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What's the deal with killer zombie movies?

post #1 of 24
Thread Starter 
Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead, 28 Days Later, etc.: People turn into mindless killers, a few non-zombie people try to survive and kill a bunch of the zombies along the way.

To be such a popular plot, it must strike some kind of deep chord in people. I just haven't quite figured out what that chord is.
post #2 of 24
Quote:
Originally posted by BRussell
To be such a popular plot, it must strike some kind of deep chord in people. I just haven't quite figured out what that chord is.

D minor?
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post #3 of 24
Here's a better question: why are there so many "romantic comedies?" What a worthless genre.
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post #4 of 24
It might have something to do with the Uncanny Valley.

Though, to be honest, a film, its sequel, a comedy piss-take of the same, and a modern remake of the same (that denies any link, but is basically the same plot with a fast-zombie twist). As the post above claims, is it really popular compared with the Rom-Com, Buddy movie, or 'likeable loser(s) makes good' themes of so many blockbusters?
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post #5 of 24
Quote:
Originally posted by BRussell
Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead, 28 Days Later, etc.: People turn into mindless killers, a few non-zombie people try to survive and kill a bunch of the zombies along the way.

To be such a popular plot, it must strike some kind of deep chord in people. I just haven't quite figured out what that chord is.

Psychologically people are plagued by two major fears:

1) The fear of being 'different' (ie not one of the herd)
2) As a corollary of the above - the fear of anything remotely 'other'

Clearly cinematic motifs reflect the current zeitgeist as can be seen from the rash of cold-war 'alien invasion' movies and it seems evident that the current crop of zombie killer productions represents a desperate attempt at psychological integration on behalf of a population that rightly feels itself to be:

a) Mindless Zombies
b) Under threat by a small and diminishing group of 'the other' - sane human beings
c) Members of a monstrous regiment of hypnotised sheep subsumed to a noxious hive mentality.
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post #6 of 24
Quote:
Originally posted by Splinemodel
Here's a better question: why are there so many "romantic comedies?" What a worthless genre.

This is easier: to keep women in their place.
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What is Faith? When your good deed pleases you and your evil deed grieves you, you are a believer. What is Sin? When a thing disturbs the peace of your heart, give it up - Prophet Muhammad
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post #7 of 24
Quote:
Originally posted by Splinemodel
Here's a better question: why are there so many "romantic comedies?" What a worthless genre.

Shaun of the Dead was a romantic horror comedy.
post #8 of 24
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally posted by Splinemodel
Here's a better question: why are there so many "romantic comedies?" What a worthless genre.



But I understand why the "boy meets girl" plot grabs people. I don't understand what the "shoot the heads off the slow-moving human-eating dead" plot does for people.
post #9 of 24
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally posted by segovius
Psychologically people are plagued by two major fears:

1) The fear of being 'different' (ie not one of the herd)
2) As a corollary of the above - the fear of anything remotely 'other'

Clearly cinematic motifs reflect the current zeitgeist as can be seen from the rash of cold-war 'alien invasion' movies and it seems evident that the current crop of zombie killer productions represents a desperate attempt at psychological integration on behalf of a population that rightly feels itself to be:

a) Mindless Zombies
b) Under threat by a small and diminishing group of 'the other' - sane human beings
c) Members of a monstrous regiment of hypnotised sheep subsumed to a noxious hive mentality.

I think you're on to something here. But you're saying that people identify with the zombies? I find that hard to believe. We must identify with the small group of surviving normal humans in the movies. But who are the zombies? A big, conformist society threatening our freedom?
post #10 of 24
Quote:
Originally posted by BRussell
I think you're on to something here. But you're saying that people identify with the zombies? I find that hard to believe. We must identify with the small group of surviving normal humans in the movies. But who are the zombies? A big, conformist society threatening our freedom?

I think the zombies make for the perfect guilt free "blow-away-the-bad-guys" experience.

It's been noted that shifting currents in global politics and increased multi-cultural sensitivities make it hard to have stable "super bad guys" (as opposed to just really bad individuals that do really bad things).

Communists and their surrogates are out, ethnicities are out, drug dealers were pressed into service there for a while but there's the problem of constantly relying on super violent black and latino characters.

You can't really just haul off and have a plot hinge on the maniacal evil doings of say, Sri Lanka, or the Mormons, or Pakistani immigrants.

"Terrorists", of course, are the obvious modern choice, but then you get this kind of vague fudging around who and what and where, as befits risk adverse studio systems that don't really want to get into a whole polarizing geo-political discussion around some mindless summer explosion movie.

In other words, in this age of globalization and shared information it's much harder to craft an implacably evil "other" that lets audiences of the hook for worrying about motivation or consequences.

