Tag Archives: The Walking Dead

Night of the Living Dead

Arguably the scariest offering from the 1960’s, George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead is more than the average zombie flick. For starters, it is the original zombie movie, and its original incarnation has served as inspiration for the myriad of humans-eating-humans in media for the last decade, most notably with television/graphic novel series The Walking Dead. In fact, at New York Comic Con in 2012, the creator of the series said his show was to Romero “What Fifty Shades of Grey is to Twilight.” Epic fan fiction. Even Roger Ebert, a budding critic for the Chicago Sun-Times regarded the film as “…something else.” At the time there was no rating system, and often children would show for the monster movies. No one expected the Romero film to elicit such a visceral reaction.

Though Romero’s zombies were the stuff of nightmares, the film has a very political and social focal point. It plays on many of the themes from the 1960’s—a time of civil unrest and dissension among the masses, and was one of the first horror films to feature an African American lead. Much of the dialogue from the film was ad-libbed, and though there was a script, it was Romero’s intention to capture as much surprise and candor from the actors, often telling them to “explain” a situation with no further notes than that. In many of these cases, there were only one or two takes before Romero moved on.

In a time when cinematography and film were in their prepubescent age, Romero brought a very new—and very dark—insight into what a horror film could be, and how it could touch upon the nerves of an already turbid and volatile apex in a societal realm. Though initially intended to be a dull-witted truck driver, the character of Ben was restructured by the actor Duane Jones. Jones, well-educated and mannerly, decided that if he were to play the character, the character should also be a reflection of the kind of people he knew. He once said he feared that if Ben appeared a lack-wit, that the audience would have a hard time liking him as a hero and respecting him as a leader.

The grainy black and white of 60’s era cinematography adds an additional haunting aspect to the film, the focal point of the movie is not the monsters themselves, nor the fear of them. The true core of the film is the fear of the unknown. In a world where the dead stalk the earth, they are a known fear. But the unknown fear of other people is in finding that, when faced with our own mortality, most people become monsters and would commit horrifying acts to save their own lives or the lives of their loved ones, and the moral codes that act as a cornerstone of our society and civility dissolve in that. The film seeks to explore what constitutes “moral” and “immoral” in a world verging on apocalyptic chaos.

As a movie, the acting is brilliant and the film itself pits strangers in a truly life or death situation to determine what manifests “good.” In a world where the dead come back to life as shambling monsters of their former selves, Romero executes a level of fear—not only from the dead rising, but from those of the living—rendering seven strangers struggling to survive in a world of the sick, the dying, and the dead, proving that the scariest monsters are not creatures of the imagination, but rather are people caught between the fear of death and the fear of the unknown.

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Patient Zero: White Zombie and Where the Dead Walk on Screen

If one were to examine pop-culture today and determine where exactly zombies and the undead stand, it would sort of feel as though they really do walk among us. In recent years, AMC’s hit series The Walking Dead, with now three seasons under its belt, has left zombies with an undeniable stamp on the medium of the screen.

Already in 2013, two films, Warm Bodies and World War Z, have graced audiences with two very different perspectives on, but nevertheless feature, beings that are neither dead nor alive. Countless upon countless horror films centering on zombies have been released over the decades that they, in fact, have spawned their own genre. The ‘Zombie Horror Film’ is now an immortalized subgenre of the horror flick but it goes even deeper than that as the folklore of zombies in North American culture is always being spun into more complex and varying webs of subgenre upon sub-subgenre.

Before one delves into the legend that continually grows, it is important to discover where the dead first began to walk the earth on screen. When we think of the origins of the ‘zombie,’ George A. Romero’s 1968 film, Night of the Living Dead, is certainly a movie that comes to mind and although this is partly true, it being the origin for zombies as we know today, the source goes back a bit farther than that, in fact, over 30 years back whilst in the midst of the Golden Age of Hollywood.

