Friday, June 12, 2009

Zombies Are the New Black

Well, summer is coming and trends are changing. Swimsuits that match and flip-flops have become passé; wide-leg pants and platform wedges are currently the hot thing. Changes are sweeping through literature and media forums as well: vampires are so last year, the creature du jour is now the zombie.

Vampires gained traction throughout the seventies and eighties with novels like Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot and The Keep by F. Paul Wilson (still one of my personal favorites), but it was Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire series that really put the torch to the gunpowder. The nineties brought us movies such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the film version of Interview With the Vampire, and Blade. The latest manifestation of this trend is the Twilight saga by Stephenie Meyer, which proves that people are still as hungry for the troubled and lonely stranger motif as ever.

Yet, a change is in the air. There has been a fascination with the walking un-dead throughout the years, from George A. Romero's 1968 cornerstone film Night of the Living Dead to Michael Jackson's Thriller video of 1983, to the Evil Dead trilogy directed by Sam Raimi (culminating in Army of Darkness in 1993) but it seems that in the 21st century, stories concerning zombies are reaching critical mass. Resident Evil (based on the popular video game) and 28 Days Later were crafted in 2002. The year 2004 saw both a re-make of Dawn of the Dead (based on Romero’s 1978 release of the same name) and the release of one of my favorite movies of all time: Shaun of the Dead (Shaun’s tagline is “A romantic comedy. With zombies.”). More zombie films have followed, but a recent zombie film has already become a cult hit, Dance of the Dead, that combines the zombie genre with a high school coming of age story.

The recent trend has bled over into books as well. World War Z by Max Brooks, Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament by S.G. Brown, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s latest installment of the Agent Pendergast series Cemetery Dance, David Wellington’s Monster Island trilogy, even the superhero comic series Marvel Zombies: all are recent novels using zombies as a major plot vehicle. And just to prove that nothing is sacred, Seth Grahame-Smith has infused the living dead into one of literature’s crown jewels in his book: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance - Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem. This re-telling of her classic love story with the addition of action sequences featuring animated corpses searching for human flesh may have Jane Austen turning over in her grave, but it is certainly a sign of the times.

Why does it matter, you ask? Well, this entire zombie hullabaloo is merely social commentary. We as a society tend to pay more attention to ubiquitous television screens or personal communication devices than we do in developing relationships with one another. While people seem to be drawn to the vampire’s sensual struggle between vulnerability and power that seems to exist in another (previous) age, zombies represent the numbness of today, of us going through the motions of living, without really doing so. The apocalyptic plague aspect of these stories of the living dead is also a warning. It represents the bleakness of a future where we kill our own planet through pollution and negligence. In the movies and books, zombies are often unavoidable; in real life, they show a present and a future that we can avoid by taking care of ourselves and our environment. So go out, don’t be bitten by intransigence, but put your soul into everything that you do!


Anonymous said...

Joel, if forced into a battle to the death, who would win - the vampire or the zombie?

Joel said...

I smell a summer blockbuster with this idea!

Technically, they are both already dead. But if they fought to the finish, I would expect the vampire to make short work of the zombie. However, vampires tend to be loners and zombies usually attack en masse. If this were the scenario, I would give the vampire the same chances as any normal person trapped in a house with a horde of zombies raging outside - that is, not much. Sooner or later, the zombies will find a way in ......

PS. There actually is a B-film called Vampires vs. Zombies. I haven't seen it yet, so I can't relate who wins in that one.

Roberta said...

OK, vampires are really strong and could rip the heads off a zombie. Which would kill them. May I also recommend Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry, which sees a Baltimore cop recruited by a mysterious government agency to fight "walkers" - dead folks killed by a virus that immediately brings them back to life. Brrrrr!

Linda K. said...

One of my favorite books, suggested to me years ago by Roberta, is "Gil's All Fright Diner" by A. Lee Martinez. Duke (a werewolf) and Earl (a vampire) stop for a bite at Gil's All Fright Diner where the owner, Loretta, asks them to take care of her zombie problem. Laugh out loud funny in a wacky, dark, and scary way. For another excellent zombie story that involves Santa Claus, a clueless angel, and zombies, try "The Stupidest Angel" by Christopher Moore.

Anonymous said...

Okay. What if Mike Ditka were one of the Zombies? Would Zombies beat Vampires then?

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