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Zombies. Seriously, enough.

There comes a time in the year when a young man’s thoughts turn to the occult, and the idea of blood sacrifice and feasting on the gooey brains of your enemies becomes even more tempting than usual. But Christmas is still some way away, and Hallowe’en doesn’t exist in England since the death of trick-or-treating. (Many parents are now convinced their children will disintegrate if they’re out of line-of-sight for more than thirty seconds. I blame the Daily Mail.) So I’m just gonna post this now.

I suppose it was the sight of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies in my local Waterstone’s that got me thinking about it. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not against sullying the classics. I’m with Mark Twain on the Jane Austen debate, who put it more delicately than I ever could, when he said “Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig (Jane Austen) up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.” But it’s depressing to realise that the zombie genre has gotten so bloated, it’s finally burst and spewed its undead entrails into the mainstream.

Jane Austen with zombies? Honestly? Doesn’t that just sound like a washed-up movie exec’s cocaine-fuelled fantasy? Why not bring Jaws back from the dead and have the Ghostbusters hunt down his vengeful spirit at sea? Do we really need another ancient story resuscitated with a new twist?

Judging by the book sales, apparently we do.

The problem is that pretty much every worthwhile take on the zombie theme seems to have been done already. It started for most of us with Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Since then we’ve had comedy zombies (Shaun Of The Dead), teen-horror zombies (Return Of The Living Dead), docu-drama style zombie war (World War Z), zombies that kind of aren’t zombies but actually they are (28 Days Later, Hater), zombies doing social satire  (Dead Set), and so on and so on. Babylon Fields, a TV series in the US which never made it past the pilot, was an attempt to examine the social effects of the dead coming back to life and not trying to eat everyone.  The only thing that has stopped the zombie tale reaching the appalling ubiquity of the current glut of vampire stories is that nobody has worked out a way to make zombies sexy yet. Bits fall off, y’see.

You know what you’re getting with zombies. You know the first third of the book/movie is spent watching the characters work out rules that every living organism on Planet Earth already knows. You get infected if you’re bitten. Detach the head from the spine to kill them. Lure them away with raw meat or loud noise. Zombies are not that hard to deal with, really. Even the fast ones are dumb. All you generally have to do is grab some food, hole up and close the door till they get bored and bugger off.

Instead, drama is mined from the impossible stupidity of the protagonists. They leave the lights on to attract zombies, or unlock zombie-proof doors while storming away from their lover in a hissy fit. They shoot at explosive things at point blank range, or stray close to the windows because they somehow forgot there was a slavering horde of undead lurking outside, just waiting to rip their intestines out of their eye sockets. At some point, someone gets infected by zombie-itis. Instead of shooting them, our merciful heroes will wait till the very last moment, to eke out every last precious second of their existence while the audience marvels at the fragile beauty of life, like watching a butterfly’s wings beating in a frosted glade. After which the character will break out of his or her restraints and take at least two uninfected humans with them on their way to Hell.

Obviously I’m being simplistic – not every zombie tale includes all of the above – but there’s a point here. A zombie in itself just isn’t enough to make a story. Romero’s Dead trilogy, that introduced the wider world to zombies, was great because it had good characters and other drums to bang, about racism, consumerism, the ethics of scientists and the military, and so on. Yes, it had some of the failings I pointed out above, but it was also the first time they’d been done. There are only so many shattering observations on the state of humanity that benefit from the presence of zombies,  and those first three movies pretty much covered ‘em all.

With the honourable exception of King’s Pet Semetary - which is not really a zombie tale at all, anyway - I can’t think of anything with zombies that isn’t basically copying the template Romero laid down. Shaun of the Dead was a funny take on the mindless drones satirised in Dawn Of The Dead. Dead Set updated it for the Big Brother generation. But they’re still retreads, however well dressed, and the points they make aren’t new. The fast zombies of 28 Days Later were seen as a reinvention of the genre, but they were just the same zombies as before, except they could run fast and they died a little easier. Nothing too groundbreaking there.

Now listen. I love zombies. Bringing dead stuff to life is officially awesome. There’s even a pinch of zombie pirates in the Manes of my own Retribution Falls. But I’m just saying: enough, please. All the bases have been covered. Leave the corpses in their graves. Zombies in space will not add anything the genre (oh, wait… Dead Space…). Victorian zombies will not add anything to genre. Nor will a tale from the zombie’s point of view, about a working-class guy scratching a hard unliving in the mean world of the non-decomposed. The zombie apocalypse has happened enough times now. Enough so that I’m pretty confident I’d do well in it, given the amount of advice I’ve had on the subject. Maybe it’s time to get thinking about a new way to end the world.

15 Comments

  1. Zemira says:

    I certainly agree that zombies are quite overdone. But, then, so, I find, are vampires, lycanthropes, oozes, and all other manner of horror monsters. I actually have a copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, bought very cheaply for a quick and fun read. The zombies are of course the same old zombies you’d expect, but it brings something laughable to the story to see Elizabeth Bennet fearing the undead and not her dirty dress in the presence of Mr. Darcy.

    I personally like the take they offered on X-Files about what zombies would ACTUALLY be like if they were to awaken. X-Files posited that zombies aren’t necessarily seeking the living just to be violent. They’re hungry. Wouldn’t you be after years spent under the earth? After eating, they believed the zombies would go on to partake of the other pleasures they may have missed: going to the bathroom, dancing, having sex, etc. It just so happens that most zombie instances we see are during the gorging parts, where they eat humans. Maybe if we didn’t shoot them so quickly, we’d witness an enchanting zombie ball, complete with flowing dresses, oozing eye sockets, and debonair zombie men tipping the orchestra to play their date’s favorite tune.

