So here’s something I didn’t see coming at all – the zombie long tail. After the good Romero movies petered out, ushering in a decades-long drought of cultural indifference, Danny Boyle made 28 Days Later in 2002. The great
lurch leap forward in that movie? Sprinter zombies. Definitely why I liked that movie so much – Romero’s movies are cool (assuming you can push all that annoying sociological subtext out of your head and just enjoy the claustrophobic terror and matter-of-fact gore), but I always had this problem: I’m not afraid of a movie monster that I can literally stroll away from. When Michael Myers is on your ass, you will carjack a pregnant lady just so you can take her wheels and speed away. People in the Halloween movies are jumping out of third story windows just to stay one step ahead. Romero’s zombies, on the other hand, couldn’t run down a dehydrated tortoise. I’m sitting there watching these movies, and the protagonists are worried about how they’ll get away, and I’m thinking, “Hey, here’s an idea – why not a light jog down the street?” I always thought that one of those movies should have ended with helicopter shot of a big group of old people making a dramatic, 3 mile per hour getaway on their Rascals, a lumbering mass of zombies giving futile chase. The 28 Days Later zombies are a decomposing horse of an entirely different color (putrescent green, if you’re scoring at home) – in the Danny Boyle zombie apocalypse, the only survivors are Jamaica’s 4 x 100 relay team.
As always happens in Hollywood, something made money, prompting producers to strike upon the genius idea to make more movies (wait…for…it) about that thing. But to give credit where credit’s due, we got some pretty good stuff for the next couple years, with the wave seemingly cresting with 2004’s Dawn of the Dead remake. That movie kicked ass, and if you don’t think so, then you’re one of those people who sees Katherine Heigl movies on the first weekend. And we can’t forget Shaun of the Dead, though I prefer my horror pure and unadulterated rather than cut by a bunch of yuks, clever and satisfying yuks though they may be.
The Great Aughts Zombie Revival really should have started to short out after Shaun. Usually parody is the first symptom of the exhaustion of public interest (I know…then 2008’s “Superhero Movie” should have heralded the end of the superhero genre, but clearly it hasn’t. The rule doesn’t apply because nobody except paid focus groups saw that movie, effectively neutering any impact it had. Also, it was not a “parody” so much as a “shitty movie”). But the Revival didn’t short out…just when it looked like it was about to thanks to the disappointing Land of the Dead, 28 Weeks Later comes out and gets things kick-started again. At this point, something truly surprising happened – instead of just taking for granted the fact that Americans will pretty much watch anything with zombies in it and churning out derivative film after derivative film, we actually get several more years of good zombie movies. So not only does the Zombie Revival far outlive its cultural expiration date in terms of sheer production, it also does so in terms of the quality of its content. [Now is the point in the post where you’re probably expecting me to make some sort of half-assed pun drawing a parallel between the seemingly unkillable zombie genre and the zombies themselves. Well, I’m not going to.]
Please don’t start in on me about all the money that a certain “vampire” franchise has made over the last several years as proof that we are living in a vampiric renaissance – let me just tell you, if you think you’re on “Team Edward” or “Team Jacob,” think again. You’re on Team You Should Be Embarrassed to Go Out in Public. What we’re getting now are not vampires. These are vampires:
Gary Oldman there on the far right might have been guilty of some narratively dull flights of romantic longing, but that’s ok. Know why that’s ok? Because Dracula, like the guy with the piranha mouth on the far left and effin’ Valek next to him, is a predatory satanic ghoul, a creature who is entirely dead inside, whose soul has long since been displaced by a spiritual and existential void which can only be filled by a deluge of human blood, but is empty once again much too soon, this eternal emptiness shaping the vile undead monster into a thing driven by an all-consuming, single-minded craving for blood and for murder.
And they’re nowhere to be found. Instead, we’ve got this nearly uninterrupted run of barista vampires. To be fair, it’s harder to get vampires right. You have to write dialogue for them, and I think that’s where the scriptwriters go astray. They assume that because a figure in their script can talk, they have to turn it into a “character.” It has to have contemplative, revealing thoughts. It has to have feelings. It must have an inner life. And that…is so…stupid. You try and humanize vampires in an attempt to make them more interesting, and you utterly, irretrievably blow it. Vampires are inherently interesting because they’re vampires. They sleep in coffins filled with the earth of their ancestral homeland, they arise in the night to suck the blood of the living for sustenance, they can turn into a bat, a wolf, a rat, they can exercise telepathic mind control. A dominant feature of their lore, more than any other monster, is that they are willingly, enthusiastically allied with evil – their very existence is an affront to the Christian God, making their narrative antagonism in any story inherently interesting in a culture such as ours! And yet everybody writing a show today goes “Eh, screw that. What if they gazed wistfully out their window for hours at a time, bemoaning their lonely, dark existence while they listen to Arcade Fire?”