The Stiff: Chapter 2 (plus: HPLFF and Zombies)

The Stiff: Chapter 2 (plus: HPLFF and Zombies)

Big news! I’ve already mentioned that I’m going to be a guest at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival and CthulhuCon in Los Angeles on September 27-29. But perhaps you live in some other part of the country, and you can’t make it out to the West Coast to see me, Gary Myers, Stuart Gordon, Brian Yuzna and a bunch of other guests AND Cthulhoid movies.

Now you don’t HAVE to physically be there! The HPL Film Festival is doing a Film Festival Kickstarter to raise money for this year’s slate of events, and they’re giving away awesome stuff including posters and T-shirts featuring my own Lovecraftian artwork! This is the only chance to get a poster of my HP Lovecraft Film Festival “Lovecraft the ticket-taker” image which you can see at the bottom of this page. They won’t be sold anywhere else. There are plenty of other artists contributing pieces to the Kickstarter, as well as other cool stuff, and if you can’t make it to the HPLFF this is your chance to astrally travel there and get some neat stuff as well. Please check it out!

In honor of the start of “The Stiff” chapter 2, I’m reprinting a series of blog posts about zombies that I wrote years ago on my now-deleted livejournal. I’m going to break it up into four parts, three for the original article and one for a little followup

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THE THEMES OF ZOMBIES

When I first got into horror, I didn’t realize that “zombies” constituted a subgenre (the same way as, say, vampires… and of course, there’s just as many cliches). I saw the early George Romero movies in high school, and later on Patrick Macias introduced me to ’70s-80s Eurotrash zombie horror. It’s been cool to see how Capcom’s RESIDENT EVIL series, created by horror fans who even hired George Romero to direct a Japanese RESIDENT EVIL commercial, helped revitalize zombies from their low point in the mid-90s. (Though both the RESIDENT EVIL movies kind of sucked.) Nowadays, there are so many zombie movies, there are many, many that I haven’t seen: ZOMBIE HONEYMOON, BIOZOMBIE (I saw bits and pieces of it at a party), TOKYO ZOMBIE, UNDEAD and I, ZOMBIE (the first film by the creator of the zombie movie DEAD CREATURES) to name just a few relatively recent ones.

About two years ago, with the release of the 2004 version of DAWN OF THE DEAD (a good movie, but not as awesome as it could have been), I got so interested in zombies that I actually sought out zombie-related horror novels. I say this with a little embarrassment, because I think that zombies are basically meant for film rather than books (or comics… *cough*)… that’s how Romero did it, and as one of the writers in Chaosium’s RPG supplement BLOOD BROTHERS 2 put it, “Basically, zombie films are about the difference between moving and unmoving matter, so they’re perfect for cinema.” But now that zombies are so popular, there are a bunch of zombie books out there… Stephen King’s CELL being the biggest and most recent example. And there’s the ZOMBIE SURVIVAL GUIDE (which is actually a really good book). The nice thing about books is that you don’t need a lot of compromises and you have an infinite special effects budget, so I thought I’d check out a bunch of zombie books in search of trashy entertainment. I haven’t read CELL, but I found a couple of books on Amazon: Walter Greatshell’s XOMBIES, Candace Caponegro’s THE BREEZE HORROR, Brian Keene’s THE RISING and CITY OF THE DEAD, and the second anthology in the BOOK OF THE DEAD zombie-short-story series from the ’90s. (I couldn’t find a non-overpriced copy of book one, so I still haven’t read it.)

This is my list of the “core elements” of a post-George-Romero zombie movie… by which I mean, modern “cannibal zombies”, not old-fashioned voodoo zombies or anything like that.

(1) Decay
(2) Infection
(3) Compulsion

(1) DECAY
“Decay” is the one element that zombie movies have in common with voodoo zombies and the traditional walking dead. Zombies are almost always rotting corpses; they’re disgusting and horrifying to look at. Unfortunately, if you focus on this element the story has the potential to turn into bad Heavy Metal artwork. There’s more to zombies than maggots and slime and decomposition and putrefied flesh and swollen, spilling intestines and bleeding sores (I feel like Gerry Bednob in THE FORTY YEAR OLD VIRGIN consoling Steve Carrell: “There’s more to life than @#$@# and $@#$#…”) If it’s too over-the-top, zombie gore is close to comedy, as Peter Jackson knew when he made his awesome movie DEADALIVE. (I think that’s the appeal of BIOZOMBIE too.)

Focusing on the gore, I think, is an even worse mistake for prose zombie fiction. It’s one thing to *show* a bunch of hideous, decomposing corpses eating people; it’s another thing to write about it. On the screen, even if the story sucks, you can ooh and ahh because of the cool special effects and sheer numbers of zombies. In prose, it gets old fast, as in Brian Keene’s THE RISING and its sequel, CITY OF THE DEAD. I can’t count how many descriptions these books have of “maggots crawling under the transparent flesh” of its zombie hordes… just part of a general pulp-schlock feel. In Keene’s books, every dead thing on the planet starts coming back to life — both people and animals — and they’re not just dumb cannibals, they’re vicious, sadistic jerks. (Emphasis on the “jerks”, unfortunately… the evil dead have terrible Freddy Krueger-esque jokey dialogue, proving the old adage “Better to say nothing and have people think zombies are stupid than to open your mouth and leave no doubt.”) It is quickly established that they are in fact demon spirits from some hell-like dimension which have been freed to possess all dead bodies until the entire world is dead like them. It’s not a bad idea, but the execution sucks. For some reason, Keene chooses to explain the origin of the zombies in the second chapter, instead of leaving the least mystery or suspense about it…. otherwise I wouldn’t give away such a spoiler. Secondly, since the demons all openly admit that they were confined to hell — excuse me, I mean “the Void” — by God — excuse me, I mean “the cruel one” — you’d think that people’s joy or awe at knowing that God exists (and he’s not on the zombies’ side) would slightly help make up for their horror at having the entire world inevitably destroyed by evil zombie-demons. Admittedly, the characters have other things to do, like run for their lives. The focus is on gore, gore, gore, action, gore, with the occasional snarky comments from the demon-zombies. Simply put — THE RISING and CITY OF THE DEAD read more like movie pitches (or comic pitches) than books, and by focusing on the decay and guts, they focus on the more superficial aspects of zombies.

NEXT UPDATE: Friday! Including more Deep Zombie Thoughts!


Discussion (3)¬

  1. Night-Gaunt says:

    I am not a goreman myself. I am fine with it, but don’t revel in it.

  2. Night-Gaunt says:

    This anatomical cut away is very nice, reminds me of the opening credits for the RE-Animator movies which I liked. All three of them.

    Now the resurrected corpses in “Dead Heat” starring Treat Williams don’t eat people but they are still very dangerous.

  3. Alright, I just started reading it and have finished chapter one. And let me say: THIS. IS. AWESOME.

Comment¬