If all you know about me is Dry Season, then you wouldn’t guess that I harbour a dark secret. You see, anyone who knows me well, knows I’m a sucker for a zombie film. I just love to see those figures shambling from the near distance, coming into focus, gathering, crowding, reaching out . . .
I grew up in the era of the ‘video nasty’ – the tabloid headlines filled with excitable slogans, Mary Whitehouse calling for films to be restricted, censored, banned. But while the respectable British public was afraid and outraged, crying out to be saved from the terrible images that could be displayed on their television screens, we teenagers were desperately trying to find someone with a VCR that we could use to play our bootleg copy of Driller Killer, Texas Chainsaw Massacre or *slow intake of reverent breath* The Evil Dead. Oh yeah, baby.
My first glimpse of The Evil Dead was on The Tube. Remember The Tube? It was a sometimes daring music show (recorded in Newcastle, I might add), which was taken off air for several weeks at one point because Jools Holland said ‘be there or be ungroovy fuckers’ in a live trailer during peak children’s viewing time. Mind you, it was on Channel 4 and hardly anyone watched channel 4 in those days. Anyway, one week they aired an interview with Alice Cooper (who has some tight horror movie connections as well as the, er, music) and when they asked him, he said his favourite film was The Evil Dead. So they showed a short clip (non gruesome, naturally), and my hunt for a watchable version began – this was the 80’s, remember, and we weren’t allowed such things. But someone always knew someone who knew someone whose Dad’s mate’s brother’s uncle owned a video shop and when he took the banned titles off the shelf, he stuck ’em under the counter and . . . well, you get it. Someone borrowed it, copied it and their mate copied it (remember buying 180 min video cassettes?) and somewhere down the line I got to watch a grainy version with terrible audio. But it was fantastic. Like nothing else. And so I fell in love with the zombie film.
Now, I know what you’re gonna say. The Evil Dead’s not strictly a zombie film. True. But it’s close enough. And after The Evil Dead came Dawn of the Dead – the only version I managed to get hold of was one which slipped from colour into black and white and looked like it had been filmed during a snow storm, but still I was smitten. And after that? Barely watchable copies of the Fulci stompers Zombie Flesheaters, City of the Living Dead, The Beyond, The House by the Cemetery (ah those crazy Italians), The Living Dead, The Return of the Living Dead (the first speedy, talking zombies? And the now universal call for ‘braaaiiiiins’), Night of the Living Dead, Re-Animator, and the list goes on. And then . . . nothing. Because then the dead were gone. They’d had their day. They’d been returned to the grave because the world had bigger things to worry about and our horror came from other places.
But, come on, they’re the living dead, right? I mean, they’re not going to stay under the ground forever, are they? They’re going to claw their way back to the surface, stale soil in their blackened mouths, worms in their sightless eye sockets, bones protruding from the tips of their broken fingers. And now they’re back. The past 10 years or so have seen their return, albeit in a slightly faster and more menacing form. For me, it was 28 Days Later that brought about the resurgence, followed by the Dawn remake, which wasn’t too bad. Sadly, George A Romero’s return to the fray hasn’t been so great, I think his time has gone, but zombies have been everywhere – even worked in to Jane Austen – although they can’t quite contend with the whole vampire thing. But really; pale, wan vampires who glitter and mope around a lot, or rotting corpses who want to eat your brains? I’d go for brains every time.
And now, the zombies are getting their own TV show. The Walking Dead. Imagine that. We’ve come from a world in which the decomposing features of zombies were cut from our films, to one in which they are allowed to roam free on our lovely flat screens, peer into our homes and feast on, well, you know what they feast on, right? I guess the popularity of something like True Blood (great show, by the way) has given the green light to such a thing. Based on the graphic novels of the same name, The Walking Dead is set in, you guessed it, a zombie infested world in which the living are in the minority. It begins a la 28 Days Later (which began a la Day of The Triffids) and follows the efforts of the main character to find his family and then . . . well, I won’t spoil it for you. Just make sure you’re comfortable when you sit down to watch. Check the windows, lock the doors, you know the drill.
In the meantime, I think I’ll go and watch my director’s cut of Dawn of The Dead. In shining blu-ray. No picture decay (we only want our decay on the zombies, right?). Colourful. Audible. And clear – as – a -bell.
- Are zombies the new vampires in Hollywood? (reuters.com)
- University Adds “Zombie Studies” Class. (cinematical.com)