I had no real idea what I was doing. I mean, I had a loose grasp of the general concepts, but the actual execution was a different beast entirely. The company tinkered with their methods and procedures so often that it was nearly impossible to keep up. True proficiency was a fucking pipe dream. Just when you got used to doing things one way, BOOM, they decided to change it up again…and for no good reason. Their feeble and half-handed attempts at ‘training’, if that’s what you want to call it, were just a ridiculous ruse. I literally had no idea what I was doing, and spent the bulk of every day winging it…and I did it for years. Talk about disheartening; it’s the most depleted feeling inching your way to five o’clock blindly, in the dark, not knowing what the hell you’re doing. For years. Even after it’s been explained, because their explanations amounted to a fresh pile of zebra shit. There’s a great line at the end of the movie ‘The Usual Suspects’, where Kevin Spacey’s character states “the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he didn’t exist.” I’ve gotta say, convincing this joint that I knew what I was doing, that I was a stand up, functioning employee, ranks up there with the greatest.
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.
We both blurted it out at the same time before we realized that we’d spoken over one another, “What the hell is going on, Sam?”, Sally and I both asked in unison. My hands were still shaking from the shock of what I’d done out there. What the hell would the consequences be? I was a fucking murderer now…I mean, I killed a man…men. But wasn’t it self defense? I had to do it, right? Before I could finish the horror of that thought, Sam was offering us a drink, and walked us over to the bar. We gratefully followed. Five or six people spread out from the shadows and quietly greeted us from a distance, all patrons that had been drinking at the bar when it was attacked by the kids outside; now prisoners in this mess that we were all entangled in. They all looked fucking shell shocked. We greeted each one with a hello and a nod and took Sam up on that drink, and he twisted off the cap and took a long slug of whiskey. He explained how the night began as a normal night…what night doesn’t begin as a normal night, right….and how a guy came in bleeding and screaming and frantic out of his mind. Behind him were two or three friends that had carried him in, pleading for somebody to call the cops. The guy was apparently pretty busted up, so Sam got on the line and dialed the sheriff, and two deputies showed up not long after. “It was a mess, Frank”, he kept saying, then trailed off into silence. “They um, they bit Bobby, Frank”, he said, before he trailed off once more. “The sheriff, you mean?”, I had to ask, just to make sure we were on the same page. “Yeah”, he replied…”Those kids out there…they…they uh….they ate him”.
The words hit me hard, like a fat-fisted sucker punch to the gut. I didn’t know what to say to that…I mean really, what the hell was I supposed to say to that? I couldn’t bring myself to actually say what I was thinking…what I kinda knew to be true. You see, in the movies, they always seem to know exactly what to do, how to handle shit, how to react, how to think…and they’ve got all the right shit to say. So I stood there for a second, well, it seemed like hours, just trying to take all of that in. I tried to digest that mess of a comment as best as I could, and it kept replaying in my head like that shitty song on the radio that plays over and over. “They ate him”. It spun in my head again and again, round and round, and I couldn’t help but swig the hell out of my drink at the thought of it all…and just as soon as I’d finished, I pounded another. Maybe just hoping that it would slam some sense into my mush of a brain and calm the shaking of my hands. I noticed then that I was breathing heavy like some fucking exhausted animal. One more drink…just something, anything to clear the fog outta my head…thick, heavy fog…that kind of dense, ominous mist that you’d see in a scary movie; the kind you couldn’t see two feet ahead of…the kind that let you know that something bad was coming. In the movies, they always say stuff like “those things”, “those creatures”, and they question a situation like this as if they’ve never seen a fuckin’ zombie movie before. Zombies though? There was no doubt in my mind that that’s what was going on. But was the shit real? I mean, c’mon…how? This is real fucking life. How do you wrap your head around fuckin’ zombies? I glanced over at Sally, who was throwing questions at Sam and the others. I noticed that she hadn’t touched her drink. She’ll have a clear head at least. Shit, we’re all gonna need clear heads if we wanna survive this thing. It’s funny, it was almost as if I was asking a question rather than making a comment when I mumbled to the others, “zombies.”