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Zombies – An Inconvenient Truth

September 14, 2010

With the Walking Dead, created by Robert Kirkman for Image Comics, premiering on AMC on Halloween, I’ve decided to watch a selection of Zombie films over the next few weeks to prepare myself for what will hopefully be a terrific addition to one of my favorite sub-genres.

Routine: a : a regular course of procedure b : habitual or mechanical performance of an established procedure

Routine is something that happens to all of us. We fall into it and don’t even realize we’re there. In the midst of researching a new screenplay, I decided to take a few routines in my life and turn them on their ear.   Since I was thirteen I’ve shaved my face from right to left. I’ve never gone in the other direction. Even when I broke my wrist, and had to do it left-handed, I kept to the same pattern. Last week I went from left to right. It was sooooooo weird. When I was done I practically needed a blood transfusion. Since then, I have only gone from left to right. It seems like a small change, but it really isn’t. It’s monumental, because I am doing exactly the opposite of what come naturally.

How does this relate to zombies? I’ll get to it.  I’ve never faced a zombie horde. I’ve never had to shoot a dead person in the brain in order to stop them from barreling forward to eat my flesh.

I would know how to though.

I understand the basics of zombie dispatching because I’ve seen everything from Night of the Living Dead to Dance of the Dead to Shaun of the Dead.

Last night I watched Dawn of the Dead (2004), (re)directed by Zack Snyder. Dawn was originally written and directed by the zombie king himself, George Romero in 1979. In it’s original incarnation Dawn was a satire of American consumerism.

Romero makes it all sound so simple in this quote from a retrospective interview:

I wanted to do a satire about consumerism; a friend of ours owned that shopping mall, and he was fool enough to let us come in and bust it up. That is where the idea came from. I told Dario Argento about it. He’s a great friend; we’ve worked together a few times. I had the story laid out, but he invited me to come over to Rome, so—hey!—I wrote the script there, eating good pasta.” –From an Article by Steve Biodrowski

This new version written by James Gunn was less satire and more straight horror. The fact that the zombies wandered to the mall because of some faded primal urge to spend money, buy shoes, etc. was merely mentioned in passing. As a result, this film lacked the blunt social commentary, and without it Dawn fell a bit short for me.

A zombie is the perfect enemy when a writer wants to articulate something about humanity. Why is this? Simply because a zombie completely lacks character. A zombie is a mindless force of un-nature that simply wants to eat. A zombie will never get in the way of the storyline that you are developing about the survivors. There is no zombie subplot as they scheme to take over the world.  The zombies have no elaborate plans.  Unlike, say Dracula, who is all vain (vein?) personality and steals the spotlight in any vampire film.

There's a Macy's one day sale preview event!

With this characterless zombie enemy, the filmmakers were free to play with the humans. We should get to see how they deal with their world being flipped upside down. How do these people react? Who has the strength of character to survive and do what needs to be done? Which of them can find the resolve to keep going in the face of global calamity? Where can the story possibly take the viewer when the scale of the conflict is global, and their unofficial leader is a TV salesman from the local Best Buy? In Dawn of the Dead, it brings them to the Mall. The characters fall back on their routine.

When our routine is interrupted in an inconvenient way, we get frustrated. As I re-learn shaving from left to right, I have accepted the fact that I will cut my Adam’s Apple every day. This frustrates the heck out of me. Now imagine that all of your routines, i.e. shopping, dog walking, laundry,  your job, fill the car up, holidays, cooking, un-pack the car, cleaning, sleeping, showering, etc. were all interrupted by zombies. Zombies! It is a wonderful tool for showing characters at their best or worst. The true character of the survivors shines through when faced with such an enemy.

With the Walking Dead being an ongoing series, the opportunity to tell a story that delves into the emotional and psychological impact that people would face with such a terrifying break from their routine is quite exciting. I for one can’t wait.

More Zombie thoughts to come—-

9 Comments leave one →
  1. September 14, 2010 7:41 am

    nice post 🙂

    I’m a not a zombie person but I’ve watched quite a lot of zombie movies. I have written about my favorite zombie movies before (in my native language), they are Shaun of The Dead and 28 Days Later.

    I have 28 Weeks later and Zombieland in my computer…something always delayed me from watching them…but once I watched them, I’ll definitely write the comparison between the british zombie vs hollywood zombie … will they be able to push British Zombie as my all time fav zombie movies.

    • September 14, 2010 7:56 am

      Shaun and 28 Days Later are great zombie films because they strove for more than the formula. Zombieland wasn’t the greatest for me. For me, it seemed like it couldn’t decide what kind of film it wanted to be. Woody Harrelson was terrific in it, but I can’t completely endorse the film. 28 Weeks Later later has one of the greatest opening sequences in a horror film I’ve ever seen. The first five minutes is really nail-biting. But, 28 Days is one of my favorites, as I am a huge Danny Boyle fan.

      Thanks for reading Novroz!

      • September 14, 2010 8:47 am

        Auch…your reply made me more doubful to watch both movies. I have a strong instinct toward movies…If I keep holding back, it always turns out to be unenjoyable movie. and I’ve been holding back on those movies for more than 4 months. They have been sitting nicely inside my computer harddisk.

        No thank needed 🙂 I enjoy reading your blog tho I do not always leave comments

      • September 14, 2010 9:43 am

        I would watch the first five to ten minutes of 28 Weeks and see if it suits you. The begining is really spectacular. It is as if they compress a really good film into the time before the opening credits. Also, if you love 28 Days Later you might want to Check out the 2004 Dawn of the Dead. I was a little harsh in my article, but it is pretty entertaining. And isn’t that all we really want, to be entertained for a little while?

  2. Apryl permalink
    September 14, 2010 10:00 am

    “Now imagine that all of your routines, i.e. shopping, dog walking, laundry, your job, fill the car up, holidays, cooking, un-pack the car, cleaning, sleeping, showering, etc. were all interrupted by zombies. Zombies! ”

    That’s really funny.

    • September 14, 2010 10:15 am

      Thanks. Talking zombies is in my comedy comfort zone. But you knew that already.

  3. September 14, 2010 11:39 am

    Yup…I usually do something like what you’ve said. Watch it for few minutes and leave if it doesn’t suit me.

    I’ll watch it one of these days, right now I’m a bit preoccupied with Japanese animations

  4. jadesmith09 permalink
    November 4, 2010 8:41 pm

    Great post, Rob! I saw an ad for The Walking Dead, and was curious…let us know how it goes.
    Zombies are not my favorite horror critter, but I do like the “consumerish” message: of course, the mindless dead need the shopping malls, heck, they need credit cards! 🙂


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