Thursday, 24 March 2011

Zombie Based Escapism

I've just finished reading World War Z - An Oral History of the Zombie War. I've been reading it in between reading books about the US Death penalty and trying to understand the causes of the current financial crisis. It's offered me a bit of a break from the intricate politics, and allowed me to indulge my inner zombie-geek. I'm not a huge horror fan, not by most people's standards a full on geek or anything, but for some reason that i can't exactly explain zombies, in films, books or hypothetical musings have always fascinated me.

The book is a fictional account of a global zombie outbreak that takes place sometime close in the future, which sees humanity pushed to the very edge of extinction. The story is told through first person anecdotes by survivors from all across the world, through the plot device of a UN worker collecting evidence about the war. Fusing socio-economic and political commentary into a tale of a zombie outbreak is nothing new, George A Romero is famous for this, but this book does it particularly well. The amount of thought that has clearly gone into how he believes different countries cultures, histories and political institutions would influence their reaction to this threat is very entertaining and at times almost chillingly possible.

That's what makes zombies such a powerful and popular villain for fiction. Due to their lack of supernatural abilities and the common explanation that the condition stems from a virus or experiment gone wrong, they are ever so slightly more believable, which is enough to make them, at least for me, a whole lot more terrifying. Also the fact that they are portrayed as a threat on mass, to towns and cities, often very well known ones, it's almost too easy to relate to the stories surrounding them.

Then there's the fear of an apocalypse in general, of society collapsing and all hell breaking loose. Whatever the cause, worldwide apocalypses are a popular subject for books and films. Zombie based ones are a personal favourite.

So yeah, in amongst all the fun filled politics reading, i've been escaping into fantasies about zombie outbreaks, pondering what i'd do if it happened (i'd need different plans for Leicester and Sheffield) and hoping i'd manage to survive. Halfway through writing this post, my house mates came back home; the light above the back door has gone, so the first i knew about it was the sound of rattling and footsteps outside the door. Unsurprisingly given where my heads been at for the last hour or so, my first thought was 'zombie!'

So yeah, i may fail many of the tests that decide whether you're a geek or not, but i definitely am a zombie geek.

To finish this blog i'm going to do a top 5 zombie films/tv shows and then post my favourite piece of zombie-related music. Now this list would probably offend many zombie aficionados (i'm sure they're out there somewhere) but they're all films/tv shows that i consider to be zombie orientated, and they're the ones which entertained me the most.

5. Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Now i'm aware that by choosing the Zach Snyder directed remake, rather than the George A Romero one is bordering on sacrilege but i have to say i enjoyed it more and i found it scarier. It's a definite homage to the original, but has updated both the look of the film and the zombies themselves. The zombies in this version are scarier, both in terms of look (the appearance of the zombies in the 1978 original is unsurprisingly dated now, and because they can run. I've always thought the shambling slow zombie to be slightly comical, where as a zombie you can't easily outrun is an awful lot scarier.

4. Zombieland (2009)
This could be dismissed as the American "Shaun of the Dead", but i instead choose to praise it as such. Instead of merely doing a poor Americanised version of the film, as has been done with so many of the film and television efforts by the UK, they took the central idea, how would some very average people from this country, survive a zombie attack. Whereas "Shaun of the Dead" mocks the simple, very humble hopes and pleasures of a group of Londoners, "Zombieland" mocks the excess, the wealth and the gratuitous violence. Both are caricatures of the society they're set in, and both excel as such. Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin are all superb. This film is a superb comedy set within a zombie apocalypse, rather than the other way round. However there are some really entertaining action sequences, and of course, there is, THAT cameo.

3. The Walking Dead (2010)
Frank Darabont's TV series isn't just one of the best Zombie shows i've seen, it's one of the best TV shows i've seen. Brilliantly directed and acted throughout the first series, it packs in all the thrills of a zombie film; from the post apocalyptic cities, to the desperate rag tag group of survivors to the question of when does merely surviving become insufficient? And of course, lots and lots of ravenous, flesh eating monsters. The thing that sets this apart from almost all other zombie based fiction, is that with the scope and duration of a TV series, and the budget to realise Darabont's ideas, there's a level of character development that inevitably is slightly lacking in most zombie films. The possibility for real character arks is so much greater in this context than it is in film and the show benefits from this. In most zombie films the majority of the cast are highly expendable, here you are given the time to get to know a whole range of the characters and actually care about their fate. Also it has one of the best pilot episodes ever, the perfect example of how to set up a zombie story in my opinion.

2. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Now you can find most of the reasons why this is in my list, explained under the "Zombieland" entry, but the reason this is in 2nd and that came 4th is simply that "Shaun" is set in England. The writing is brilliant in both, so is the acting, but the jokes and the settings carry more resonance in this. Plus i have quite a bit of love for the combination of Pegg and Frost and they serve up some great scenes and quotes throughout. Simply put, it's the best Rom-Zom-Com around.

1. 28 Days Later (2002)
This film would make it onto a list of my all time favourite films of any genre, without a shadow of a doubt. One of the most powerful and genuinely scary films i've ever watched. Like "Shaun" it benefits from being set in England, with those opening scenes set in an empty London being beyond chilling. The combination of Danny Boyle's direction and John Murphy's score is intense and this film still has the power to make me feel very uncomfortable even after so many viewings.

The song choice for today is from the number 1 film, it's a piece of score called "In the house, in a heartbeat" and every time i hear it i'm back in the world of the film.

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