren’t the same zombies from Night of the Living Dead, etc. To further prove my point, and without using too much of the movies Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland, here is a classic clip about horny zombies from the well known show Saturday Night Live:

zombies from Amber J on Vimeo.

Zombies have needs too!

The next thing I found were humorous books about zombies. Not only are they making fun of zombies but the authors seem like they’re saying that zombies are so cliche and that they’ve figured them all out and now everyone could survive a zombie attack. The books were found from http://www.thinkgeek.com/

This first book I found really caught my attention. I remember that scene from Shaun of the Dead where they tried to act like zombies to get into the bar.

Here’s some of the description of the actual book:

“Remember that scene in that zombie movie where the people survive by adopting the mannerisms and speech patterns of the zombie horde? They walk right through the undead and nobody even notices them. Totally the best idea ever, right?”

This second book is pretty self-explanatory. I guess humans have finally figured the zombies out. Now if only people in funny zombie movies could whip this out when in need…

Here’s their Top 10 lessons from their book description:

Top 10 Lessons for Surviving a Zombie Attack

  1. Organize before they rise!
  2. They feel no fear, why should you?
  3. Use your head: cut off theirs.
  4. Blades don’t need reloading.
  5. Ideal protection = tight clothes, short hair.
  6. Get up the staircase, then destroy it.
  7. Get out of the car, get onto the bike.
  8. Keep moving, keep low, keep quiet, keep alert!
  9. No place is safe, only safer.
  10. The zombie may be gone, but the threat lives on.

The last thing I noticed were all the different ways zombies are made fun of, especially on the internet.  I can pretty much guarantee you that there are more sites making fun of zombies than there are praising them.

Here are some of funny pictures I found on http://dailyzombie.com/comic-archive/

The original zombies have just lost their appeal. They’re so easy to make fun of and, in my opinion, could be easily taken care of in movies except all the humans work against each other, thus allowing the zombies to take over the human race.  Also, the original zombies have been overshadowed by the enhanced zombies that we see more often today (the more physically fit ones that can run, especially). I foresee that in another 10 years, those enhanced zombies will be the only type of zombies you’ll see in movies except for when they make parody movies that make fun of original zombies.

Dawn of the Dead’s Allure, Reality, and Ending

On Dawn of the Dead fan site dawnofthedead.net, there’s a page where the author gives his or her reflections about the movie. It’s not very long or even very detailed but I think it does capture the movie’s allure pretty well nonetheless. The lines “Every time I see Dawn of the Dead, I get this strange sense of wonder, mystery, excitement” and “sparks my desire to be in ‘The Land of the Dead’” in particular sum up why people have taken to the movie as much as they have. Above all else, it makes you want to be right there with the characters in this situation.

A good chunk of what we see really does seem like it’d be quite a bit of fun to experience. Much of that has to do with the fact that they’ve decided to hole up in a shopping mall. It’s not only the variety of goods inside that we all covet, though, but also what the mall represents here – a relatively safe heaven. The mall makes the scenario they face manageable, even comfortable. They can secure the entrances with trucks and lock doors which feature alarms and glass that’s tough to break. They’ve even come upon an area hidden from the rest of the mall to reside. And everything they need is located in all the stores throughout.

Then there’s the element Professor Gershovich discussed in class Thursday. When there’s a mass disaster like this, it sort of gives everyone a sense of agency that they didn’t have before. The organizational structures and procedures that had to be abided by before become obsolete. Under these circumstances, anything goes. Everything’s up to them and they may do as they please. There’s something exhilarating about that. Especially given that they’ve secured themselves in a mall, there’s no longer an obligation to do work of any kind either. These people are completely freed of those mundane, monotonous obligations that weigh us down in every day life.

So, instead, what they initially get is a series of adventures (to secure the mall) and I’d again emphasize that it’s a manageable one. These are excruciatingly slow zombies. Only when something especially stupid is done (Roger forgetting his bag and then dropping it, Steven struggling to get the keys off his belt, Fran being left alone without a gun) is there any real danger. They also get to pick off these zombies like target practice, as if it was a video game. And after they finally clear out the zombies, they play actual video games and skate and treat themselves to the many other luxuries the mall has to offer. This is also lots of fun to watch.screen-capture-9

But around the last quarter of the film or so, reality sets in and the tone drastically shifts. That allure fades and you realize this may not be a scenario you want to be stuck in after all. As discussed in the incredibly thorough and fascinating article by Stephen Harper entitled “Zombies, Malls, and the Consumerism Debate: George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead” (which can be found at americanpopularculture.com/journal/articles/fall_2002/harper.htm), the scene in which we see that Fran, who earlier in the film referred to the mall as being “so bright and neatly wrapped, you don’t see that it’s a prison too,” has fallen into the trap herself is especially powerful. It really sort of cements the idea of consumerism being such a negative thing. She has dolled herself up immensely and become, as Harper puts it, “a human zombie no more alive than the conspicuous mannequin heads on which the camera mockingly alights.” To really hammer the point home, as we’re shown this, there’s even a recording over the mall loudspeaker which hopes to manipulate customers into consuming and consuming now (spend $5 in next half hour, get free bag of hard candies!). screen-capture-10

