Sunday Tangent: SAPPORO SOURCE DEBITO Column on Zombie Movies


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Hi Blog.  After a week of the Otaru Onsens Case (thanks to KMCheese for YouTubing all the videos on his channel), it’s time for something lighter.  My most recent column for freepaper SAPPORO SOURCE.

Halloween special.  On Zombie Movies.  Yes, I’m a big fan.  See why below.  Download the entire issue of SAPPORO SOURCE here in pdf format.  Cover, scanned page, and text of the article follows.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

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A Halloween defense of the Zombie Movie
Column four for the SAPPORO SOURCE Debito Column
Submitted August 1, 2009, to be published in the October Issue

Although I am a fan of a good chilling book or movie, I wouldn’t call myself an aficionado of horror flicks. Most boil down to the same old thing: something off -camera stalks people we’ve gotten to know and inflicts shock-horror. Although sometimes interesting in execution, most horror shares something with one-note genres like porno — characters in a hurry to do the same thing over and over again.

But one segment of the genre enjoying a deserved revival is the Zombie Movie. It is far more chilling because it goes beyond the lurking lunatic in the shadows. It offers us a view of society itself.

Zombies as a concept did start off one-note. Combining the undead and reanimated elements of vampire and monster flicks, our first golems were shambolic — basically shuffling assistants with arms outstretched, commanded to absorb bullets and carry the fainted girl.

They were also limited in scope. Run fast enough, or just “don’t go into that dark place” (be it graveyard, haunted house, chamber of horrors, or room with creaky door), and you could escape the horror. The threat did not affect society in general.

That changed somewhat with the first prototype of modern zombies: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). Famous for its allegory of infiltrating communism, people were being stealthily replaced by soulless copies. What made it scary was no one controlled them. All they had to do was keep increasing their ranks, and there would be no escape. (That is, until they were found out and were stopped; after all, this was Hollywood under the Hays Code.)

But then came the classic and groundbreaking Night of the Living Dead (1968), taking all the elements of hitherto horror (invulnerable male leads rescuing screaming girl at the last minute, resolved endings) and turning them on their head. All our characters made mistakes, followed the wrong advice, and met gruesome ends — with a lot of gore camouflaged by black and white photography. The most chilling thing: an ending where humanity might not be able to save itself.

The next notable was the full-color Dawn of the Dead (1978), giving us more of what we now expected (creative ways to blow up and rend body parts) with an actual plot: We hid in a safe haven of plenty (a mall) and waited for the storm to pass. Except that it doesn’t.

This is where the genre was brought full circle: The zombie movie as a vision of the Apocalypse. Human society was as fragile as the next panic, breaking down as easily as a person could revert to an animalistic state, dooming others with an infectious idea, or bite. It offered the vision of dystopia as clear as any threat or fear of nuclear annihilation.

I of course didn’t think this deeply about zombies as a teen. I was just there to hide my eyes through split fingers and hope to be put off my popcorn. But as the years passed, I realized that the Zombie Movie infiltrated my dreams like no other.

I found myself scoping out any living quarters for escape routes, in case of possible maniac attack. It was pretty simple: There were places you could hide from Michael Myers. You could wake up from Freddie. You could ward off a vampire with two pencils crossed, or even use garlic salt. In any case, as soon as the sun rose, you were safe from most monsters.

But not from zombies: the enemy was time, and sheer numbers of infected. And the more you thought about it, the more zombies chilled and inspired your imagination.

The next quantum leap in the zombie universe (after years of crappy copies) was 28 Days Later (2002). Here the new and improved zombies did not walk with their shoulders. They ran. At you. In broad daylight. And once infected, you didn’t take a while to wither and die: You joined their ranks in seconds and could decimate a safe haven in minutes.

That was ramped up even further in a (rare) worthy sequel: 28 Weeks Later (2007). Then we got a great remake with Dawn of the Dead (2004). All movies ended with the ultimate horror — the lack of hope.

Back to Halloween. If you want to give the genre a try and see how profoundly they creep into your nightmares, here’s Uncle Debito’s Guide to the Best Zombie Flicks:

Night of the Living Dead (1968 — avoid the 25th Anniversary version), Dawn of the Dead (1978), 28 Days Later (2002), 28 Weeks Later (2007), Dawn of the Dead (2004), Evil Dead (1981) and its silly splatstick remake Evil Dead II (1987).

Then watch the genre parody itself: Shaun of the Dead (2004), From Dusk ‘Til Dawn (1996, technically a vampire movie, but geeky about monster countermeasures), Fido (2006, aka Zombino in Japan), Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson’s queasy Braindead (1992 aka Dead/Alive), and finally Re-Animator (1985). Then sink your teeth into the fiction book World War Z, a diary about the Zombie Wars that engulfed earth.

See them unflinchingly and uncompromisingly in this order. I dare ya.
855 words

5 comments on “Sunday Tangent: SAPPORO SOURCE DEBITO Column on Zombie Movies

  • I love zombie movies. As you say, they really show how fragile society is. I read World War Z recently, I love how it shows responses to the situation from all sorts of point of views and in different places. Wouldn’t want to be in Tokyo if it happened!

    I think I’ll dig out my Dawn of the Dead blu ray now…

  • 28 Days later is (despite the lame Pepsi product placement) a modern-day classic. The sequel was quite good, too. There is some debate among film nerds on the Net as to whether or not they actually qualify as “zombie” movies, though.

    Either way, I do so love a good zombie flick.

  • Carl, it’s interesting that you mention that, it’s actually a topic that has legal ramifications- the soon to be released video game “Left 4 Dead 2” (an action game about surviving the zombie apocalypse) was recently ‘Refused Classification’ (aka not allowed to be sold) in Australia, because it featured too strong violence against “infected humans” (as opposed to “the undead”, which other zombie-killing games feature)…

  • You got the major ones. Wasn’t a huge fan of Romero’s Day of the Dead or Land of the Dead and haven’t seen Day of the Dead yet.

    Check out Ed and His Dead Mother (Steve Buscemi is great) for a very funny campy movie.

    Redneck Zombies is a classic Troma film although not everyone’s cup of tea.

    Resident Evil wasn’t terrible for a movie based on a video game.

    Sort of mixed feelings on Pet Cemetery.

    I saw 28 Days Later and need to catch up on that series.

    If you can get the directors cut of Dawn of the Dead the ending is much more in line with the original. The remake’s ending (with the camcorder scenes spliced in with the credits) was also very much in keeping with the original.

    And of course there is the “Dead” movie that started the famous “BRAINS” thing Return of the Living Dead.

    — Yes, quite. I didn’t like Romero’s DAY or LAND either — they weren’t scary! There’s a new one out, though: DIARY, which I have heard good things about. RETURN was a little too teenager-MTV-generation for me (and having topless zombies is a damn nuisance for a teen’s libido, although the randy severed head in RE-ANIMATOR wasn’t too off-putting if you held your hand up and covered that side of the screen). Not a fan of PET SEMATARY either — movie was actually mean-spirited (and sounded the death knell for Denise Crosby’s career — she left STAR TREK for that?). Thanks for the other recommendations.

  • “There’s a new one out, though: DIARY, which I have heard good things about.”

    That one isn’t bad but isn’t all that great, either. I’d say that I liked the re-make of Dawn of the Dead better than Diary of the Dead, if that means anything (which it probably doesn’t).

    — It’s means the world to Zombie Movie fanatics!

    Then again, it’s pretty hard to beat Zack Snyder’s remake!


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