Thursday, October 29, 2015

Theory Thursday: Zombies are the Worst Horror Monsters

Scene from Zombieland
Welcome to a weekly column called Theory Thursdays, which will be released every Thursday and discuss my "controversial opinion" related to something relative to the week of release. Sometimes it will be birthdays while others is current events or a new film release. Whatever the case may be, this is a personal defense for why I disagree with the general opinion and hope to convince you of the same. While I don't expect you to be on my side, I do hope for a rational argument. After all, film is a subjective medium and this is merely just a theory that can be proven either way. 

Subject: Halloween is Saturday.
Theory: Zombies are the worst horror monsters.

Scene from Dawn of the Dead
One of the great things about October is that it is the one month where everyone is allowed to act "scary." Basically, anything that is horror related goes. I am one of those who becomes engrossed in the activities of enjoying the idea that supernatural ideas may be real. With all of the movies starting to look a little more freaky, I reminisce on what I really like about the season by revisiting a few classics and discovering a few favorites. Basically, it's a time for me to be sporadic and enjoy a little taste of surrealism. Yet there is one thing that has always bothered me and I am unsure if this is the least popular or most popular opinion that I have done as part of Theory Thursday. If you must ask me, I really don't like zombies.

To dissect that statement, I will say this: zombies are juvenile concepts. I know that I could say that I don't like them the way that I don't like vampires sucking my blood, but the root of my disinterest ties more into something more inherent. It isn't just that they're brainless beings walking the Earth without purpose. It's something more explicit in them being the walking dead. As someone who likes monster movies, I am used to protagonists not quite being understood. It's kind of the joy of it all. However, if you look at something like The Creature from the Black Lagoon or even The Host, you'll find that there's some reason that can be tampered with when it comes to them. Not for zombies.

The general appeal of zombies is that they're "the living dead." How do you kill something that is already dead? Why, with shovels and anything that can slice up bodies. It's a crude answer to a crude creation. Since these monsters usually travel in hoards, often caused by outbreaks of some kind, there's never an easy answer to this. While some see it as a challenge to write yourself out of a corner, it's more of an anticlimactic response to their inferiority as a narrative device. Even the best of films, notably director George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead, feature the protagonists escaping to the next scene. For what it's worth, Romero knows what he's doing with zombies. Dawn of the Dead was a subversive anti-capitalist message with gore. I'd even go so far as to say that Night of the Living Dead is among the most ingeniously made indie films in history. As the father of this archetype, I think he had something of value hiding underneath the imagery.

I think that to some extent, I expect too much out of horror movies in order to really like them. I enjoy Romero's films largely because of their subtext. I like that there's something more going on. It's bliss to see him reinvent the wheel. However, I don't know that I like it when they're just crude creatures that don't have a lot to offer. That is what I become faced with via The Walking Dead or any contemporary take on the monster. They're all just a force to be tackled in order to protect yourself. It's a form of paranoia that makes sense to a demographic. There's a belief that goes that vampire movies are popular when the American president is Republican because the party is seen as sucking resources. Zombie movies are popular when the American president is a Democrat because they're seen as lifeless threats. I wish that this logic could work on a story level, but I don't know that it really does. Beyond Romero, there's very few zombie movies that choose to tackle social issues. I'm disappointed by that.

Let me backtrack for a minute. If I'm so caught up about zombies being social metaphors, how do I feel about vampires or subsequent creatures? To be fair, you've caught me in a corner. While they're not my favorite, the iconic serial killers of the 80's, including Jason Vorhees and Freddy Krueger, all are more appealing when absent of subtext. I do enjoy those films more as a survival method. But let me remind you that Jason and Freddy have an intellect to them and they're able to navigate with skill. You watch those films not just for the gore, but how they approached the gore. Zombies, on the other hand, are all about the direct attack. Since they're brainless, there's not a lot of ways to reinvent a walking corpse sneaking up on someone. There's very little at stake.

Also, the numbers game is something that I could never get on board with. Zombies travel often in hoards, and that means that they're unable to fully be killed off. When the movie ends, they're still wandering the Earth. I don't know if you've ever seen a movie that has an anti-climactic ending, but it's one of the most frustrating things to witness. There's time and investment into watching a film, only for it to end without a goal being solved. Unless it is a Coen Brothers movie, there's no real justification for that type of logic. It's an easy story because you can do it with your friends with cheap make-up. but that shouldn't excuse putting some effort into making the zombies, I don't know, more creative.

As you can guess by now, I am not one who likes dumb characters. I am not fine with the general trope being that zombies are dumb. In all honesty, there have been *smart* zombie movies before; characters with intellect and ability to be a far more complex character. You'll look at films like Warm Bodies or the TV show iZombie and see plenty of times where the creation was able to evolve into something far more interesting than what the genre started as. It's one thing to start as a crude creation, it's another to stay crude and not evolve with the times. That's been my biggest issue, and generally why I take offense at zombies. Speaking as they often stem from the human organism, I don't understand why they can't be more complicated, like a real person.

Scene from Bride of Frankenstein
And finally, this may be my most controversial opinion of all. While one can understand that I don't like dumb, anti-climactic plot devices, there's still understanding in difference of opinion. However, I do think that a lot of opinion has stemmed from my admiration for Frankenstein and The Monster more specifically. Before you yell that I am claiming that The Monster is a zombie, I am not. I am actually choosing to argue something more direct. I think that zombies are a plagiarized version of "Frankenstein," but minus any of the good stuff that made Mary Shelley's story so interesting.

To start, "Frankenstein" is the story of a scientist who harvests dead bodies to create living matter. It backfires, and what he has genuinely created is referred to as a monster. He runs rampant and yells inaudibly at strangers, posing threat thanks to his brute strength. One can easily mistake him for a simple-minded weightlifter, had it not been for his appearance of stitched together parts. The one value is that The Monster has a chance to gain intellect. Meanwhile, zombies are restricted to mysteriously rising from the dead and killing the living. I could go into how the infection thing is itself ripped off from "Dracula," but I want to stay on point. 

While the character design is original and the genre has spawned into its own thing, I don't know that it's more than a rip-off of better things. It's entertainment without the thought. As much as I don't like the anti-climactic nature of it all, I just can't stand the idea of this being anything original. "Frankenstein" was about making the dead live whereas zombies are the living dead. Not much difference in the final product. Sure, The Creature from the Black Lagoon is essentially the same idea as Jaws, but at least there was a visual and creative change that made them each compelling visions. For starters, they had enough of a brain to make them behave differently. For what it's worth, zombies don't have a lot to offer besides brute strength.

To end on a more upbeat note, I will say that there have been some good zombie movies. While they're not my favorite, I do think that some writers have found ways to creatively update the monster and make it useful to their eras. For the sake of recommendations, I will end by telling you which films I like from the batch: Shaun of the Dead, ParaNorman, Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, 28 Days Later..., and Evil Dead II. I know that this isn't a lot, nor are they likely to be considered the best, but it's what I like. I hope that I have proven my point as to why I don't like zombies. To each their own. If you have a good reason why I should respect them a lot more, feel free to share in the comments.

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