Category Archives: monsters

Zombie society

I’ve been thinking a lot about zombies lately. I mean more than usual for me. I’d been dwelling on the idea of zombie society before George Romero passed away.

Right after he passed away, I thought I wanted to write something about how enjoyable I find his films. He’s influenced my writing with his stories outside the horror genre as well as with Night of the Living Dead. I started digging for a little Romero on Romero, trying to understand better how he thought about his work as a creator and the father of the zombie film. I found some interesting articles where he talks about his own influences, including I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson, which I recall reading some time ago.

I also found this quote of Romero’s.

I don't want a zombie society. I don't want to go that far. -- George A. Romero

It’s been worse ever since I found that quote. The zombie society thoughts, I mean.

I know he intended it to mean that he doesn’t want to deal with the idea that zombies might have a society. Having just re-read I Am Legend, I can understand the desire to stay away from the topic. If the monsters are too human, they cease to be monsters. It leaves the hard question: If they’re not the monster, who is.

Robert Neville, Richard Matheson’s protagonist, had one answer to that question.

Robert Neville looked out over the new people of the earth. He knew that he did not belong to them: he knew that, like the vampires,  he was anathema and black terror to be destroyed.

Whether Romero thought that was the ultimate answer or not is uncertain. Either way, he didn’t want to ask the question or attempt to explain it. It is the question I keep coming back to, though. When we recognize the ‘other’ has become human, and we understand that, but keep treating them as if they were monsters, who is the real monster then?

When we accept the ‘other’ as no different than ourselves but keep treating them as something else, worthy of destruction only, have we become the monster? Or were we always the monster, but have awoken with the self-awareness of what our actions make us? Or is it just as Walt Kelly said,”We have met the enemy, and he is us?”

The question seems significant. If we accept the idea that zombies represent consumerism in its most indifferent form, then everything that flows from consumerism is as much our fault as a collective of mass consumers as it is the fault of the people who encourage consumerism.  From the destruction of natural resources and exploitation of workers to pollution and the erosion of the middle class, we helped shape the world we live in for the worse. 

Having awoken to the problems that arise from mass consumption, the siren call of minimalism beckons, and that brings a new set of problems. Firstly, there’s the issue of shaming everyone for the problems caused of mindless consumerism, which tends to assume all consumption is mindless and that shame is a good technique for affecting social change. The second is straight out classist politics surrounding minimalism. As I’ve commented before, it’s easy to say it’s a point of pride to have fewer things when you can afford just go out and buy what you need when you need it. The working poor can’t do that. I couldn’t do that until a few years ago.

Besides, we all still need to eat. There’s no getting around it.

The minimalist might well be the general standing against a zombie horde. What if that horde is mindful consumers who buy what they need on sale? What if they find joy in the security of knowing, for example, the tools required to fix their car when it breaks down are right in their trunk? What if they only have time to go to the laundromat once every two weeks and require enough clothing to go that long between trips?

If zombies are consumers, how do you tell the story of the mindless consumer that’s respectful of the mindful consumer? Where is the intersection of zombie and human society that isn’t Romeo and Juliet with the dead? I mean, I loved Warm Bodies, (though I preferred the book,) and that story has been told. It was about warmth and human connection, not consumption.

I still have thinking to do on this, but I’m getting closer.

Jump starting

The meme says your profile picture will be what you have to save yourself in the zombie apocalypse (ZA). 

Hello, cup of “poison” tea.

I’m going to be well-caffeineated when the ZA hits. That’s going to count for something. Anyone groggy when their friends, family, coworkers, and random fellows on the street suddenly go all dead and brain-eating won’t have nearly the advantage their alert and well-caffeineated compadres when the competition for survival starts.

Rule One of Zombieland is Cardio. To escape a pursuing zombie you will need to out-run it, and this means being in good shape.

I’m not saying that cardiovascular health isn’t important, but I would say I’d put my money on the well caffeineated guy in average shape above the groggy guy in great shape. If you’re not sharp enough to spot the threat during the ZA, you’re more likely to be Zed-fodder before you can take off running.

Obviously, it’s not a long term strategy. Caffeine sources will eventually dry up in the northern parts of North America. Neither is holing up in your neighborhood warehouse store much of a plan. Too many other people will have that idea to make it terribly effective as a strategy for ZA living, not to mention the impracticality of holding such a large area with so many potential hiding spaces for the living dead. 

Making a southerly trek to take advantage of the Yaupon Holly, a cousin of Yerba Mate that grows in the southern United States, is a possibility, but may not be practical in all situations. I know it’s edible and has a caffeine content. 

I don’t know how it tastes.

I don’t know that it matters how it tastes if you need caffiene boost. Zombie Apocalypse or no, I’m willing to find out. Any source of caffeine is a friend of mine.

Flying Monkeys, Anyone?

Some places practically scream for stories to be written about them. What could be a creepier setting than an abandoned theme park? Only an abandoned Wizard of Oz theme park.

