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)

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/GUtoCpeAyS0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

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.

“You Knocked Your Rug Off” in Touch of Evil

Touch of Evil is an energizing and anxiety-inducing film without a dull moment. The criminal character Joe Grandi provided a lot of comic relief throughout the movie. I laughed at his rigorous ‘faceslappage’ of his disobedient nephew and how his hairpiece subsequently fell off. Another scene with Grandi that was shot superbly would be his last in the movie. In the moments leading up to Grandi’s murder, there were several shots where the camera is oddly angled behind a bed. Beyond the wirey bed frame, Susie Vargas is shown fast asleep in a drugged state. After being strangled, Grandi is thrown onto the frame and there is a close-up shot his gaping wide eyes and lifeless head on the frame. I jolted out of my seat after seeing that! Upon reflection, it was a nice cinematography technique.

I also enjoyed the presence and actions of leading lady Susie Vargas, played by Janet Leigh. She is undeniably beautiful, but a world apart from the femme fatale usually found in film noirs. She doesn’t bring demise to her protagonist husband and in fact, has a great deal of sensibility and righteousness. She put on a strong face when she was ‘kidnapped’ because she knows her hubby, Mike Vargas, would protect her at all costs. It was also a triumphant moment when she threw the lightbulb at the man who was peeping at her through the window (the noise of the bulb smashing to pieces gave me great satisfaction)! On the other hand, I didn’t like how Susie had to be rescued like a damsel in distress– There was surely a way she knew that the motel was suspicious to begin with and she wouldn’t have stayed there for the night? And surely she could have escaped from those moronic Grande kids, right?

Susie in the protective arms of her husband.
(Susie in the protective arms of her husband. Image Source: http://www.eskimo.com/~noir/ftitles/touch/index.shtml)

Compared to other film noirs, Touch of Evil has absolutely zero flashbacks, everything is told in a story from beginning to end, and there is no guesswork as to the background of any of the characters. It was a refreshing experience to have the movie play and out and be caught up in straightforward drama and actions happening in the moment. Moreover, the fact that the ending isn’t entirely dark and hopeless gave me a better viewing experience.

Side note: Sorry for the posting delay, but the website was down yesterday night. I realize now that this post didn’t stick consistently to one aspect of film noir, but hopefully I brought up some good points that sparked some interest in you guys! It’ll be interesting to hear your opinions about Touch of Evil, especially about the humor presented and the portrayal of Susie Vargas.