Sunday, June 19, 2011

We're not using the "zed" word

There are three movies responsible for the resurgence of zombies in the 21st century: "28 Days Later," "the 2004 "Dawn of the Dead" remake and "Shaun of the Dead."

One redefined the subgenre, one updated an old image and one made fun of everything that came before it.

Combined, the three films set the new standard of zombie movies. Without them, we'd still be paying homage to the vampire as this century's ultimate monster.

No zombie movies since have topped these three films. Yes, "28 Weeks Later" was fantastic. I don't think it captures the same isolation and desperation the first film did. "28 Days Later" makes the viewer feel alone. When Jim wakes up, naked and alone in the hospital, we feel his vulnerability. As he walks through empty London streets, missing persons fliers drifting by him, we feel just as lost.

Those posters meant more in our post-9/11 world. It was an image pulled right out of the news (even though it was film mere weeks before).

Social commentary has made zombie films feel more important ever since George Romero put "Night of the Living Dead" in the can. The 2004 "Dawn of the Dead" remake took Romero's anti-consumerist masterpiece and gave it more guts at a time when the horror genre was just being taken over by "Saw" and its torture porn progeny.

The zombies in "Dawn of the Dead" are somewhere between the fast-moving rage-virus creatures in "28 Days Later" and Romero's shuffling hordes. They attack alone or in packs and are destructive either way.

Did you know that "Dawn of the Dead" was number 1 at the American box office the same week that former President George W. Bush announced "mission accomplished" on an aircraft carrier?

Two weeks later, "Shaun of the Dead" reach U.S. soil.

The thing about "Shaun of the Dead" is that it is hilarious and frightening at the same time. Just like real life. We look back and laugh at Bush's premature pronouncement of victory. At the time (and still, don't forget) war was serious business. People are still dying for that mission. It's horrible and sometimes the only thing you can do to make it alright is to laugh at how ridiculous the whole thing is.

So now we go on zombie walks. Romero has made three "... of the Dead" movies since "Shaun of the Dead" was released. One of them even had a theatrical run. Bush is out, Obama is in. Our two big boogeymen, Saddam and bin Laden, are dead.

But out there, the dead still walk. We make new zombies every day. Meth creates fast-moving unpredictable beasts out of once regular people. A day sitting in front of the TV can turn a person into a braindead shadow with only the next snack on his mind. We work, we go home, if we're lucky someone is there waiting for us. And we do it all over again the next day.

“I also have always liked the monster within idea. I like the zombies being us. Zombies are the blue-collar monsters," Romero has said.

What does it take to destroy a zombie? The one thing almost every modern zombie film has in common? A hard blow to the head. I think a few more of us could use a good kick in the skull to wake us up. I include myself in that. 

Hi. My name is T.J. and I'm a zombie.

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