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Feelings RE: Zombies

The new trailer to World War Z just came out. Have you seen it? Are you planning on watching the movie? Did you read the book?

 I have a complicated push/pull feeling about zombie horror. Zombies have a lot of potential as monsters or a focus of dread. Unlike the other archetypes: vampires, werewolves, aliens, and eldritch elder gods, zombies are unromantic, almost impossible to romanticize. Zombies are shambling (or galloping, depending on your taste) dead people. They don't seduce. They don't have an agenda. They don't have a complicated life-cycle. They form zombie hordes and eat people. You can try a few variants on this basic concept but it's basically always the same.

That's both a blessing and a curse.

As a positive, because zombies are essentially people, or at least once were people, they have a connection to past experiences. The clothing, the wounds of the zombie serve to supply some narrative about their lives before and the nature of their becoming. All of this is grist for a writer's mill. Plus zombies come with a full freight of metaphorical connections. You can approach zombies from the socio-political angle, like classic Romero did. Zombies as a stand-in for the forgotten underclass. You can use zombies to discuss a culture's relationship with death. Nothing focuses an audiences attention on questions of mortality quite like having the dead attack the living. Maybe because zombies don't get portrayed as sex-objects, they can serve as a template for all sorts of discussions about consumerism, power, and symbolic cannibalism.

Or maybe you just show zombies eating a lot of people.

I think the negative side of zombies, and here I'm referring to both literature and movies is that they tend to serve as a kind of short-hand for horror without fully becoming horrible. I understand the series has improved recently, but that was ultimately what drove me from AMC's Walking Dead. While I waited for the characters to become interesting, the show seemed considerably more interested in staging another attack of grey, anonymous zombies.

In short, I don't have a problem with zombies but I definitely think the market for mediocre zombies reached saturation.

Last night, I noticed in Reddit someone had posted the new trailer for the movie adaption of Max Brooks's zombie testimonial classic, World War Z. I almost didn't click on the link. That's how certain I was that the movie was destined for failure. The lead actor: Brad Pitt. The novel Studs Terkel inspired narrative: ditched. The possibility the whole project was in development hell: nearly total. Then I clicked the link.

I've already read some complaints that the trailer gives too much away of the plot or doesn't explain what is going on. There is the inevitable complaint about 'zoombies,' or the recent undead innovation depicted in the Dawn of the Dead remake and the 28...Later movies where the zombies abandon shuffling for full-on sprinting. I've always like the classicism of the zombie shamble but I have to say that the full spring at the opening of Dawn of the Dead did bring something new to the table. You can outrun the walking dead, you're probably not going to escape a creature capable of running but incapable of exhaustion. That's horror.

But I also saw something in the trailer that seems promising. The full realization of the zombie horde. I'm not fully impressed by the CGI runners in the trailer, there's something a little rubbery and fake about how the zombies tumble down stairs and over buses. However, if there was one aspect of the novel I really enjoyed it was the reference to zombie mega-hordes roaming across the Great American Plain. That aspect of the book left simple horror and became true speculative fiction. The basic what-if question: what if zombies really did occupy a major continent? What would happen on a landmass filled with ambulatory corpses and how would you ever remove them? Part of the enjoyment of the novel was the matter-of-fact way the survivors set about winning World War Z.

The trailer suggests a similar realist approach to zombies. A movie that married genuine cinematic spectacle with the novel's earnest speculations could be very good.

Then again, it could just be zombies eating a lot of people.

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