Guest-Blogger Jim Knipp has a love-hate relationship with Zombies. After all, what is there to love or hate, heck, what is there to fear? Like Mummies, even Frankenstein can outrun them. Check out his thought process on zombies for our 31 Days of Horror, after the jump.
I never got zombies. It’s not entirely my fault. During my geek formative years in the 80s, zombies were more objects of ridicule than a source of scares. Sure, Romero’s classics had been around for over a decade, but I was too dumb to appreciate them. So we were left with unkillable revenants (Freddy, Michael, Jason), the first generation of beautiful 20-something vampires (Lost Boys, Near Dark), and the occasional demonic spirit/force of nature/unexplainable evil from beyond (Evil Dead, Hellraiser).
Zombies were relegated to bad, straight-to-video, George Romero rip-offs, half-comedic cheesefests like Night of the Comet, or surreal voodoo inspired movies with convoluted plots that still don’t make sense to me today (Serpent and the Rainbow). Heck, even in “Dungeons and Dragons,” they were first level jokes, something you threw in when you could think of nothing else and needed cannon fodder.
So I can be forgiven that the shambling undead never struck much of a chord. What was a walking corpse when compared to the sex appeal of the vampire, the hirsute angst of the werewolf, the sheer, WTF did I just see terror of a Cenobite torturer sprung from the puzzle box? And really how scary can a monster be when it can be outpaced by your average walker-toting, golden-ager?
Then 2002 rolls around and Danny Boyle brings us 28 Days Later. I know, those weren’t really zombies – they technically weren’t even dead; but two years later Zack Snyder remakes Dawn of the Dead and the roots of my addiction form. I loved every minute of that movie, from the moment the little girl rears back and rips out Luis’ throat, to the downer of the ending when Michael stands alone on the dock, watching the survivor’s boat glide into Lake Michigan before blowing his brains out, to the real downer of an ending – seen during the credits – as the survivors meet their fate at the hands (or rather teeth) of a ravenous horde on some Great Lakes island. The movie was nearly perfect, and damn scary. Granted, these were fast zombies, running like cheetahs, rappelling down parking garages, and generally doing everything but that Michael Jackson “Thriller” dance. As for slow zombies? Well, Shaun of the Dead showed us how to deal with them – simply shuffle your feet, get a dead look in your eye, and moan – sort of like my walk from the bus every day.
So yes, up through 2010, I still didn’t quite get slow zombies. They were still a bit of a joke, something for the purists to rant about. Then I read World War Z by Mel Brooks’ overachieving son, Max, and ruined my life forever.
World War Z is not a traditional novel; rather, it is a collection of first person narratives collected in the years after we finally won the zombie apocalypse. Brooks somehow manages to create dozens of unique voices each resonating as true. He conveys scenes of horror and heroism, from a single soldier who recounts the military’s first disastrous response outside Yonkers, to a young woman recalling her family’s flight north and the steps they took to survive, to an astronaut’s view from above, watching as herds of undead, ten-million strong, sweep across the Great Plains.
And that’s what finally got me. We weren’t talking about loose gaggles of schlepping
zombies that staggered through the streets like sorority sisters leaving the bar during pledge week. We’re talking millions! Billions! Pouring out of our cities, filling the roads. Sure you might be able to outrun them over the short term, but where are you going to run? And what if you can’t run? What if you’re a 300-pound office drone with an aversion to exercise bikes and no shooting skills? One who can’t handle the stairs let alone a hurried trek up some steep mountain pass while being chased by monsters who may be slow, but will never, ever give up? When it happens, what the Hell am I… um, I mean… what is he… going to do?
World War Z isn’t just my favorite zombie book… it’s my favorite book period. I tend to re-read things I like every five or ten years – I appreciate the new perspective my additional years give me when I go back to these old friends. In the three years I’ve owned World War Z, I’ve reread it SIX times, most recently to wipe the bad taste of the Brad Pitt debacle from my mouth. (On a side note, I feel the same way about the movie’s treatment of Brooks’ material as the “South Park” boys felt about Lucas and Spielberg’s recent treatment of Indiana Jones. Brad Pitt may be my favorite actor, but World War Z makes me want to take a Lobo upside his skull.)
So now, thanks to the novel – with some help from AMC’s “The Walking Dead” – I spend large chunks of my day contemplating not whether the zombie apocalypse could occur, but whether my house will provide a good defensive position when it does. (Pros – big house, full cellar, connecting rooftops for possible alternate escape routes. Cons – little time to remove porch steps before being overrun). My daily commute is spent wondering which of the tall buildings might serve best as a hideout and whether City Hall (strong walls, high windows, courtyard for potential crops) can be sealed off quickly enough to warrant the risk that population density would make Center City the LAST place you’d want to go. And I’m trying to figure out a zombie romance story, because Adele Downs told me at Philadelphia Stories‘ Push to Publish conference that if I do, I might make millions! I guess you can say I’m zombie-obsessed.
Alas, like all obsessions, I know this too will fade. Some younger, sexier monster will come along and steal me away.
Until then, I guess it’s fair to say Zombies own my heart, not to mention my brains, liver, and small intestine.
Jim Knipp is a part-time writer and a full time procrastinator who has dozens of short stories, novels, and screenplays mouldering away in a thirty-year old trapper keeper or flittering around his disorganized attic of a noggin. He is a member of the South Jersey Writers’ Group and the registrar from the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference. You can find some of his weekly ramblings here and on Twitter.