It’s important to note, however, that this comes shortly after two more key scenes. First, during that dinner Peter arranges for them, Stephen offers to marry Fran only to be rebuked with “it wouldn’t be real”. A minute or so later, we see the two in bed staring ahead blankly. Fran only fully dives into commodity fetishism once we see that she’s seemingly been rendered hollow inside or at least perceives what they’ve set up as being empty and meaningless. So maybe our so-called “zombification” begins before the consumption and not necessarily as a result of it. This mindless spending is more a byproduct of our environment as a way to compensate for what’s missing.

screen-capture-12The fabric of society has been destroyed and things around them have become very stale. Stephen keeps turning to the television with the hope that broadcasts will resume and there’ll be some sign of life. But when they finally do come into contact with other people, they come in the form of a violent, reckless gang of bikers. That brings me to the ending, which seemed tacked on and out of place to me.  After reading about what they initially had planned, I’ve grown even more disappointed. Originally, Peter was supposed to shoot himself and Fran was meant to put her head in the helicopter’s blades, also killing herself. Frankly, I would’ve loved that. Not only did it feel like most of the final 30-40 minutes were building toward something like this but I think it’s also far more interesting to ponder than the one we actually got. It would’ve further called into question exactly what makes life worth living. Below is the test shot of what would’ve been Fran’s demise released by Tom Savini, who worked on the film’s special effects. What are everyone else’s thoughts on this?gaylonheadtest

Night of the Living Dead

In Phillips’ chapter on Night of The Living Dead, the author discusses a connection between Living Dead and Psycho. He notes that while in Psycho, Hitchcock revolutionized the horror theme by tearing apart the safety the audience expected from cinema; Romero’s zombies shredded the remaining hope that remained. I believe that Romero clearly tried to one up the thrill brought by Psycho. One scene that while I was watching Living Dead, made me think of Psycho was the scene where Karen kills her mom. It seemed somewhat oddly reminiscent of the famous shower scene in Psycho.
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Not only does the stabbing scenes look somewhat familiar: as a similar stabbing motion is performed, the female victims screams, and eerie music is playing in the background; but Romero’s scene has something more awful attached to it. Not only is the character killed gruesomely, but it is done by the victim daughter. I think Romero is saying to Hitchcock, I see your horror and I raise you.

Interesting enough but it seems that Romero’s took some idea out of Hitchcock’s book. Romero also makes this film in black and white, just like Psycho. Also, the blood in Living Dead was really chocolate syrup, just like the blood in the famous shower scene in Psycho was. Although, I do not believe Living Dead was as artistically pleasing as Psycho was, I feel that there is a clear attempt to push the boundaries of horror, further than Psycho had done.

What would you do if there was a zombie apocalypse?

What would you do if there was a zombie apocalypse? This is a question that I have been asked countless times through out my life. In fact, I use know exactly what I would do if this were to happen and I know I am not alone here. Nowadays I feel that zombies have become more of a source of entertainment than scaring people. Recent movies like Zombieland, Shaun of the Dead, Fido, and Dead and Breakfast have been able to mix a large amount of humor with zombies; but if zombies are so terrifying how can this successfully be done? This leaves me to think that zombies themselves have lost their fearful image in the public, much like Dracula, although I do not think zombies will be on an cereal boxes any time soon. I feel that it is not the actual zombie itself that is scary in zombie movies, but two main themes that revolve around them.

Very similar to Shaun of the Dead.
Very similar to Shaun of the Dead.

In many films we see zombies as being “the living dead,” corpses of those recently deceased becoming animated to feed off the flesh of the living. This to me is a very scary thought, but add in the fact that they are mindless and move at a rate slower than most senior citizens, makes them less intimating. This description may not be the same for all zombie movies, but it is how they are depicted in George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Even though “the living dead” were actually referred to as “ghouls” in the film, Romero’s reinvention of the cinematic zombie has been the basis for future films. I feel that by themselves zombies cannot invoke fear, unless accompanied by their scary themes.