  2. Hey Zemira,

    Can’t say I’ve as yet gotten angry at the huge amounts of Ooze Fiction taking over the bookshelves, but maybe that’s the next big thing ;) And don’t get me started on vampires…

  3. Kath says:

    Zombies are pretty been there done that. I still prefer them over, say, vampires or werewolves but it’s always the same thing. Maybe if the plot involved some vodou…?

    Oh, now I wanna watch Plan 9 From Outer Space again. That had cool zombies… >_>

  4. That’s kind of my problem, that it’s the same thing. It goes: someone gets infected. Turns into zombie. Zombie breaks out. Infection spreads. A group of heroes struggle to survive (but are usually up against internal tensions and their own stupidity).

    Vampires I think are about as cool as a spandex-wearing 80s glam rock band, but at least there’s a bit of variation in the story. Stuff like Dracula, Fevre Dream, I Am Legend (the BOOK, people!! Not the Will Smith debacle that made me bleed out of my fingertips with rage), and Let The Right One In are all different in structure, and they’re all great, so I forgive ‘em. A bit.

    Can’t say I’ve read/seen a lot of werewolf stuff but I gather they spend most of their time having sex with vampires nowadays…

  5. Kath says:

    I haven’t watched Let The Right One It, yet, but have read rather positive reviews so I might have to give it a try.
    [If you ever feel like watching a very stupid and hilarious Dracula-film, try “Dracula A.D. 1972″. It has hippies and Peter Cushing and it’s so dumb it hurts but is immensely entertaining for the same reasons. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0068505/
    Cannot believe it got 5.4 stars…]

    I am curious about “Daybreakers” because it does look like they are trying to make vampires evil and scary again. Which would be great. We shall see…
    Until then I bide my time and try not to puke on those romance-vampire-novels infesting every single bookshelf in every single bookshop.

    Oh, but I’d like to have a new enemy. Some other mythical creature. One that hasn’t been done to death, yet. Like… killer-mermaids!
    … better not.

  6. Too late.

    ;)

    (I actually kind of liked this film though…)

  7. Jadranko says:

    Okay, you can’t just mention I Am Legend and not get me interested. I actually thought the movie was pretty good. I mean, besides the fact that there were suddenly random packs of deer roaming NY. And the whole psyched up metabolism thing but w/ less food to feed on. But you got me curious: what’d they do wrong? (I should probably hunt down the book, too :P)

  8. The movie would have been okay if it hadn’t been based on one of my favourite books. And by ‘based’ I mean ‘utterly butchered it and missed the point.’ The book is brilliant in how it evokes the paranoia and loneliness of being the last man on earth. Everybody literally is out to get him. But it’s a character study, not an action movie: he spends most of the book barricaded in his house with vampires scratching at the door and calling for him to come out. And the book’s title was totally misinterpreted in the movie. The book’s ending is much better.

    Anyways, I’d recommend reading the book by Richard Matheson. It hasn’t been spoiled for you by the movie, because it bears no resemblance to it at all.

  9. Sara says:

    I believe they have made zombies sexy already believe it or not, in a kind of sick and twisted way. The movie I’m referring to is Deadgirl. If you haven’t heard of it or seen it I slightly hesitate to recommend it just because it’s quite disturbing (it made me squirm and want to throw up at times) but arguably has put some new twist on zombies. It’s also has a very hard R rating so any young ones who might read this it’s not for you.

  10. Pombar says:

    Of course, the original, cut ending of I Am Legend is closer to the book’s. The book’s nonetheless a far superior work, but the film makes some semblance of internal sense with the original ending instead of the mindless replacement.

    Also, if we’re throwing around decent alternative undead monster movies, Park Chan-Wook’s Thirst is yet another hit for the consistently impressive Korean director. Not to mention another gold star on Song Kang-Ho’s lapel.

    But yes, zombies? Overdone. Bring back raptors.

  11. Carl says:

    I’m going to argue the point here a little. While I agree that generally speaking zombie media is stale and done to death (forgive the pun) there are still some good ones. I definately recomend The Walking Dead graphic novels by Robert Kirkman, they have great characters and don’t hold any punches even if they are retreading old ground a little. Then there is The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carris Ryan which is set generations after the zombie rising, which I think is the best way to go, exploring how society evolves alongside the dead and the contrast between those who grew up in the world before and those who have grown up knowing only zombies. Just some random musings.
    Oh, and I Am Legend is awesome, the book, not I Am Will Smith as the movie should have been called.

  12. Jenita says:

    cPCo1d Kudos! What a neat way of thniinkg about it.

  13. […] know I’m not the only one who feels this way, […]

  14. George says:

    I find that I can deal with 99% of the supernatural creatures that people come up with. The one thing I have problems with is zombies. Anything created with that name or brain eating drive makes me want to walk away. I know they aren’t real. I just have an irrational fear of them.

    And for this reason I want to go see this movie:
    http://xkcd.com/734/

    It makes so much sense as long as someone decent wrote the last 90 minutes.

    So give me incorporeal phantoms any day. Or logical responses to outbreaks.

  15. Mordenkainen says:

    I suppose then I should be the one to point this out, but Romero’s zombie movies are a quadrilogy. Like it or not, Land of the Dead IS a part of Romero’s zombie series. It is what he determined to be the logical followup to Day of the Dead. Rather than say call it Dusk of the Dead, he went with a name that sums up his opinion on the matter: eventually, the zombies take over and it becomes their land.

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