Last week I saw Pride And Prejudice And Zombies (as detailed here) and it got me thinking; if Catholics really do drink the blood of the Christ, aren’t they technically vampires? I then thought about zombies, not in a sexual way, more in a “how do these zombie films keep getting made?”. I don’t mean that in an insulting way, but they have been consistent throughout horror films over the last few decades. Vampires have waned and come back, yet zombies refuse to die. Everytime we think they’re dead they rise back up and stumble the earth, like, hmmm, what’s the word I’m looking for here?
But why is that? Why is there a zombie film made almost every month yet there hasn’t been a flesh eating mermaid film made in forever?
I’m sure you’ve asked yourself that many times. Don’t you wish you could find a well researched and brilliantly written article about the subject? Well until that happens, enjoy this inarticulate blog.
Well this seems obvious but in this modern “every horror film needs to have comedic elements” age it’s easy to forget. Zombies can be very very scary.
We can mock zombies and claim that Shaun Of The Dead and their ilk made them not scary any more. But then we can put on a good zombie film and still be terrified. Part of that is down to the “other” nature of them. Film critic Robin Wood describes horror as:
“relationship between normality and the monster”
And it’s this that provides my next point.
2.They’re almost human.
We have two animals to blame for people originally being scared of zombies: not film zombies, actual zombies: ants and dogs. Picture humanity tens of thousands of years ago. When we decided to start towns and permanent dwellings whilst farming animals and the land for food. It cannot be understated what a significant change to humanity this was. We no longer had to spend our entire time in the search for food. We started thinking more, our language and thoughts exploded at a previously unknown rate, we were soon discussing concepts we had no idea how to express. We were coming up with new ideas and discovering new concepts, yet this wasn’t the start of science, this was the start of superstition. The obvious things we needed to ask questions about was death and the dead. People would have realised there was a correlation between people spending time around decaying bodies and people suffering from sickness. So we started getting rid of the bodies, we burnt them, we buried them etc once we realised this stopped it. But one time a dog wanders upon a shallow grave, it can’t see food but it can sense food so it digs and finds a human hand. It starts to pull the hand up but is then spooked so drops the hand and runs away. Now a person comes across this, he goes to the site where he buried his friend and see’s his hand seemingly rising up from the grave. So he settles on the logical conclusion: this person is back from the dead.
But to understand why this scares us so we need to look at the the ant. Humans like to think of themselves as better than the other species we share the planet with: has any other species come up with ideas as diverse as communism, Harry Potter, and cricket? No, they haven’t!
We used to think there was something special about us, we are obviously Top Species (capital T, capital S if you’re taking notes, which I assume you are). We used this rationale to justify animal cruelty for centuries, I mean, we’re obviously better. But then people started asking complex philosophical questions. Questions like: “but what if we’re not”. I mean, there’s no reason why we are Top Species, the cheetah is faster, the rabbit can reproduce quicker, and kittens are cuter. So we used our brains and figured out why we’re better: and our brains decided on the totally not egotistical and self serving: it’s our brains. Our brains allow us to build skyscrapers and cities; huge complex structures that noone else can, because our brains are better. But then we looked at ants, ants don’t make art, they don’t tell jokes or play music. Yet they built huge chambers with ventilation that regulates air quality and temperature. The kind of stuff people need years of formal training to manage and yet the ants manage it perfectly. So what does it say when our building achievements can be matched by the humble ant? Our greatest achievements can be achieved without the need for the part of our brain that makes us human.
And THATS why we fear the zombie. It’s human without the humanity. It represents our biggest fear, that under all our fancy suits and immaculate hair that we are just shambling meat sacks, walking around just fulfilling our basic needs. We’re not scared the bite would turn us into the walking dead, we’re scared we already are.
3. Guilt free deaths.
Related to the above point: when people talk about a zombie apocalypse or play video games what do they focus on? Is it the loss of their friends, hiding out somewhere not sure whether they’ll life or die. Nope, it’s “I would kill them like this”. Killing zombies is like guilt free murder of another human. That says something about the nature of humanity, but I’m too scared of people to ask what that is.
Now I don’t mean that zombies are multi-use within the film itself, I mean for for the film-maker and audience. There’s no established backstory for zombies so the writer is free to do whatever they want and play up any real-life fears and prejudices. You want it to be a parasite and talk about the doomed nature of humanity? Sure. You want it to be from nuclear radiation and blame the Soviets? Well, a bit dated but sure! You want it be to about microrobots that go out of control to talk about the dangers of relying on technology? Sure! You want it to be about people being driven to kill and bite because they’re hypnotised by the music of Miley Cyrus? You’re an idiot! But sure, go ahead!
This is the most important thing. Zombies are slow, plodding creatures who aren’t that strong. With careful planning and organisation we can defeat them, that’s how most zombie stories end; with humanity winning. Sure, a lot of people die but humanity prevails. So there’s a lot of deaths but we still win, so ultimately they’re gory stories of hope. And that’s beautiful.
But none of that is important. Do you know why? Because there’s only one thing that matters in my life now: there’s a movie about flesh eating mermaids called The Lure, and it’s a musical! I have to see that!