Category Archives: Films/TV

Build your own zombie!

Dismember-me plush zombie from ThinkGeek (buy it! love it! pull it apart!)

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So we have voodoo, satanism, black magic zombies, we have radiation poisoning, unknown elements and space-pollution causing zombies. Sometimes we have no idea at all.

Perhaps the grossest desecration is the Frankenstein’s Monster type zombie. A mad scientist trying to outlive disease uses bits and pieces of various bodies and brings them to unlife. The original Frankenstein’s Monster had huge amounts of religious overtone – that we should not play God, that creating life is left to Him alone (the Christian God, of course) [There’s a blog here with some more detail on Frankenstein and religion].

We’ve seen over and over again potential progessive techniques and sciences used for weapons and company warfare. Perhaps the scientific zombie is the scariest of them all, whether bio-weapon, a method for immortality, or simple scientific curiosity. This method is able to be reproduced elsewhere, occasionally it converts on a mass scale, and it was our own deliberate creation that essentially dooms us all.

And you don’t need zombies to tell us this. There’s an awesome book called The End Specialist (love to Tarran from Edwardstown Bookstore for sending it to me!) about a cure for old age, and the social ramifications of people living potentially forever.

Nothing is sacred to science in these stories. There’s the endless ethical fight over stem cell research that we see now, but that’s nothing compared to the zombie scientists. Of course, being mad scientists, there are no ethics for them. Killing innocent creatures, using unwilling victims and tormenting them while alive is just a part of their tag.

Edit: And for some real life mad scientists (no zombies though), I just found this article on real life scientists who experimented on themselves for the sake of science!

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Recommended reading (and viewing and playing)

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

The End Specialist by Drew Magary

Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry

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Rise of the Cybermen and Age of Steel – Dr Who, Tenth Doctor, 2006 (just go watch all of Dr Who, it’s brilliant!)

Zombie Holocaust

Flight of the Living Dead

Re-animator (and Bride of Re-animator and Beyond Re-Animator) – trailers on YouTube were either bad quality or had embedding disabled *sulk*

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Borderlands DLC 1: The Zombie Island of Dr Ned

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Racism and Sexism

Despite all the various undead from myths around the world of physical beings rising from the grave, it’s generally accepted that it is from the Haitian Voodoo that we developed our media monster of the zombie. Zombie fiction is often defined as post-colonial – “a term for a collection of … strategies used to examine the culture of former colonies of the European empires and their relation to the rest of the world … [and] share many assumptions: they question the salutary effects of the empire … and raise such issues as racism and exploitation” (Encyclopedia of Contemporary Literary Theory: Approaches, Scholars, Terms By Irene Rima Makaryk).

In particularly the older zombie movies based around Voodoo, the natives are seen as superstitious to the extreme (which the white characters of the film dismiss as primitive) and are entirely unable to help themselves from the threat without outside (white) help. Just having watched Zombi 2 (Aka Zombie, and a billion other names) by Fulci, this Italian movie from the 70s replays that same role. Abhorrent as it is to us now, some of the actors in these early films were in black-face makeup. White Zombie is one of them, a story about a zombie master using black zombies as slaves in his mill, the threat of which is to frighten and control the population, but it all changes when he concocts a zombie potion for a white woman for a man who is not her to-be-husband to take over her. When the man no longer desires her without the sparkle and life in her eyes, the zombie master takes her for himself.

Romero is regarded highly for breaking away from this. His zombies do not relate to voodoo and ‘black’ magic, but are of unknown origin. The hero in the Night of the Living Dead is African American. Chosen because he was the best actor the producers knew and not for the colour of his skin (huzzah!), this was a big change for cinema and a shock to 1968. Romero’s follow up film, Dawn of the Dead had a deliberate scene of racial intolerance, where a community of apartment dwellers (mostly African American, Hispanic and Puerto Rican) are protecting their beloved ones who are now zombies. They are attacked by a SWAT team, mostly white, who firing off shots and racist insults with little regard (Check out American Zombie Gothic by Kyle Bishop for more).

Racism is in gaming too, with a lot of anger directed towards the makers of Resident Evil 5 in which a white hero kills all the infected whom are all black, being in an African village. There is of course, corners of defense for this (although reading the comments on some sites about it make me personally angry for people suggesting that there are no race issues anymore since Barack Obama came to office. *headdesk*)

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There’s the old stereotype of horror films that if a person with dark skin is in the movie, he will be one of the first to die. And if there is a girl, she will have weak ankles, trip over and be taken over by the monster.

Already having mentioned White Zombie about the control of a white woman, women in particularly early movies are pretty weak. They sometimes don’t even fight back (although a fight between a woman and a zombie in Zombi 2 has a particularly gory scene which I almost had to turn away from). In the 70s and 80s, there’s also a lot of female nakedness in zombie movies (so many breasts everywhere!). There’s rape scenes, too,  in a few of the zombie movies. which are really very disturbing (and would be a tirgger for many who have been sexually harrassed or raped themselves).

