Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Zombies aren't so scary when they're fast

So as I mentioned two posts ago, I watched the remake of Dawn of the Dead with Canada's own Sarah Polley last night as part of an attempt to scare myself into not feeling lonely. And while the film did have a lot of shocks and "Bleah!"-boogeymen-jumping-out-of-dark-corners scares, it entirely lacked the haunting sense of dread that has invariably stayed with me whenever I've watched a zombie movie.

Now, when it comes to scary movies I'm about the biggest wimp there is (shut up Hansen), so the fact that I watched a good chunk of the film from my kitchen table rather than the living room isn't a surprise. But wheenver I've watched a zombie flick, be it as awful as Resident Evil or as hilarious as Shaun of the Dead (a film I cannot recommend enough, by the way -- if I ever teach pop culture again, that film is Exhibit A), I'm literally sleepless for a week afterward. And it's not the eight-year-old "ohmygawd what's that noise" type of fear (which I do still get, and yet again, shut up Hansen), but the odd fascination I seem to have for that particular apocalyptic scenario ... in other words, I'm not up jumping at noises, but putting myself in my mind in the Omega Man (awful, awful film) situation, imagining my familiar surroundings populated by zombies and (even worse) having to put down friends and family who've been zombified.

Hence, having heard what I've heard about 28 Days Later, I'm not sure this is a film I should see.

At any rate, I kind of expected Dawn of the Dead to have this effect too. I've been wanting to see it anyway, as it was principally filmed in Thornhill Square, a mall right around the corner from my parents' place, where I held two part-time jobs in high school, and which is now in the process of being demolished. And, well, anything with Sarah Polley in it is a good thing.

But it didn't faze me. And the conclusion I've come to is that it's the zombies themselves -- instead of the inexorable, lumbering, barely vertical George A. Romero species, in this version we have very swift zombies that positively sprint toward their prey. While that makes for some better jump-in-your-seat scares, it lacks the dread that comes with the spectre of inexorability implicit in hundreds of slow-moving zombies. The Romero versions suggest a terrifying mindlessness that the remake lacks -- we have countless scenes where the zombies turn, see a human, and fixate ... immediately leaping into a sprint to attack. Never mind the logical gap (lumbering slow zombies at least nod toward the notion that reanimation of the dead probably has some difficult physical issues to deal with); this new element suggests a consciousness that somehow makes the undead less frightening.

Actually, the best interpretation I've heard of this new film is that, while the zombies of Night of the Living Dead were (a) thinly veiled communists, or (b) mindless conformists and the ones of the original Dawn were mindless consumers, the zombies of the remake are terrorists -- innocuous until they spot their quarry, at which point their attack is swift and deadly.

My own take is that swift zombies are more amenable to gun culture. While slow zombies are easily dispatched with a cricket bat, a la Shaun, swift zombies require firearms. All the more reason to stock up on your guns, middle America ... who knows when the UN or the zombies (tomato, tomato) are coming?


Kellie said...

Just surfed in, cool blog, welcome to the east coast. I'm not a horror wimp, but haven't cared much for the zombie genre in the past. However, 28 Days Later is really good. Brave it and give it a see . . . they're kind of speedy . . . so you can handle it.

FanglyFish said...

Yet more internet references..

Guide Picks - Top 10 Funny Scary Movies

1. Jaws - 1975
The Amity village's horror: Off their idyllic coast, something with a fierce appetite is overbiting the tourists. "You're gonna need a bigger boat," Police Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) tells bounty hunter Quint (Robert Shaw), upon spotting a Great White shark, but it might be too late. Guess who's coming to dinner. Mischievous script, cast and direction (Steven Spielberg) chomp at the bits.

2. Evil Dead II - 1987
Hellzapoppin' and Bruce Campbell is chainsaw-a-choppin' in this seriously grizzly tale of supernatural spirits on a rampage. Unrelenting action, unspeakable menace and unexpected Three Stooges-style antics make for a slap-happy gore feast. Director Sam Raimi's mesmerizing invention spawns a cold-cocked cinematic knock-out. Not for children or anyone planning to sleep ever.

3. Plan 9 From Outer Space
UFOs, in ghastly cahoots with doddering zombies and insane stock footage, invade Earth. This unintentionally hilarious disaster film is a catastrophe due to its dumbstruck plot, inept actors and alleged production values. Edward D. Wood, Jr.'s underachievement is generally hailed as the worst flick ever. Oddly, it's available on high definition DVD, making a rotten film look even lousier.

4. Tremors - 1990
"Jaws" with slithers. The '50s monster genre is back with a fresh coat of paint and a VERY LARGE can of worms. An isolated western locale is besieged by burrowing subterranean crawlers with a taste for munching B-list actors. Ron Underwood ("City Slickers") helms a bright script, amazingly believable special effects, and a cornered, quipping ensemble headed by Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward. BIG fun.

5. An American Werewolf in London
While strolling through the moors one night, two buddies are savaged by a blood-guzzling beast. One dies, the other heals, falls in love and chit-chats with the Undead about the next bad moon rising. Superb shape-shifting effects set a new benchmark in movies. Contemporary Britain permeates this calamitous John Landis production, suitably steeped in macabre humor, some of which nicely clots.

6. Re-Animator - 1985
A medical student's serum brings corpses back to life, along with thrills, violence, and hold-onto-your-head comedy. Director Stuart Gordon's debut is dark and lowbrow in tone and execution, but jolts a creepy, smiley experience. Beware: Several edits of this film exist, including the current home video release which, reportedly, is softened. Your mother would still not want you to see it.

7. Creepshow - 1982
Five simplistic, over-the-top Stephen King stories styled after the impishly grotesque "E.C. Comics." In one segment, King "acts" as such an outlandish country buffoon, he makes Max "Jethro Bodine" Baer, Jr. look like Sir John Gielgud. The best nightmare bugs E.G. Marshall, a man with an infinite dislike for cockroaches. You might wish to caress your pesticide spritzer for emotional support here.

8. Lake Placid - 1999
"Jaws" with feet. Writer David Kelley's ("Ally McBeal") crocodile crock is a whirlpool of mindless amusement. A carnivorous behemoth must satisfy his hunger for park rangers and tent dwellers whenever there's soundtrack silence. Kindly Betty White provides a gum-swallowing comeback line. In publicity for this movie, the actress apologized -- with winks -- for her behavior.

9. Fright Night - 1985
This standard yarn is not so much laugh-out-loud funny as it is tongue-in-cheekily knitted. A suburban teen discovers the neighbors are vampires. He convinces his friends and TV's burnt-out movie shocker host (Roddy McDowall in the patented Vincent Price role) to kill the charismatic Dracula figure (Chris Sarandon), who is busy seeking hickey withdrawals from the boy's mom and girl.

10. Ed Wood - 1994
Though sinisterness lurks, this biopic beaut isn't a scary movie. Instead, it's a homage to a defamed man, whom was passionate and spunky enough to make scary movies; unfortunately, he had no talent. Johnny Depp, Bill Murray and Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi recreate a strange, nutty world -- more fascinating than Ed's films -- in Tim Burton's valentine to accomplishment and Hollywood's underbelly.

syl said...

haha so you HAVE seen Shaun of the Dead!

Hmm, I want to take this popular culture course that you could potentially teach if it involves Shaun of the Dead. haha.

I think the faster, I-want-to-chew-out-your-throat zombies are way scarier than the slow, innocuous zombies...those are just funny.