Source: CVDaily Feed
“You are either the butcher, or you are the cattle.”
—From the television show “The Walking Dead”
Vampires were never the same after the 1979 film version of “Dracula”. Frank Langella might have been the prettiest man to ever have lived when he donned the Transylvanian count’s black cape. It is an unremarkable film except for the flawlessness of Langella’s face.
Since that version of Dracula, every legitimate film about vampires has tried to find some form of humanity or beauty in the Undead. Just look at 1987’s “The Lost Boys”. The vampires in that film were not so much demons as they were rambunctious youth just looking to have a good time.
The theory of the “mindless killer” has also seen its best days long gone. When “Halloween” was released in 1978, it invented its own genre. Michael Myers was soon followed by his fellow psychotic mute in crime, Jason Vorhees.
The Golden Age of slasher flicks did not last long. By the mid-80’s, slasher films were no longer profitable. They mostly died off (pun intended). Then, under the ingenious collaboration of Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson, the splattering of teenage blood returned to celluloid in 1996 in the pioneering film “Scream”. That film turned the Greek prefix meta into a proper noun. The teenagers in Scream were self-aware. They were characters in a slasher film trying not to die the way kids usually were knocked off in slasher films. All three sequels in the series have added on to the premise brilliantly.
It says much about how slasher films belonged to another era that nearly every great film from that time (Halloween, Friday the 13th and My Bloody Valentine to name a few) has been remade in the last decade—and those remakes all monumentally sucked.
I will not even address the ghosts-possession genre. Maybe one film out of 50 is worth a watch. That horse has been beaten to chalky dust.
That leaves zombies.
Zombies have been a part of American cinema for 8 decades now—although it is widely recognized that George A. Romero’s 1964 film “Night of the Living Dead” was the genesis for the zombies we all know and fear today. (Odd fact about that film: the zombies were not called zombies. They were referred to as ghouls.)
Since that film, the concept of mindless predators destroying the remnants of humanity without cause, or purpose of being, has become an embedded part of Americana. Most of us love a great zombie film.
And that brings me to this past Sunday. The fifth season of the television show “The Walking Dead” premiered to near unanimous glowing reviews. For those not familiar with the show, The Walking Dead is about a group of survivors trying to navigate a zombie apocalypse. Based on a popular comic book series, the show artfully balances being an action series set in a dystopian world and a philosophical treatise on the value of humanity in a period ruled by unprecedented horror and chaos.
I often debate the moral relativism of this amazing show with my teenage son. We discuss whether in such a society if the actions of the characters are just. I am proud of my son for seeing not just the entertainment value of the show, but also the message it tries convincingly to convey regarding the human need to survive and find happiness.
And to an extent, I believe that is why zombies play so well in television and films. Vampires, axe murderers and ghosts all have a targeted agenda. Zombies do not. They stagger around aimlessly. If they come across a human they can devour, Yahtzee! If not, oh well. Move on.
All zombies do is mindlessly go about their day in a collective trance without individual thought or meaning. Kinda like a BYU undergrad.
The real purpose zombies serve is to extract feelings and actions from the humans still trying to live. Humans are the stars of zombie stories. It is whether we keep to an outdated and counterproductive set of social mores during a zombie apocalypse, or revert back to a more primitive, barbaric society that is at the heart of the human ideology in a world where zombies have domain.
As an example, allow me to discuss in detail this last episode of the The Walking Dead. SPOILER ALERT: I am going to reveal key plot points—so do not read further if you love the show and have not watched the latest episode.
The main characters are being held prisoner by a group of cannibals (cheekily called Termites in Internet chat groups) at an old train depot known as Terminus. The Termites could easily be one-dimensional bad guys worthy of the death that surely will come their way. But the show’s creative team wanted something more than that. The show starts with a flashback to when the Termites were being held in a rail car at Terminus by a band of thugs.This sequence allows us to contemplate how this group came to be worse than the zombies from which they seek sanctuary.
As the episode progressed, most (but not all) of the Termites are eliminated as zombies overrun the compound and the main characters escape.That should be the end of it. But The Walking Dead challenges its viewers to think about bigger questions. At the end of the episode, we return to the original flashback scene. The female Termites are obviously the victims of brutal assaults by the thugs. And the remaining men decide that they must become ruthless killers to end their horror. We saw the Termites defeated, but we are asked to sympathize for them anyway.
Zombies just do what they do. We love zombies not because of their originality, but because we imagine how we would react in such a nightmarish world. We can all have pleasant conversations with a vampire. We can abstain from sex at summer camps and on babysitting assignments to avoid the wrath of mindless killers. And if we live in a haunted house, we can open the front door and leave. Zombies never leave and never cease wanting to eat us. They challenge our moral ambiguity. They cannot be reasoned with or persuaded to change their diet.
To finish, I frequently ask myself what would I do in a zombie apocalypse. Living in Logan, Utah I would have a huge advantage over city dwellers. Logan Canyon can easily be blocked off on both sides. Guns are bountiful here. And I am fortunate enough to have not one but two Wal-Marts to loot. I would kill the weak, old and infirmed on my way into the mountains as both an act of mercy and a necessary undertaking to ensure they would not hunt me down when “turned” by zombification.
Some of you might find that a ghastly thing to admit. But that is what you need to do if you are to survive in a world dominated by zombies. You need to remove yourself from humanity. The fact that some of you disagree with that is why this genre of horror will be with us for a long time.