I always found The Wizard of Oz more than a little creepy as a child. A crazy old woman set to take out her frustrations on :Dorothy, reminding me none too favorably of Mrs. Trimpe, my first grade teacher, who (rumors said) had a glass eye which was why it never quite seemed to sit right in her skull when she was looking at you.Mrs. Trimpe terrified me. 

I thought she hated me. I know she called me “too social” on my report card. I half expected the flying monkeys to appear every time she slapped her hand down on the desk and commanded the class full of wiggly six-year-olds to  “Pay attention!”
This abandoned amusement park just moves me with thoughts of the terrible dangers that could be lurking there. Is it an angry place, jilted and alone, waiting to exact its revenge on a world that has let it fall into ruins? 

Could it just be a misunderstood place, lonely and missing the laughter of children that once filled it’s courtyards in it’s heyday and desperate to reclaim its former glory?

Is there a silly silo or a twister ride waiting to transport the protagonist away to Oz?
Does anyone or anything live there? What kind of denizens has it attrackted? Simple woodland animals or something more sinister? 

I don’t know, but itdoes spark the imagination.

The Thing About Zombies

What would Black Friday be without zombies?

Fast zombies, slow zombies, voodoo zombies, plague zombies, cordyceps fungus zombies, radioactive and inexplicably rising from the grave zombies? It doesn’t matter. The thing about zombies that is most important to remember is that they’re relentless in the pursuit of their only goal: Feed.

Copyright: memoangeles / 123RF Stock Photo

Ah, the hordes of Black Friday shoppers out looking for deals.

It doesn’t matter if they’re the shambling, apparently mindless masses of the original classic Night of the Living Dead, the fast, corporate created, T-Virus infested mutating  zombies of Resident Evil, or the sinister, talking zombies of Return of the Living Dead. You can’t reason with them. You can’t trust them. They want to eat you (or sometimes just your brains) and they will stop at nothing to do it. It’s kill or be killed with this type of zombie.

It’s a powerful metaphor for shortsighted self-interest, especially consumerist self-interest.

Sometimes there’s something in the zombie that’s still reachable. The zombies in Shawn of the Dead still maintain some level of basic personality. Shawn’s dad calms from a feeding frenzy when he manages to turn off the blaring music in his beloved Jag. Shawn’s Mom appears docile until someone threatens Shawn (her little Pickle.) These zombies eventually become something like tamed (though not really domesticated.) A few precautions taken, and they’re back at work in the service industry.

The movie Fido takes that one step farther. Zombies have control collars and mow the lawn. The next door neighbor keeps his zombi-fied wife at home and reminds her not to bite. Children are taught to shoot in elementary school. Don’t shoot zombies in the chest. Headshots are the very best.

That situation is unusual in the genre. For the most part, zombies kill. Humans die horribly at their hands. Everyone will eventually either be a zombie or be zombie food. There’s no real hope of escape.

I love the zombies that can articulate their inhumanity the best. Why do you eat people? Not people. Brains. It’s the only thing that stops the pain of being dead and it doesn’t matter who it hurts so long as the zombie in question gets what it needs. It’s consumerism as drug addict if you will.

I know you’re in there, Tina. I can smell your brains, Zombie Freddie tells his hiding girlfriend. If you loved me, you’d let me eat your brains.

Some zombies try to control their urges. Julie is very picky about whose brains she’s willing to eat in Return of the Living Dead 3 – to the point of self-mutilation to try to keep her urge to feed in check. Ultimately, she and her infected boyfriend climb into the crematorium rather than lose the battle against their urge to feed.

In the I, Zombie TV show aren’t all ravaging, mindless, eaters. A good number of them are just trying to hide and stay alive. Some go so far as to destroy zombies that have gone mindless, even if it’s for their own selfish reasons. Blaine is literally creating the market for his “gourmet brains on demand” catering service (read: high-class drug dealer), but he’s very careful not to let it go too far. After all, if a bite infects, and someone escapes, the zombie plague could wipe out the entire food source, and worse, bring the government crashing down on his criminal enterprise.

Conversely, the main character, Liv, is trying to do some good and make some sense out of this seemingly senseless and potentially self-destructive urge to eat brains. She gets brains from seemingly ethical sources (morgue autopsies) and tries to find justice for the murder victims that ultimately keep her alive and thinking. There’s a balance at play. How can she stay alive (undead?) and find a cure.

In Warm Bodies, the balance is between feeling and unfeeling, connection and disconnection. Zombies are disconnected from the people around them. They’re seeking some way to fill the void left by the absence of other people in their lives and this urge to fill the void is what fuels the need to eat the flesh of the living, especially the brains.

The book highlights this theme, spending much more time on Zombie culture and society than the movie did. R and M share brains when they find them, passing them around like a joint. In the book, when R keeps the brain of Julie’s boyfriend for himself (basically bogarting it so he can savor all the feelings of connection to her), it’s a violation of the friendship between R & M. Completely disconnecting turns you into one of the boney zombies that the other zombies fear and avoid, so far gone there’s no hope. Only reconnecting to other people can cure the zombie condition.