First let me explain the themes I feel surround zombies, the first being claustrophobia. The scariest thing I feel about zombies is the that fact that no matter where you go or how many you kill, they will just continue to come and eventually corner you. This is really evident in many zombie films such as Night of the Living Dead and Zombie where a group of people usually end up in one area, many times a house, and are cornered into fighting off endless waves of zombies. Eventually the people realize that there is no hope doing this and must venture out into the world to escape, only to find that hordes of zombies have infested everywhere leaving no place to run. The point where people find out that there is no hope for them is the point in the film that really scares me, although usually this only comes at the end of the film. Until then you may see scenes of attacks by one or two zombies, like in the films Diary of the Dead and Zombie Diaries (similar names not intentional), here the zombies don’t pose a real threat until in vast numbers.

Zombies will never think to look for us in there!
Zombies will never think to look for us in there!

The second zombie related theme I find scary is that the zombies you are forced to kill could end up being family and friends. I would imagine it would not be very morally taxing to kill mindless flesh eating people; that is unless they used to be family and friends. One film that does this well is Night of the Living Dead where Barbara sees her brother and when Karen kills her mother. This must have been extremely taxing on the characters, so much that Karen’s mother could not bring herself to fight her own daughter and ends up dying because of it. At the other end of the spectrum, there is one scene from the remake of Dawn of the Dead that shows men on top of a building shooting zombies for fun. This shows that without this theme present, killing zombies can actually be enjoyable.

Karen use to be a nice little girl.
Karen use to be a nice little girl.

These themes tend to be present in most zombie films, but it is the way they are presented that really leaves a lasting impression. One film in which they are not present or really touched upon is Braindead (also Dead Alive) where the “zombies” (they are not like Romero’s zombies) are just in a house and a guy goes in there to kill a bunch of them, with a lawn mower too. This film feels more like a zombie party then a zombie apocalypse. Also in the comedic zombie films listed above these themes may be present, but touched upon lightly and the characters do not really dwell on them. For example in Shaun of the Dead, when Ed gets infected it is only a moment of sadness that is quickly relieved when Shaun decides he can put zombie Ed in his garage to still hang out with.

Shaun playing video games with zombie Ed.
Shaun playing video games with zombie Ed.

I don’t know how many of you will agree with me, but this is how I feel zombies are looked upon now and why they are looked upon by many as a sport (killing them that is) rather than something to be feared. I also feel this is why people enjoy video games with zombies in them (like Dead Rising), where you feel unstoppable killing poor defenseless zombies. I think this has been taken into consideration by film makers such as Zack Snyder in his remake of Dawn of the Dead where he has very physically fit zombies running around, in my mind they aren’t true zombies; they are more like Danny Boyle’s infected in 28 Days Later.

I’d also like to add that one film I’ve seen that incorporated these themes really well is the spanish film Rec. I must say that it is not really a “zombie” movie, they are more infected, but still is a great film. It revolves around a woman who is doing a report on a fire station for a television show and while doing so follows them on a routine check up. This quickly changes once they find out they are being kept there under police control. This is the original to the American version Quarantine, which I felt was totally horrible. For those who have seen the American version I am sorry because it has almost the exact story line, just with worse actors and camera angles. The film moves a bit slow but eventually delivers.

Night of the Living Dead and the implications for society

Night of the Living Dead is different from the film noir in many aspects and yet similarly it addresses societal issues, perhaps even more effectively. Firstly, the film does not have narration, follows a linear structure of events and employs characters that are ordinary people as opposed to glamorous ideals. In addition to these factors, in my opinion, the fact that the movie is in black-and-white gives it a documentary feel – that it is really happening. Previously, I disagreed with the position in chapter 2, Monaco that reality is shown in black-and-white and color adds a quality of make-believe, Night of the Living Dead is the first film so far where this is so and color makes it similar to other zombie movies, where it is clearly imagination at work. (for comparison I provide the trailer of the film in color)

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The ending of the film is hopeless and depressing.  Although, the order is restored, it is done at the cost of violating a principle of social justice, and doesn’t leave the viewer optimistic. The relief of anxiety is within the grasp of the audience as the troops come to eliminate the living dead and rescue Ben, however the audience never feels it. As Phillips points out, the threat materialized into reality and “the end had begun.” After creating this feeling of dread in the viewer, the film finishes with pictures, which are reminiscent of the images of Vietnam War.

Night of the Living Dead does not leave much hope for humanity as it creates less differences and more resemblance between the living dead and the humans. As the humans fail to cooperate and communicate with each other, their end seems inevitable. While the characters are constantly listening to the news reports that turn out to be misleading.

The one aspect Night of the Living Dead has in common with film noir is that it reinforces strict gender roles: Barbara is catatonic and inactive, Judy is devoted to the male, which leads to her demise, and Helen is a middle-aged woman filled with dissatisfaction. All female characters display negative female stereotypes.

The film incorporates the issues of the period in which it was made and by using various techniques which remove the distance between the viewer and the film, thus impacting the audience in a closer and deeper way.

One psychology note on the film: research has shown that humans tend to cooperate and bond in a stressful situation when facing the same fate.