But zombies, well, you can kill those guys all day long without having to give it a second thought. You can kill child zombies. You can kill grandma zombies. You can hurt zombies in ways that would make an audience wonder about the sanity of the hero, were such a hurt put upon a mere thug.

You can mow down huge, indiscriminate mobs of zombies.

And here's the real closer: you can kill what are, for all intents and purposes, innocent zombies.

Your geo-political villains are necessarily comprised of elites. Masterminds, para-military squads, etc. If the hero just started slaughtering everybody on the street who so much as knew the name of the mastermind, the audience would loose empathy.

But zombies, although recently your friends and neighbors, are fair game. That kid down the hall in 27B? Gonna have to put both barrels of a shotgun in his face. That lady that walks her dog past your favorite coffee shop? Sorry, must chop you up with this ax.

So zombie movies provide, in addition to an enemy that need not be understood or compromised with, the added little kick of just a straight up killing spree.

And, at the end of the day, doesn't it seem like that's what we sorta long for? To set aside any sense of having to figure things out, in the face of our grievances, and of having to worry about "proportionate responses" or "justice" or "blow back", and just go ape-shit crazy and kill everything in sight, secure in the knowledge that no-one could ever blame us?
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post #11 of 24
Braaaiinnsss...Braaaiinnsss...Braaaiinnsss...
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post #12 of 24
Quote:
Originally posted by addabox
You can't really just haul off and have a plot hinge on the maniacal evil doings of say, Sri Lanka, or the Mormons, or Pakistani immigrants.

Scientologists?

Okay, that would rule out getting Tom Cruise in your movie, or John Travolta, or a few other Xenu-crazed stars... unless, of course, they really get killed in the movie.



Uh... and that would be wrong.
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post #13 of 24
Quote:
Originally posted by BRussell


But I understand why the "boy meets girl" plot grabs people. I don't understand what the "shoot the heads off the slow-moving human-eating dead" plot does for people.

I take it you've never shot pumpkins with a 12-guage. Your loss. Really, it's a fantastic visual experience.

Otherwise, Zombies are "living dead." Most people are afraid of death to begin with, and the reaction to seeing a dead person is often visceral. It just took one genius to think, "Hey! Let's take a bunch of dead people, and have them be ominously re-animated. That way it mixes the fear of death and the fear of being pursued, two deeply ingrained fears."
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post #14 of 24
Quote:
Originally posted by shetline
Scientologists?

Okay, that would rule out getting Tom Cruise in your movie, or John Travolta, or a few other Xenu-crazed stars... unless, of course, they really get killed in the movie.



Uh... and that would be wrong.

Hmmm, you may be onto something there.

I wonder how making Scientologists the bad guys in a movie would play? I don't think they have sufficient cultural penetration to be generally regarded as anything more than sort of benign wack-jobs, so I don't know that cries of "religious bigotry" would get much traction.

On the other hand, they have vast armies of extremely single minded lawyers charged with keeping the "church" protected from scrutiny or criticism.

Hey, I know-- make the Scientology lawyers the army of evil. Everybody hates lawyers, there are a whole lot of them, and they are in the service of a shadowy empire, so it all fits.....

They could operate out of vast catacombs Beneath the Streets of LA. We catch glimpses of Rooms Full of Video Monitors where they keep tabs on their celebrity operatives, and "training rooms" full of cruel instruments of obedience and litigation....
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post #15 of 24
I think addabox is mostly right in a cynical/subversive sort of way, but the more simplistic, and overtly observable reason is the fact that movies that are about a specific thing tend to come in waves. There will be a handful of WW2 movies within a couple years of each other, then a handful of Sci-fi action movies, then a handful of historic war movies, then a handful of comic book/super-hero movies...etc. By-product of multiple studios all trying to make a buck on the latest consumer surveys and/or success of a specific film.

Oh yea, and survival type movies seem to have a pretty big appeal in general. Where a handful of stragglers that don't get along well and have limited resources have to face insurmountable odds and somehow come out on top. It's a pretty surefire way to get a strong crowd-to-actors connection which is arguably one of the most important things any movie can hope for.
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post #16 of 24
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally posted by addabox
I think the zombies make for the perfect guilt free "blow-away-the-bad-guys" experience.


But zombies, although recently your friends and neighbors, are fair game. That kid down the hall in 27B? Gonna have to put both barrels of a shotgun in his face. That lady that walks her dog past your favorite coffee shop? Sorry, must chop you up with this ax.

