Are we becoming as dumb as the zombies on TV?
Man, I’ve had it with all these zombies attacking my television screen, faster, tougher and more … how shall I put it? Preposterous.
Perhaps to comment on zombies at all seems preposterous. But they are a cultural “thing” nowadays, with big- studio big- actor films and hit TV series. And there’s something wrong with them.
OK, many t hings. For starters, all the obscenity. Were I to encounter actual zombies I might let salty words slip. But a film like Zombieland wouldn’t be any less scary or entertaining without the f- estival from title shot to credits.
The escalating gore also worries me. We’re so shocked by a social justice stunt of charging white men more for tickets that a theatrical production gets cancelled. (I just wouldn’t have gone.) But let someone fish a bone from a still-quivering corpse, snap it audibly, and plunge slavering in, and we keep snacking noisily ourselves.
And then there’s the science. Or conspicuous lack thereof. When they first staggered into our lives in 1968’s Night of the Living Dead (of earlier endeavours, like 1943’s “I Walked with a Zombie,” the less said the better), zombies were slow, clumsy and frail, though dangerous enough to ruin your night if they showed up in large numbers. Exactly as you’d expect if corpses somehow got reanimated. But by World War Z they seem to be Supermen on crack. Why?
Likewise Zombieland’s hideous undead are manifestly decaying, regularly belching vast quantities of their own as well as other people’s bodily fluids. Yet they don’t fall apart in a few days, so the heroes must only outlast the initial wave. How’s that meant to work?
It’s not, you may say. Suspend disbelief and enjoy the action. Former Ottawa Citizen colleague Kate Jaimet once quoted her brother about lousy sci- fi science: “Don’t think about it too hard — they didn’t.” And yes, Woody Harrelson is brilliant in Zombieland, despite someone needing to wash the script out with strong soap. But even mindless entertainment shouldn’t be mindless.
No, really. I’m willing to suspend disbelief about, say, a bite from a werewolf making you one, or “dilithium crystals” warping the time- space continuum. But then I want a plot that hangs together technically.
Given lycanthropy as a kind of tragically infectious evil, it makes sense that a werewolf is big, fierce and ferocious. I don’t even mind An American Werewolf in London adding that it can only be killed by someone who loves it, provided it then happens. ( Or Return of the Living Dead giving us the zombies’ fixation on brains without which Plants vs. Zombies just wouldn’t be the same as whatever it is.) And if vampires could exist, they could persist, scarce and coldly ruthless, while humans are common and juicily clueless so there’s lots for Dracula or Lestat to eat.
By contrast, Zombieland ducks basic questions like: how does the plague reach Europe from America? If it starts with a tainted hamburger, does it then spread through aerosols, saliva or what? Why didn’t people shoot them? And crucially, as in World War Z, once zombies have taken over everything, what fuels their rotting corpses or holds them together? I don’t care if it could really work. But I want there to be some idea of how it might.
OK, Frankenstein wasn’t scripted by Nobel Prizewinning scientists either, the book or 1931 Boris Karloff classic. It is not obvious how sewing bits of corpses together then blasting them with l i ghtning could reanimate the resulting mess. But if it did happen, the monster might well do what it does. Including illuminating legitimate concerns about the unnatural feats increasing scientific prowess might soon permit.
Likewise, 1953’s The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms is one of a string of early Cold War clunkers about the perils of arrogant humans getting their shaky hands on nuclear weapons. Including “Them,” which I fear I have also seen. They’re bad movies in many respects, like dialogue, plot, “special” effects and silly science. But they clumsily tackle real issues like reckless above- ground nuclear tests.
So what’s the excuse for today’s zombie films? What in current culture do they address? Originally zombies were corpses reanimated by voodoo as slaves and you feared being one. Zombies as uncontrollable menaces to civilization, longing for anything resembling brains, are a new wrinkle. Are we concerned that we’ve become mindlessly destructive?
Is that why it’s so disquieting to see them roaming pointlessly around malls? And why we keep upping the ante with more athletic and indestructible zombies, fouler language and nudity, like kids who slurp caffeinated energy drinks, can’t sit through credits before a movie and demand endless scenes of characters screaming while surviving deathdefying plunges they’re too stupid to avoid?
Are we becoming zombies, too numb for all but the most lurid thrills and too dumb even for pseudoscience?
THE ESCALATING GORE ALSO WORRIES ME.