We’re going to skip a bit here, just because this genre is so friggin’ topical. It includes America’s current favorite horror genre—Zombies! “Zombieland” hit #1 at the box office last weekend, to the shock of the people who thought the Vince Vaughn romantic comedy would be more “commercial.” When will they learn?
Zombies have captured the imagination of our generation. Formerly shambling, brainless corpses, there was little reason to fear them, apart from the fact that, ew, they’re dead. They couldn’t catch up to you if you ran. They didn’t have the intelligence to work a door knob or a car. They just ate whatever brains happened to wander in their paths, which, by definition, were very small brains. They tended to overwhelm by sheer volume. Thousands of zombies would compete for five live morons who thought it might be a good idea to stay put in a clapboard house and let the zombies surround it, rather than race off in a car. Did we mention they were slow?
Now we have re-imagined the zombie nightmare. They are fast and vicious, although no smarter than before, more like hyenas then the brain-eating cows of an earlier, more innocent era. And you and me, the American public—we kick their ass!
This began in Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead,” where after an hour of pointless intellectual discussion, the gun-toting rednecks took to the streets and picked off the zombies one by one. Now, in “Zombieland,” (spoiler alert—I haven’t seen it.) killing zombies becomes mass entertainment. We experiment with ways to violently dispose of these single-minded creatures. “Mr. Owl—How many swings will it take to knock this fucker’s brains out of his left eye socket? One. Ta-hoo-hoooo… Three…”
There used to be two societal fears related to zombies; one, that they would kill you, and two, that you would become a zombie yourself. The infection would destroy your individuality, make you kill the ones you loved. Those fears still exist, but they have been eclipsed by the sheer, exuberant joy of having an easy, evil target to wail on. We have finally found an acceptable vessel for our anger and rage. Zombies are our Osama bin Laden substitute.
I hate to be the wet blanket here. I know that every society needs some sort of outlet for its darker urges, and zombie fiction is more humane than most. Zombies are not human, but have turned into soulless plankton in human form.
But as we thrill to the sight of an eight-year-old girl sawing off the head of a zombie, smiling as the brackish fluid coats her ringlets, we should ask ourselves—what have we turned into?
More on infection at a later time. Meanwhile—keep screamin’!