Geektoberfest Year 2: The Cinematic History of the Zombie (Part V)

Over the past four weeks, I have attempted to give a thorough study of the zombie sub-genre of horror that spans from the 1930s to the 1980s. Regrettably, the 90s were really bad years for horror.

Much of that time was spent in trying to revive old tropes, some successfully (Scream reviving the slasher in a self-aware, post-modern, self-referential, pseudo-intellectual way) and others less so (Child’s Play 2, Predator 2 Leprechaun 2, you get the picture). There were also zombie rip-offs (Bio Zombie, Return of the Living Dead 3, and Battle Girl: The Living Dead in Tokyo Bay, God save us, I $#!+ you not).

The millennium began with a change in the voices of filmmakers that ran a little darker, a little more cynical, even in the humor of the new generation. There was a turn toward a survivalist mentality, a new way to live that looked toward the future with trepidation and fear.

The September 11 attacks in 2001 demonstrated that the world was a more vulnerable, scarier place. Of course, people became more isolated. It was only natural that there would be a more cynical response to the future. 28 Days Later was one such response.

In 28 Days Later, an animal activist group winds up releasing more than just chimpanzees. The animals had been infected with a highly contagious virus that spreads throughout Great Britain. 28 days later, Cillian Murphy’s character, Jim, a bicycle courier wakes from a coma to find that the world has experienced a massive catastrophe. (This was a very real post-modern fear, to suddenly awaken to a world that has changed seemingly over-night.)

Wandering through London, Jim is attacked by the infected, and rescued by Selena and Mark. As is typical of these narratives, a group of survivors coalesce around a few central figures. The survivors hear of a safe place where order is supposedly established, and to their chagrin, they must ultimately recognize that no where is safe. Order has not been established. They now exist in a new world where chaos reigns.

It is interesting to note that Danny Boyle, the director, does not consider this a zombie narrative. However, it does not matter whatever he believes. This movie is credited with reviving the zombie sub-genre for the new millennium. Clearly, there are horror tropes reflected and repeated in the movie; regardless of whether Boyle chooses to recognize them or not.

Shaun of the Dead is a 2004, horror comedy drama film written by Simon Pegg and director Edgar Wright. Shaun is an electronics salesman with no real direction to his life. He represents the post-modern everyman without the drive to make something of himself. When he gets dumped by his girlfriend for his aimless ways, his world quite literally comes to an end.

Again as in most zombie films, the survivors coalesce around Shaun. They go around London collecting family and killing zombies. Their trek ends at a pub called the Winchester. It is their go-to hangout spot. Most importantly, there is an actual Winchester rifle hanging over the bar, so even though Shaun’s girlfriend Mary gives him push-back for wanting to continue in his aimless ways, in this case, the choice to go to the Winchester is not aimless. There is a very important goal in mind. Again, it does not matter whether the goal is made explicit or not.

In Zombieland (2009), a geeky college student experiences the apocalypse while away at school and wants to try to make his way back home to Columbus, Ohio. On his way, stop me if you’ve heard this before, he meets up with a group of survivors who are making their way to a place that is supposedly free from the infection.

The story is told amid a backdrop of amusing situations and compelling characters. Zombie rules are explicitly stated and elucidated via vignettes that propel the story forward in ways that seem different, but are really the same as we have seen before.

The tropes are repeated, where a group of survivors coalesce and having determined that society has collapsed, and they can not rely on being rescued, they must self-determine. This is the standard trope in the zombie movies, but it still works. Even more so now, when society is experiencing the existential threat of political, social, and economic unrest, the idea of me taking care of myself and what is mine, remains very appealing.

Currently, the Walking Dead is an AMC show. It has been on the air for 10 seasons. It was said that there would be a final 11th season, but the pandemic has played havoc with information. However, Fear the Walking Dead is a spinoff that is supposed to continue in its stead. Plus, Talking Dead will continue and two other spinoffs are in the works.

A World War Z sequel is also in the works. The Girl with All the Gifts is an amazing zombie film. There is more on the horizon. The zombie film is not dead. It lives. It breathes. It thrives.

The zombie metaphor continues to adapt and change and yet, surprisingly many things stay the same. It is a way to tell a story of self-sufficiency and self-determination. As long as there is still hope in the world, I think the zombie will continue to exist, because human beings need to conquer our fears, face our demons, and vanquish our monsters.

Before I go, I just want to acknowledge that this series of posts was in response to something one of our followers asked. Jammie, I hope I gave you what you wanted regarding zombies.

I love you all. See you later. Take it easy. Peace.

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