Zombies Eat My Brains
I do think there's been cool stuff done with the shambling beasties, I should add. The first two Romero movies are classics, for sure, Shaun of the Dead is awesome, and 28 Days Later was real edge-of-the-seat stuff, I thought; but the more the zombie apocalypse gets dug up and set shambling towards us yet again, the more I find myself... shrugging. Like, whatevers. My mind drifts to maggots, wondering just how long before bluebottle larvae simply devour the undead hordes. I think of army troops with daisy cutters -- hell, even a few grenades could take that mob down to a minimal threat. Kneecappings and decapitations -- it can't be that hard to immobilise th motherfuckers. Hell, I even wonder if you could immunise yourself by eating zombie flesh -- cause hey, it's like "man bites dog," yanno? Zombie eats man. Boooooooring! Man eats zombie? Now there's a story.
But I think it might be the logical narrative form that just brings the Law of Diminishing Returns into play here. Like, once the zombie apocalypse kicks off, ye've got a few scenes of your protagonists discovering that, holy shit, a zombie apocalypse has kicked off! Then what? You've basically got two scenarios, it seems, the siege and the sortie, which leads to, like, three structures in the combination thereof:
- Siege (with sprinkles of sortie)
- Sortie (with sprinkles of siege)
- The Combo Special (a siege/sortie blend)
In option 1, your protagonists find somewhere to hole up, and... well, that's it; the zombie horde surrounds them, and the whole story is about holding Fort Apache: The Brains. The purest siege story, I'd say, is the one-nighter, the "hold out till the dawn" story -- pure because it's constricted in time as well as space. Like a locked-room drama, it can achieve a real intensity from its disparate characters cooped up together, fighting back-to-back (and among themselves, natch.) In non-zombie fiction, your prime exemplar is Assault on Precinct 13; in zombie fiction, it's Night of the Living Dead. Note, there is a sortie here -- the attempt to get the truck -- but in option 1 such attempts just lead to retreat and retrenchment. And scaling up to an extended siege a la Dawn of the Dead... not sure if I'd say this weakens the narrative per se but it sets up a lower burn of tensions than the crucible of the one-nighter; you're substituting an all-out onslaught with brief moments of respite for a settled-in-behind-the-barricades war of attrition with sudden moments of panic when shit goes tits-up.
In option 2, your protagonists have a hint of a haven, and they decide to head for it; the zombie horde owns the perilous terrain they must travel across in order to get there, and the whole story is about reaching sanctuary. The whole narrative is a sortie, really, with just the odd pit-stop siege now and then. Outside zombie fiction, you might look at The Warriors as a good example. Inside zombie fiction, the two best examples of this, seems to me, are Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland, both notably layering in additional narrative idioms -- the rom-com and the road movie -- rather as if that narrative isn't quite interesting enough in itself. Maybe it isn't. I mean, your story is basically a trudge through the wasteland interspersed with "oh noes, we walked into some zombies" or "oh noes, we stopped and some zombies found us." Other notable examples more in this vein seem to up the tension by cheating on the zombies, making them fast and alert rather than dumb and slow -- c.f. 28 Days Later and Resident Evil. Can't help feeling like maybe they have to, cause otherwise it'd be like Saving Private Ryan only the Germans are all retarded monkeys armed only with bayonets. Oh, and they're wearing blindfolds and earmuffs. And asleep.
And what the hell else do you have more than that, other than narratives which blend the siege and the sortie in more equal measures? Oh noes, it's a zombie apocalypse; let's hole up somewhere safe. Oh noes, the zombies got in; let's try and find somewhere safe. Oh noes, we ran into some zombies in our attempt to get somewhere safe; let's kill them and/or run away. And repeat. And repeat. And repeat. And repeat. I guess my point is that these narrative building blocks are so simple and tropic that we're dealing with set pieces, and if you've pulled off the set piece well once, what do you do?
Oooh, I know, let's have a bigger horde of zombies overrun the makeshift barricades of our ragtag handful of ill-equipped survivors! OK, so then the next time we can... uh... have an even bigger horde of zombies overrun the makeshift barricades of our ragtag handful of ill-equipped survivors! And then... get this... we have a medium-sized horde of zombies overrun the makeshift barricades of our ragtag handful of ill-equipped survivors! Just to spice things up a little. Trust me; it'll be awesome. Why do the zombies overrun the position? Well, I was thinking that in Siege Scene A it's because of the zombies' sheer strength of numbers, plus one of the protagonists does something stupid, and in Siege Scene B it's because one of the protagonists does something stupid, plus the zombies' sheer strength of numbers means -- what's that? What do you mean, "the same fucking thing"?
So, yeah, about that siege. Have we holed up in an abandoned house already? OK, how about an abandoned shopping mall? OK, how about an abandoned government facility / army base? OK, how about an abandoned department store? OK, how about an abandoned tank? OK, how about a retirement home? OK, how about a forest clearing with no defensive perimeter whatsoever?! It'll be really awesome and -- no, wait, you're right, that is kinda retarded.
OK then, scratch that. We'll just keep our protagonists moving until they, like, turn a corner and there's some zombies. Or they go into an abandoned house to restock supplies and there's some zombies. Or they go into an abandoned shopping mall to restock supplies and there's some zombies. Or they go into an abandoned department store to restock supplies and there's some zombies. Or they go into an abandoned police station, or an abandoned hospital, or, hey, how about they go into an abandoned government facility / army base and there's some zombies? Anyway, the point is, they turn a corner somewhere and there's some zombies!
Or, you know, they could turn a corner and there aren't any zombies! I mean, we could find something else entirely to spark conflict in the narrative, seeing as our key threat isn't actually much of a threat until you're pretty much in its face, shouting, "Look! Fresh brains!" But that seems like an extreme measure when there's soooooo many different ways to have protagonists turn a corner and find, like, OMG, there's some zombies! Sure, as far back as Day of the Dead, Romero pretty much made the shambly critters a background plot device and founded the whole narrative on human conflicts, but that movie's just whacky. So no, sieges and sorties, that's what we want.
Can't see how that would ever get old.
So yeah, I'm just not seeing a whole lot of mileage in this monster in and of itself. I'm sorta baffled as to why there was such a buzz over The Walking Dead in the first place. A coma victim wakes to find himself in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, you say? Sets out to find his wife and son, you say? Let me take a wild stab in the dark and guess that the narrative's going to consist of said protagonist and whatever survivors he encounters being holed up in siege situations which will eventually get overrun by zombies (when they're not out on sorties, that is) and sorties where they turn corners and there's some zombies (when they're not holed up in siege situations, that is.)
Now if they were to, say, bring back Merril in Season Two as a zombie with just enough shreds of his old identity to hold one hell of a grudge (like Bud in Day of the Dead, yanno,) and maybe a chainsaw strapped to his stump for extra yucks... now then I might think it was going somewhere interesting.
Labels: Fuck This Shit