I think that's right, that it's about gluttonous killing. But I think the second passage of yours that I quoted is the main difference between it and other movies involving war or good guys v. bad guys. You're killing regular people, your neighbors and spouse, and little neighbor kids. I think that's the key element with these zombie movies. It must hit some nerve of hostility to our own society, rather than outsiders.
post #17 of 24
Quote:
Originally posted by BRussell
I think that's right, that it's about gluttonous killing. But I think the second passage of yours that I quoted is the main difference between it and other movies involving war or good guys v. bad guys. You're killing regular people, your neighbors and spouse, and little neighbor kids. I think that's the key element with these zombie movies. It must hit some nerve of hostility to our own society, rather than outsiders.

I think somewhere in our lizard brain everybody is an "outsider".

Bad guys who are real different than us are just a way of easing the societal taboo against killing (they're not really human, they hate Our Way of LIfe, etc.); but really, that fucker across the street is clearly out to get us and one of these days.....
They spoke of the sayings and doings of their commander, the grand duke, and told stories of his kindness and irascibility.
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post #18 of 24
When you figure this out, explain "The Exorcist" to me...
post #19 of 24
Quote:
Originally posted by addabox
On the other hand, they have vast armies of extremely single minded lawyers charged with keeping the "church" protected from scrutiny or criticism.

You mean hitmen. Sometimes Scientologists exact revenge through court, but most of the time they just beat up your loved ones.
post #20 of 24
Well, I'm a huge George A. Romero fan. He invented the genre with Night of the Living Dead, but all of his "Dead" films (a series, actually, starting with "Night", followed by the original 1977 "Dawn of the Dead", the abysmal "Day of the Dead", and now "Land of the Dead") go beyond the scope of your average slasher flick and are vehicles for social commentary and satire. "Dawn of the Dead" is one of my favorite movies, period, the remake of which missed the point entirely.

So anyway, I've spent plenty of time thinking about why I love zombie flicks. At least, the good ones.

I think the zombie has many great monster characteristics.

They're dead, rotting flesh for one thing. Gross, and we all have an innate fear of dead, decomposing human bodies.
They come by the truckloads. How many dead people are there on earth right now? Millions. Millions more every day. Especially once those zombies get to us.
They're a mindless horde, and once they get you, you're one of them.

Think of the real-life fears that one plays into. It's how we tend to perceive an enemy culture. Mindless, bloodthirsty killers coming to consume us, take over our lifestyle. They could be communists, Muslims, Nazis, blacks, Chinese, whatever it is "we" decide to fear at the moment. They aren't us, and while we (and our way of life) are clearly superior, they can win out by sheer numbers and mindless drive to consume us.

And most frightening of all, they are us. A reflection of our lowest, darkest aspects.
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post #21 of 24
Quote:
Originally posted by shetline
D minor?


The saddest of all keys.
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post #22 of 24
I think that a lot of the zombie attraction is the fear involved. One thing that no one has mentioned is that there are waves of monsters coming after you, and all they have to do is bite you, and you're one of them. Think of it. You have to fight of thousands or even millions of enemies that only have to bite you, while you have to shoot them through the head to kill them. It's almost certain that at least one will get through.

They don't feel pain, fear, or even need sleep. You can't bluff them or maim them. They just keep coming. I think that it's more of a fear that something is coming to get you, and there's no way for you to escape. Similar to those dreams where something is chasing you, and you can't get away. According to Tom Cruise though, maybe it's just because we aren't pure enough to enjoy Xenu movies.

I think that the whole killing friends and family fear is secondary to the overall fear of the 'nameless enemy.' But that is a contributing factor. Anyone you know could have been bitten, and turn into a zombie in a few minutes. You can't let your guard down.

It's sort of like the end of the world, and you're one of the last ones around fighting to stay alive.
post #23 of 24
As Freud wrote, in his excellent book, Das Durchsickernde Männlich Glied mit Großen Farbenfotos, zombie movies may serve as a socially acceptable outlet for workplace rage. I need to see one as soon as possible.
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post #24 of 24
Quote:
Originally posted by addabox
...
And here's the real closer: you can kill what are, for all intents and purposes, innocent zombies.
...
And, at the end of the day, doesn't it seem like that's what we sorta long for? To set aside any sense of having to figure things out, in the face of our grievances, and of having to worry about "proportionate responses" or "justice" or "blow back", and just go ape-shit crazy and kill everything in sight, secure in the knowledge that no-one could ever blame us?

I have to admit I was pretty disappointed with the pacifist attitude of the main guy in Land of the Dead, especially at the end which I won't give away in case anyone still wants to see it. Who knew that those zombies had feelings too, and were really just looking for a place to call home.
I woulda let the rockets loose.

**edit, accidentally hit enter

I think there's also something about how dumb all the characters in horror movies are. It makes you feel like you could do a lot better if you were in the same position, which makes people feel better about themselves in some way, as long as they're not totally freaked out by the movie.
Kind of a closet hero type thing.
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