Friday, September 18, 2009
Zombies and Film: Why Ghoulish Cinema Works
With the impending release of the graphically comedic 'Zombieland' in October, one should think that the time is right for a little reflection on how the undead make (at most times) good cinema. What is it about shambling hordes of brain-consuming creatures that brings us mortals to the movie theaters, at least when a zombie film releases? Is it the numerously creative ways to dispatch these horrid fiends in several scenarios? Is it the coy and camping sensation of surviving wave after wave of undead horror? Or is it watching main characters steadily being picked off one by one and predicting the last one standing?
If it weren't for zombies, some really great films would not exist.
Take 'Shaun of the Dead.' Great film. Dark humor with twists and satirical tones. But notice one of the catchphrases on either the DVD slipcase or the actual movie poster itself: "A romantic comedy...with zombies." Could it possibly be that any boring subject, any droll moment, can be supplemented with zombies to make it infinitely more interesting? That film proves it. 'Pride and Prejudice with Zombies' is another example, this time in the form of a bestselling novel: 'A classic that someone will finally want to read." Because of zombies.
Let's face it, zombies are fun because they are out of place in key genres, and that is why filmmakers and novelists utilize their presence. Nothing is more satirical than making up with your ex-boyfriend/girlfriend amidst a swarming horde of angry undead. Nothing brings out the underlying anarchic tones of human nature more than the brutality of the message carried out through the raging infected in '28 Days Later.' Some critics dismiss the use of zombies in films as excuses for petty violence, and in some ways that is the case. If you find yourself sitting through the glorious slow-mo gore in Zack Snyder's 2004 rendition of 'Dawn of the Dead', then you may find that to be the truth. However, there is emotion and there is purpose in the isolated confines of New York City during 'I Am Legend.' Will Smith had a great role in that film, and the book was even better in the way that it dealt with the psychotic tolls of being burdened with the address of 'Last Man on Earth'.
Some of you could say those bald things were zombies or vampires; honestly I have no idea what you want to classify them as, I think they might be a hybrid or something.
The irrationality of zombies, while they are indeed mindless, work for the integrity of the film's message if they serve a heavy purpose for the plot besides being dismembered here and there and everywhere (in slow-mo!).
It's hard to ignore the presence of zombies in today's pop culture. Thanks to Max Brooks' bestselling Zombie Guides and narratives, the undead can walk beyond the borders of the screen and into the imagination---if you want them there. The release of Valve's 'Left 4 Dead 2' allows for a cinematic experience while helping a friend take out a horde of infected. But movies combine the intense, purposeful narratives of novels with the visual fun of dismemberment you can get from a video game. What you get as a result has the potential to be a really good film.
In a way, there's George A. Romero to thank for his slew of zombie films. His projects make it evident that zombies have come a looooong way: from cheap and low-budget pulpy fiction to relatively gory, but hopefully motivated, violent narratives. While some think zombies are mindless ghouls in movies without brains, that's why MovieGhoul is here. To prove them wrong. To prove that zombie cinema can still be good cinema. And to prove that zombies can analyze film too.
So there. Time for some more movies...