Fran in Dawn of the Dead, while the men were casually talking about if she should abort her baby, with her not even included in the discussion, provides the only voice of reason that they should move on rather than stay in the mall. Despite her home-making and cooking their little apartment they create, she is the only one pro-active, wanting to learn both to defend herself and learn to fly the helicopter. Fran isn’t the best example, but she is far from the weak and almost comatose Barbra from Night of the Living Dead. In Day of the Dead, Sarah is strong and smart and capable, but looked down upon by the military men who threaten her with death and rape.

Alice from the Resident Evil movies is the ultimate weapon against zombies. She’s not willing to sit by and let it all happen. While not all women in zombie stories are as familiar with weapons and fighting, they still provide much more assistance to the group’s survival. There’s a number of women in the We’re Alive podcast (which I love to undeath!), both strong and not so strong. It would be hard mentally for any person to adapt to zombies and pure survival after such a rich existence as we have now – and that’s the point of most of the zombie stories.

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While society (despite what those silly comments on that gaming site said) still struggle with racial and gender issues, our fiction will reflect the same and especially in horror where our deepest desires and anxieties lay, and yet we can only deal with them by percieving the monster. The monster makes it seem that it’s not so close, not so near, but equality, as survival, is worth fighting for. And however strange it seems, this desire for equality is what is reflected in zombie romance brazenly!

As always, I’m still learning about these topics, but find it fascinating how we deal with these issues in horror and with zombies.

The Uncanny

The Uncanny is a term very much used with zombie fiction, coming from Freud’s work. It’s about something so familiar and yet inherently wrong. Roboticist Masahiro Mori developed this further and designed the Uncanny Valley. We as humans can handle dolls or cartoons that emulate humans, but when we start getting to human-like robots, that’s the Uncanny Valley in which we are just straight grossed out and reject what we see. As the robots get more and more human with looks and reactions, we are more positive until a certain point and our reaction to it becomes complete revulsion.

I’ve only just started looking into the Uncanny and have more research to do, but that’s the basics of it.You can see zombies at the far bottom of the uncanny valley. You see a person you love, a person you know, but they are no longer who they once were. They are after your flesh. That screws with our perceptions. Some people have a similar reaction with mannequins (I have a mate who can hardly stand mannequins. They just freak him out.)

Here’s a video for funsies:

 

ZomRom is misunderstood

There’s a lot of misunderstanding about zombie romance, particularly with the upcoming movie of the brilliant Warm Bodies. People read the synopsis and think they know all the depths of a zombie romance. But there are elements of classic zombie texts in zombie romance too, and compared to vampires, zombies make way better boyfriends!

 

Brilliant artist Matt Busch recreated some of the best movie posters into zombie posters with his Hollywood is Dead series. Click on the picture for his website.

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Vampires are undead too

If anyone mentions necrophilia with zombies only, remind them that vampires are corpses too. Sex is not an essential part of a romance story, and if you really want to think about it, how do vampires get aroused when they have no blood to … stiffen. These zombie romances are young adult books, not erotica (although I’m sure there is some out there!). They are about first kisses and dates to the movies, not horny and sex-obsessed (which most vampires seem to be – True Blood, I kissed a zombie and I liked it.)

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Zombies – the gentle lover

Vampires are dominating creatures in any text, they usually have super human strength, mind reading or controlling abilities and other powers that put them at a distinct advantage over humans. Vampires take advantage of this in many texts, or even use human-like manipulation and psychological warfare, constantly reminding the humans how useless they are, how small, how insignificant, how defenceless against the vampires.

Zombies in romance texts are much more gentle. They are not forceful, never mash their mouths against a woman against her will. They are seen are weak one on one, only powerful in hordes, and it could be this that makes them softer. They are content with basic touches, of hands, hair, hugs.

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Humans, best served warm

There’s a few ways that zombie romances get around the whole cannibalism thing. Some zombies just exist as corpses, not requiring any food. Some use medication to control their urges. Some just have self-control. Authors do come up with interesting ways to control their zombies.  There are ways of controlling vampires too, but as they are dominating creatures, they usually find ways around the control. In most texts, without food, the vampire will perish or enter a type of coma. Even in zombie-as-enemy texts, zombies don’t need food. They crave to consume, but can last a long time without food.

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Conciousness is essential

Zombie romance is not the only texts that include zombies with self awareness. Many zombie-as-enemy texts have self-conciousness as well, even in Romero’s work, so it doesn’t go against the lore of the zombie (if there is really any lore, Romero is the definition). Self-awareness is important in their journey. While vampires can choose to become vampires, zombies are always the victim.