Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Zombie Genre Is "Dying" (Zombies Part 6)

The problem with zombies isn't that the idea itself is old. The problem is most people are exploiting the genre; milking it like a cash cow. Instead of trying to expand on the lore, they're using a zombie apocalypse as a crutch so they can half-ass a movie that is guaranteed to make money. There's very little innovation to be found, considering how many zombie flicks are being crapped out. And no, I'm not talking about zombies growing wings, or learning how to ride bicycles, I mean innovation in the story-telling structure, or in the setting; unseen perspectives of the apocalypse. Very few filmmakers who make zombie films these days actually utilize the zombie lore to its full potential, or try to push the genre forward and explore uncharted undead terrain. They just stick to the same basic formula or just remake Night of the Living Dead for the 1000th time. (After the 1990 Tom Savini directed remake, there's no point in trying ever again. MAKE SOMETHING ORIGINAL.)

t's a shame, because the potential of zombies is staggering.

Instead of sprawling zombie war epics, we get a half-dozen half-assed half action, half horror movies populated by half-infected half-zombies. Movies so bland that even a half ounce of dank nugget wouldn't make them watchable. I'm talking movies like the Day of the Dead remake with Nick Cannon and Ving Rhames. Movies where the reanimated corpses of recently deceased individuals not only sprint at impressive speeds, but can crawl along the ceiling, screech like velociraptors and magically obtain Marilyn Manson contact lenses after being dead for 30 seconds.

It seems like there's 4 types of zombie movies, all of which have been done so well already, it's cliche and trivial at this point to use these scenarios any further.

 This is the formula that started with Night of the Living Dead, all the way back in 1968. It's a classic formula, and was really brilliant and innovative in 1968, before it was repeated thousands of times. Survivors of diverse cultural upbringing are forced into a claustrophobic setting and must now rely on each other to survive the zombie apocalypse. People don't get along, end up proving to be just as troublesome as the zombies themselves, niggas get eaten, hilarity ensues.

It's a tried and true formula. But this scenario is so played out, it really needs to be handled in a unique fashion to remain endearing, at this point. Hell, this genre staple peaked with Dawn of the Dead in 1978, and wasn't visited again successfully until, I don't know, the prison arc in the Walking Dead comics in the late 2000's, or perhaps Pontypool.

Important points:
  • For this style to remain relevant, more focus needs to be placed on the zombies. It seems most movies get too wrapped up in the human drama, and forget to highlight the presence of the undead. The feeling of claustrophobia would be amplified exponentially if we checked in on the zombies outside more often, and see their numbers growing...and growing...and growing....
  • The human conflicts almost always end up feeling cliche. It's usually some racist dude getting stuck with a person of the very ethnicity they hate. They don't need to be so obvious - the tension should be more focused on the undead, not on cliche movie conflicts.
  • The setting needs to be unique, and the fortification of the safehouse should be highlighted more as well. A lot of zombie movies stuck in this formula skip over fundamental elements that made NOTLD great - searching the abandoned location for supplies, boarding up windows and doors, running out of food and needing to ration it off. 
 This is a great idea to run with - zombie movies set in a different time frame. Fido does an amazing job with this, whereas a movie like "Exit Humanity," ultimately fails.

Important points:
  • Spaghetti Western is such an established genre itself, to mix it with zombies is very risky. You're gonna have to do a damn good job to make this movie worth watching. Or hire some extremely tasty eye-candy to keep people vaguely invested in the plot.
  • Music is key in Spaghetti Westerns. So hire a competent film-scorer to capture the Ennio Morricone sound. A soundtrack can literally RUIN a zombie movie - just look at Survival of the Dead. I swear, if I could get a music-free version of Survival of the Dead, I could remake the music to it and it'd be an intense film.
At some point, 'infected' became more popular than the slow, creepy zombies Romero invented. Although, Romero arguably invented the "infected" himself with "The Crazies," all the way back in 1973 - too bad the remake completely fell flat, that movie should have been IMMENSE.

The urgency and action are definitely increased with sprinters. But they just come across as...lame. If you're infected with some form of disease that enrages you, why would be given super-powers? Zombies sprinting lightning fast aren't scary - they're comical. Sprinting like an Olympic gold medalist lacks the implication there is anything even wrong with the carrier of the disease. It completely neuters any horror aspect possible. So instead of the atmosphere of old school zombie movies - a legion of undead surrounding you, moving in with a creepy stagger, wave after wave of them constantly getting closer - we get unrealistically coordinated people infected with a disease that sprint fast enough to keep the action flowing, the plot in the background, and money in the pockets of those who profit off all the idiots without an attention span looking to waste an hour and a half looking at explosions and seeing people fire guns.

Basically, filmmakers figure the current generation, with their lack of ability to immerse themselves into a carefully constructed story without being spoon-fed the plot, aren't going to be able to invest time in a smart zombie movie. Not only that, but these filmmakers don't even have the confidence in their own creativity to try something innovative with their zombie flick. So we get shitty action movies inspired by the Resident Evil movies, and amazing pieces of zed cinema like "The Dead" go largely unnoticed.

There are a number of solid running zombie films. Check out "Dead Set," a miniseries that aired on the BBC. THAT is a brilliant running zombie movie. One of my favorites. Zombieland and Dawn of the Dead 2004 almost go without saying. 

Important points:
  • I'm actually not against the idea of running zombies. It's just...they're TOO FAST, and they're TOO COORDINATED. If they're sprinting full speed and hurtling guard rails, it gives them an aura of humanity that completely stifles any horror. If, on the other hand, they're speed walking awkwardly forward, like they have a load of shit in their pants, tripping over obstacles but scrambling to get up...THAT would be both creepy AND fast paced. Such a simple concept, yet all these people making running zombie flicks STILL continue to fuck it up.
  • The zombie velociraptor shrieks are lame. The undead moaning sounds exactly like it should - a humans voice being used by something that isn't human. It was unnaturally natural, and naturally unnatural. Zombies sounding like they're doing pig squeels is stupid in anything besides Left 4 Dead. Leave it to the video games.
  • If you're gonna abandon the slow zombies, you have to abandon the "fortifying a safehouse" plotline. You want fast zombies to keep the action moving? Put the characters on the road, then. No sense in having slow zombies if you're just looking at them from inside a building, you idiots. 
Shaun of the Dead has this on lockdown. I'd say it easily upstaged Return of the Living Dead in both the comedy and zombie departments. (Although it lacked in the Linnea Quigley department.)
Important points:
  • Unless you've got a chick hotter than Linnea Quigley, you're not going to be worth a damn compared to Shaun of the Dead. With the exception of Zombieland, but they also had Woody Harrelson, Bill Murray, Emma Stone, and Amber Heard. Good luck topping that. Fido was pretty good too.

1 comment:

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