The term ‘zombie’ has roots reaching back into Haitian and African religion, where a zombie is someone who is an animated corpse or hypnotized into doing one’s bidding. Through voodoo and witchcraft it was believed to be possible to turn someone into a zombie. The living dead as we know them today, who rise from graves, is a little more of a recent concept. Rarely nowadays do movies that contain zombie subject matter actually depict them as traditional victims of witchcraft or voodoo; however, this was not always the case. Known to be the first ever full-length feature zombie-horror film, White Zombie is the motion picture which sparked the rise of what was to be a zombie take-over in North American horror.

White Zombie was directed by brothers Victor and Edward Halperin in 1932. The film stars the infamous horror virtuoso Bela Lugosi as well as Madge Bellamy, John Harron, and Robert Frazer. The setting of the plot actually takes place in Haiti and pits Lugosi’s character, Murder Legendre, as the voodoo master with a sugar mill full of his very own zombie slaves. Lugosi puts on a fantastically creepy  performance as the antagonist. His signature stare that garnered him so much respect in 1931’s Dracula curdles your blood and is ever present in this film. The atmosphere that the film evokes is undeniably scary and the blank expressions given off by Lugosi’s zombies are eccentrically eerie and truly void of any signs of human existence. Although at times the film is a little goofy (but are not all horror films from that time a little bit so?) and the acting also sometimes cringe worthy, there is a certain amount of charm that this independent horror gem carries along with itself.

Filmed in only 11 days, White Zombie was first released to the public in 1932 in New York City, where it faced less than positive reviews. Critically, the film was seen as a joke and as a laughable parody of what ‘true horror’ could accomplish. In retrospect, though, the film is seen as a pivotal piece in the growth of horror and is seen as the first film to introduce the term ‘zombie’ into mainstream media. For that alone it is certainly worth a watch, if not for Lugosi’s stellar performance.

After White Zombie, not many other zombie films saw zombies from the Haitian perspective and after the huge success of Night of the Living Dead, it would seem that for now, that perspective of zombie has all but been lost and forgotten. The hypnotism and voodoo magic is gone and in its place now stands bloodthirsty, flesh-eating, usually repulsively gory undead. However, after White Zombie there were still several zombie films that came out before George Romero ever got his start, and these included: The Ghost Breakers (1940), King of the Zombies (1941), I Walked with a Zombie (1943), and The Plague of the Zombies (1966). None of them were hugely successful but each had their own little role in expanding and building upon zombie mythology in film.

With zombie-horror as an entire subgenre, it now appears as though sub-subgenres are expanding out of that as well. When you first want to create some sort of zombie-related flick, you have to ask yourself, what sort of zombies are we dealing with? Will the zombies simply rise from the dead or is there a virus involved? Do you need to be bit or is being scratched good enough to turn? Do the zombies specifically need to be shot in the head to be killed? Are they fast, jumping, and sprinting or are they slow, cumbersome, and lumbering? These questions and many, many more have to be answered and determined before one creates anything zombie related nowadays. When talking about zombies and zombie films, I will find myself asking questions like, “Are we dealing with 28 Days Later zombies or Dawn of the Dead zombies?” The list of characteristics that go into creating your own version of the undead is just so expansive, almost overwhelming now, that depending on which sort of zombie you wish to take on, chances are it will be very similar to some films while also very different to others, thus, the creation of a zombie sub-subgenre is created.

Infesting more than just the big screen, zombies are everywhere. Books, videogames (especially videogames), and television all host very successful zombie-related material and although some see the zombie genre as redundant and repetitive, it has been going on for roughly 80 years now and I am sure that zombies are here to stay. You can now have zombies attacking your garden on your iPhone in Plants vs. Zombies, watch Brad Pitt fend for his life against hordes of zombies in World War Z, and even read up and prepare yourself for the impending zombie apocalypse in Max Brooks’ best-selling book The Zombie Survival Guide, but just remember where it all came from; from a little Haitian plantation at the hands of a devious voodoo master practicing witchcraft and a spellbinding Bela Lugosi back in 1932.

