My earliest zombie memory is of going with my siblings to see the original Dawn of the Dead (why, I have no idea) and being laughed at by the audience for walking out in the first 20 minutes. For a bunch of silly kids who grew up on Saturday morning cartoons a zombie getting scalped by a spinning helicopter blade was a bit much for our delicate psyches.
Much older and somewhat a bit more steeled in nerve, I can watch zombie flicks now and even enjoy a few. Both 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later were pretty good(which some purists sniff aren’t really zombie flicks because these undead don’t attack and eat you; they stop at attacking you and run like Olympic track stars. “Real” zombies just kind of lurch along s-l-o-w-ly). If the zombies in Night of the Living Dead aren’t scary at all (and they aren’t) Romero more than made up for it with Dawn of the Dead which ramped up the guts and gore by the power of ten. It’s amazing what a slightly bigger budget and shooting in color instead of black and white will to make something a helluva lot scarier. Years later I rented the movie got through all of it without walking out or turning it off.
Zombies will always mess with me in a way vampires don’t. Vampires and crazed serial killers knocking off horny teenagers can be made scary, but not in the way a zombie apocalypse is. Zombie outbreaks take two of the biggest fears of human beings (death and the total breakdown of society) and mashes it up with an enemy that is implacable, impossible to reason with and is totally relentless. The only thing zombies want is you and they aren’t willing to settle for anything less than your ass as an entrée.
I’m far from a gore-hound, but there’s something about people you know rising from the dead for no other reason than to feed on your living flesh that makes zombies scary in a way a Jason and Freddy aren’t. Zombies don’t roll like serial killers. They don’t come at you with knives, chain saws, pitchforks or any other cutting utensil. They don’t want revenge or act out of sadistic rage and hatred. They operate on a more primal urge: the need to feed. They come armed with two arms, teeth and a very bad attitude. It only takes one zombie attack to louse up your whole day.
For the last two years some critics whose opinions I respect have raved about Dead Set, a British version of the zombie apocalypse that centers on a group of reality show contestants who have to fend off the flesh eaters when a particularly virulent undead outbreak breaks loose. Last week it showed up on the IFC movie channel so I decided to record all five 30 minute episodes.
But I’m still too much of a pussy to watch it all.
Dead Set features fast zombies and they’re just scarier and more vicious than the slow types. It’s as if they’re pissed they’ve got to chase down their dinner and when they catch you that’s gonna be your ass—and every other part they can chow down on. The kills are plenty, the zombies plentiful and the dwindling number of contestants finding there’s nowhere to run, hide or way to avoid the inevitable.
I have the series on DVR on the chance I pound enough Jack and Cokes to give me the liquid courage to watch all Dead Set, but I doubt I’m going to in the immediate future. And when I do it won’t be in the dark in the wee hours of the morning.
AMC takes the plunge and launches its own episodic zombie show with The Walking Dead. The early reviews are enthusiastic, but it’s not based on the quality of the scripts, dialogue, or acting. These kinds of stories boil down to a ragtag group of survivors trying to get to a safe haven and the problems they meet trying to get there. Like hordes of the undead trying to eat them.
Dead Set proved television could deliver moments of “holy shit” splatter and if the Brits can do it, there’s no doubt the same feat can’t be repeated over here with The Walking Dead. There’s always an appetite for this kind of blood-splattered material.
In the meantime remember these rules from Max Brooks’ (son of Mel), The Zombie Survival Guide.
Top 10 Lessons for Surviving a Zombie Attack
- Organize before they rise!
- They feel no fear, why should you?
- Use your head: cut off theirs.
- Blades don’t need reloading.
- Ideal protection = tight clothes, short hair.
- Get up the staircase, then destroy it.
- Get out of the car, get onto the bike.
- Keep moving, keep low, keep quiet, keep alert!
- No place is safe, only safer.
- The zombie may be gone, but the threat lives on
Zombies may have the edge in superior numbers, but you have the advantage of a superior brain. Use it. (Ummm…BRAINS! Tasty!)