Maybe that’s why I turn off my electronics and avoid the malls on Black Friday. The roommate and I did some work around the house. We did have to go out to pick up some things we needed for the house projects. We kept it to a quick jaunt to the hardware store to get just what we needed and returned home immediately after.

No hordes of zombie shoppers for us.

We did have to move the triffid (Triff-Ed, the overly large potted palm) from its usual location while we ripped up the carpet in that bedroom. Ed needed repotting badly. Luckily, the root bound mass in his old pot was the worst monster we saw today.

Bernie

I might have been the only four-year-old little girl in 1973 with a skull shaped piggie bank in her bedroom. He was life sized, glazed in bone glaze with a carefully chosen brown blended to highlight the anatomically inspired cracks and fissures that traced over his surface in a realistic way, with a coin slot in his crown and a removable plug strategically placed in the bank where the spinal column would have gone through the ceramic vertebrae. His teeth were parted as if he were trapped in an eternal laugh, and between them was emblazoned the motto: Die for the one you love.

My father made him for me because I wanted my own Bernie the Talking Skull, just like the one on the Creature Feature, which I watched with my mom every week. She indulged me, letting me stay up way too late for a child of such a tender age. I watched for the monster movies and to spend time cuddled on the couch with my mom, nibbling on cinnamon toast and drinking Cambrick which was a real treat. 

But the biggest treat was seeing Bernie and his leisure suit wearing pal, Chuck. Here was a normal guy with an interesting friend (Bernie) and they liked monsters.
I didn’t know these movies were supposed to be scary. Bernie and Chuck reminded me of the Munsters or the Addams Family: Different people in a world full of people who thought that differences were frightening. I watched the films shown on the Creature Feature totally missing the point. 

I was rooting for the monsters.

I wanted Helen to realize that she actually was Ankh-es-en-amon’s reincarnation and run off with Imhotep, or barring that, for someone love lonely Imhotep in the original Mummy. Imhotep wasn’t a bad guy, it seemed to me. He just missed his girlfriend and his old life.

I crossed my fingers for Dracula to actually find a bride and get some friends in after moving to England. Sure, he had to drink blood, but that didn’t mean he shouldn’t have as normal a life as he wanted, right? He just needed to find some girls who didn’t already have boyfriends, make some friends with some boys, and go do whatever it was that grown-ups did with their friends. Based on my parents, I assumed that was play card games, like Mille Bounes and 500, and drink cocktails.

I sat on pins and needles for the sad, nameless “Creature” of the black lagoon, hoping he might find someone who could see past his scales and gills for the person he was underneath. I thought that maybe if they talked to Creature, he would find out that humans can’t breathe under water and then he’d stop accidentally drowning them. I mean, it was obviously an acciedent. Creature seemed so sad after he did it, he couldn’t have possibly known.Plus, the guys in the movie were really mean to Creature. He was just defending his home part of the time.

I mean, some films I understood. Tarantula? Them? Yes. Those were big, bug like things that shouldn’t be tramping through cities, especially not giant spiders. Icky! But you could see a 50 foot tall ant coming and have plenty of time to call the Army People. The Blob: well, if it touched you, you became a blob, too, so that was obviously a Bad Thing ™ – though certainly not something to have nightmares about. I mean, you could easily outrun the original blob, and sometimes you could pretend the floor became lava and you had to not touch it, too, so there was plenty of practice for dealing with dangers like that.

They weren’t scary. Just movies. 

I just didn’t understand monsters that looked like people could actually be monsters. I thought, like Herman and Lily, or Gomez and Morticia, that they were just different and the other people around them were just acting meanly to them because they didn’t understand that different was just different and not bad, and that was the underlying point of both shows: the real monsters were the normal people doing normal things. 

So, I wanted a Bernie. I wanted a Bernie so I could pretend to talk my friend the skull and play monster movies, or Munsters, or Addams family. Now days, it would be very likely that I could get a T-shirt from Zazzle or Cafe Press with his image on it at the very least, but back then, there just wasn’t merchandising for a local show like Creature Feature, and wouldn’t have been a skull toy anyway, so my dad made me a ceramic skull bank . My parents both did crafty things like that, so I imagine the hardest part was finding something that looked like a skull

I didn’t understand movies like those on the Creature Feature were supposed to be scary until the children of a family friend told me that they were “scary movies” in the middle of “Atom Age Vampire.” I was 12. They were 13 and 14 respectively. I learned to put myself in the other characters, to change my perspective, jumping when the disfigured “Vampire” came hunting his victims, but to this day, in my heart, I know most of the monsters out there are just misunderstood and most of the normal people don’t know how monstrously they behave sometimes.
As for Bernie, he traveled with me to college, creeping out my first roommate, and then to my first and second apartments. He broke sometime while I was living in my second apartment, dropped carelessly to the floor while cleaning. I don’t remember if I did it, or my boyfriend at the time did. What I remember was picking up the shattered pieces and realizing that I would never find another Bernie to replace him. The mold that made him was long gone and even if I could find a bank made from the same mold, it wouldn’t be a bank glazed by my father’s hands.