I’m away in Jordan right now as this page goes online, so please enjoy it without me! I’ll be back soon. The amazing J.V. is crashing in the house and feeding the dog while my wife and I are out. In the meantime, more thoughts on zombies!
THE THEMES OF ZOMBIES, #3: COMPULSION
The last, and I think the most crucial, element of zombies is “compulsion.” Whether they’re cannibalistic or not, the scariest zombies really WANT to turn other people into zombies. They don’t just wander around waiting for orders (like voodoo zombies) or having a good time and killing folks (like Brian Keene’s zombies) or becoming progressively more depressed & bitter (like the BREEZE HORROR zombies). The most horrifying element of zombies isn’t the decay, or the flesh-eating — it’s knowing that the zombies want YOU, and they want to turn you into one of them, either consciously or unconsciously as a side effect of eating you. You won’t just die… you will become one of THEM. (This is another way in which Brian Keene’s books use the superficial elements of zombie movies while missing the real point… although practically everyone in the books gets turned into zombies, the zombies aren’t really “them,” they’re just their bodies which have been possessed by demons, while the soul/consciousness of the dead person goes happily to heaven or wherever. So “you” never really become a zombie, only your body does.)
I think this conformity/transformation aspect… this *mental* transformation aspect… is the most frightening and powerful element of zombie movies overall, even though it’s not unique to zombie movies. (For that reason, one of my favorite zombie films is SHIVERS, otherwise known as the “sex zombies movie,” in which (living) people are infected by a contagious parasite that turns them into sex fiends. There’s actually no onscreen sex… it’s just a bunch of disturbing images of people about to engage in various forms of molestation before the camera cuts away. Like a bunch of disconnected clips from a ’70s porno film played for horror.) Walter Greatshell, in his book XOMBIES, also understands this. In this book, yet another attempt to one-up George Romero by coming up with the most unwinnable zombie scenario imaginable, every childbearing-age woman on earth suddenly transforms into an unkillable, running-zombie-like maniac whose only desire is to infect everyone else with zombie-ism. The men who are infected become maniacal zombies too; the eventual explanation for why it starts with women is kind of weak, but on a conceptual level, rather than springing (entirely) from misogynistic motives, it seems to be intended to set up a 28 DAYS LATER-like military scenario in which male machismo and egotism runs wild and a teeny-tiny number of surviving women (including the cynical prepubescent protagonist) become the unwilling focus of men’s lusts and fears. In any case, half of the human race is instantly transformed into zombies (who are both really fast and can’t be killed by anything — they just break apart into little squirming pieces), and 99.9% of the rest quickly follows suit, as the Xombies glom onto people and infect them by suffocating them with their lips. Very sexy/sexual, and definitely intended to be — as a group of zombies rushes towards the protagonist, she (and the writer) stops to notice that one of them has an erection, but luckily for the tone of the book, all the zombies’ sexuality is entirely sublimated into their ravenous, endless desire to convert other people into zombies. It’s my favorite one of the zombie books I’ve read, even though it doesn’t have any “decay” elements at all.
That, then, is what I think of when I think of “zombies.” In general, I wasn’t that impressed by the zombie books I read (except for XOMBIES), and so I probably won’t pick up BODY BAGS and a couple of other cult zombie novels which have received marginally decent reviews. I may still read CELL eventually… and Mark E. Rogers, the creator of SAMURAI CAT, wrote a book called THE DEAD which combines a Christian-end-of-the-world novel with a zombie novel, so how can I resist? As for the BOOK OF THE DEAD anthologies, the second anthology had a few decent stories, of which my favorite was “Bright Lights, Big Zombie,” apparently a Brett Easton Ellis pastiche, in which we see the hilarious and sadly plausible effects of a zombie plague upon the editors of a Fangoria-esque horror movie magazine. While horrible zombie incidents happen mostly offcamera in distant parts of the U.S., and everyone goes slowly crazy with fear, the government responds by (among other things) blacklisting more and more zombie-related movies… just like what happened with certain movies, songs and images of the World Trade Center after 9/11.
NEXT UPDATE: Wednesday! And more zombie texting!