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Warm Bodies In the Flesh

Isaac Marion’s debut novel, Warm Bodies, was a breakthrough in 2011, a beautifully written genre-bending horror romance about an undead named “R” who falls in love with a living girl, Julie, after he eats her boyfriend’s brain. He even saves her from being devoured by his friends. So sweet and considerate, right? I was intrigued by the premise and bought a copy on Kindle, expecting a fluffy, easy read. Instead, I found a complex love story from a very unconventional point of view. What impressed me immediately was Marion’s prose and the fluid skill he used to give R a voice that many, dead or undead, could sympathize with.

The move adaptation last year opened to an 80% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. After loving the book so completely I went into the theater with a bowl of popcorn and a cup of skepticism, expecting watered down emotions and overblown special effects. The trailer looked good, but don’t the trailers always look good? I was pleasantly surprised that Jonathan Levine stayed true to the novel, with help from Marion, and preserved the innocent, Edward Scissorhands-like persona of R and his journey to connect with Julie and become human again.

This past month, advertisements began running every fifteen minutes for a new BBC America miniseries, In the Flesh, from debut creator and writer Dominic Mitchell. The first episode premieres tonight, June 6th, which happens to be two days after the DVD release of Warm Bodies. Some have said that BBC is attempting to imitate Marion’s romantic tale of undead meets girl, but from the clips I’ve been able to watch, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Although, without it’s predecessor, I doubt a zombie drama could have been greenlit. What the BBC has done, like Marion, is use an overdone horror trope with a fresh twist to tell a meaningful story with new perspective.

The trailers and sneak-peaks from BBC reveal a much starker zombie apocalypse than Warm Bodies, although both divert attention from the traditional monsters and create villains from apathy, prejudice and ignorance. The stories don’t focus on humanity surviving among monsters, but instead take the more complex approach of humanizing the traditional villain and exploring the darker side of the human condition. In these stories, the “rotter” can be the good guy. Although zombies in both periodically eat their neighbors, they feel conflicted about it, and doesn’t that count for something?

The undead of In the Flesh, called PDS (Partially Deceased Syndrome) sufferers, could be a metaphor for the mentally ill or any other group with societal stigma that are feared and alienated. Two characters, Kieren Walker (Luke Newberry) and Rick Macy (David Walmsley), are not only dealing with PDS prejudice from their community, but are exploring their connection to one another and struggling with the possibility of additional rejection from their parents and friends. They’re “partially deceased” and coming to terms with their own sexuality, a dual conflict which will make for multi-layered storytelling. Without going into each one, most of the characters of In the Flesh, both human and PDS sufferer, are equally as complex and compelling.

Although Isaac Marion has said he is not a horror writer and will not return to the genre, if the BBC series becomes even a moderate success, the market for similar zombie fiction can only grow exponentially, especially coupled with ratings boon The Walking Dead. However, I’m burnt out on the traditional zombie tale offered by Frank Darabont and company, and will be supporting In the Flesh by watching it tonight, June 6th, on BBC America at 10PM EST/9PM CST.

If you don’t have cable and can’t join, go pick up a copy of Warm Bodies, out on DVD as of June 4th.

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Sunday Reads: On Drugs, Zombies, and Creepy Children

Here are a handful of links from around the Internet that we found interesting this past week.

Artist Bryan Lewis Saunders takes several different kinds of drugs and then draws self-portraits. Drugs are bad, m’kay, but the results are interesting.

I’m sorry, zombie friend, but I didn’t quite catch that. One of the funniest things I saw this week was a Bad Lip Reading of The Walking (and Talking) Dead.

Zombies aren’t creepy. Children are creepy. Nothing exhibits this better than this very cool, very strange Reddit conversation about the creepiest thing your young child has ever said to you .

And after you’ve been chilled by little Jimmy’s prophecy of your death, or sweet Molly’s insistence that SOMEBODY IS RIGHT BEHIND YOU, you can finish freaking yourself out by looking at these hyper-realistic dolls…of you.

Knock yourselves dead, darlings. See something cool that should be in the roundup? Drop me an email, or leave a post on our forum. Let’s while away our time in the dark.

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