Anyone who knows me knows that I have somewhat of a longstanding zombie film appreciation. It was an addiction born of pure fear. As a kid, I was terrified of those slimy, grimy, stumbling dead bastards; scared shitless, actually. And, oddly enough, I loved every second of it. There was something strangely exciting about the way they shambled around, all haphazard, in search of juicy, warm flesh. My brothers would tease me with the now classic Night of the Living Dead line, “They’re coming to get you Barbaraaaaa”, and I despised and loved it at the same time. What scared me the most was that I just couldn’t wrap my young head around a specific reason as to why they did what they did. It made absolutely no rational sense, which was incredibly intriguing. As if the whole ‘you’re dead, and dead things are not supposed to be walking’ thing wasn’t bad enough, you want to fucking eat me too? Why? What the hell did I ever do to you? The concept of scattered bands of corpses roaming the land fiending to feed on the living…it was unfathomable…and if it did happen, what the hell would we do? That was some thrilling, exciting, white knuckle fear. I devised elaborate escape and survival plans, and pondered myself to sleep at night creating imaginary bunkers and caches of supplies in my mind. I just knew that if that shit went down, I’d be ready. I just knew that in the massive chaos of the zombie uprising, I’d be fully prepared. It became fun.
The original Night of the Living Dead was the first zombie flick that I saw, and it remains a classic to this day. It was a surprisingly multilayered script with a smattering of subtle political undertones, an interesting crop of characters/survivors weaved in, and a gang of remarkably spooky zombies, given the fact that it was made in 1968. It even had a non stereotypical black heroic lead, which was a rarity during that era.
The 1990 Night of the Living Dead remake was solid, but not nearly as good. For much of the 90’s, zombies fell into a sort of comedic, overly campy slump, and the genre was subjected to horribly cheesy renditions and awfully scripted C movie fare. Google ‘zombie movies’, and a gaggle of generic titles pop up, each one dumber than the last.
In my opinion, they sucked right up until 2004’s Dawn of the Dead remake, which breathed new life into the format. It was a breath of fresh air, really, to see them chowing down with quality vigor again.
Too long had zombies suffered under the muck of bad scrips and even worse acting; too long had they been buried under the weight of cheese and camp. That 2004 remake set the tone and laid the groundwork for The Walking Dead, which has shuffled its way into millions of homes, becoming one of the most watched cable shows currently on TV. An excellent script, based on the comic of the same name, has reinvigorated zombie cinema, and given it a much needed dose of credibility.
The whole zombie thing is an official phenomenon now, with zombie walks, zombie memorabilia, zombie everything readily available now, which is a huge turnaround from the veritable shunning that it received prior to 2004. It’s a great thing, if you’re a fan. But hey, I was a fan long before the horde of newcomers bit into their first zombie experience, and when the shit comes down to the wire, I’ll be ready and waiting!
You couldn’t have cut the tension with a fucking chainsaw if you tried, it was so damned thick. My mouth was as dry as a pile of dead leaves, and yet my palms were as soggy as an old dish rag as we padded our way slowly and quietly to the back of the place. The thunder raged like a thousand explosions outside, and the whole thing reminded me of the Fourth of July. If only it were. Maybe all the thunder would mask our footsteps and chatter and movement from the things outside…or worse, maybe it would hide their movement from us. Those fuckers had to know we were in here. Or did they? How safe were we, locked away in here? Was it a sanctuary or a mouse trap? We shuffled our way through Sam’s tiny kitchen, a place where I’d dined on many a random night, and I could feel my feet slide a bit on the grease drenched floor. “Hey guys, grab something outta here”, Sam uttered quietly, and motioned to a counter full of old kitchen implements. Knives, spoons, big forks, and other assorted cutlery glinted slightly in the darkness of the kitchen, and I grabbed a steel tenderizer so massive that looked like it could have pounded a t-bone into a veal cutlet. It looked like Thor’s hammer. I smiled at the thought of that, the first quick smile I’d had since we left Harvey’s.
The thing just seemed huge, but shit, if all I was gonna have to work with was some damned kitchenware, then by God that’s the thing I’d want to use to smash a few skulls. It was more than enough. I watched the other guy grab a butcher knife, and Sam had been holding the same baseball bat that he’d had in his hands since we busted all frantic like into his bar. “Listen”, I whispered into the wet, drippy darkness, and all I could hear for a brief moment was the quickened breathing of my two companions. Then we heard it again, the only reason that we were back here in the first place. It hit the door like a mack truck, it seemed, a banging so loud that it split the quiet of the kitchen of the room in half, making our ears ring. Whatever it was, we were adamant that the fucker was NOT going to get inside. “Whatever it was”, I repeated in my head, as if I didn’t already know what God cursed horror was lurking beyond the door handle. “Whatever it was”…I wish to God that I didn’t know. BOOM, it went again, and all three of us froze. BOOM. “Sam, you got any chain? Rope?”, I blurted out as quietly as I could, and I could see, even in the dimness of the room, that Sam’s nerves were getting shaken loose with each slam of dead flesh on that damned door. Those fuckers knew we were in here, but how many were out there? We were fucking blind in this building. Sitting ducks. “SAM!”, I made a point to shake him hard, back into the sting of reality. “We gotta seal this fucking door, Sam, and right now”; my words slipped out in little silent slivers. “T-t-there’s a cabinet over there”, Sam managed to mutter, “T-the cabinet right there…you guys help me move it.” We all three rushed over to the corner where it was. A big assed old steel monstrosity…maybe it would do the trick…for a while. It was all happening in a blur, and I couldn’t tell the banging on the door from the booming thunder outside anymore.