Sunday, October 12, 2014

Zombies: The Good, The Bad, and The Undead

Posted by: Eleri Stone
The Walking Dead is back! To celebrate, I thought I’d talk a little bit about zombies. As you may or may not know, I pitched Reaper's Touch as a cowboys versus zombies story because that gives you a quick sense of the world in what’s kind of a twisted cross-genre mash of a series. BUT, I usually qualify that by saying that REAPERS aren’t your traditional zombies. They’re more along the lines of the creatures in 28 Days Later—infected with a disease that turns them into mindless, cannibalistic monsters—and less like classic Romero zombies.

If you’re looking for zombies, here are some of the classic movies you won’t want to miss…

I Walked With A Zombie is a 1940's classic set in Saint Sebastian.

The zombies in this movie are voodoo zombies who appear perfectly healthy aside from their blank-eyed stares and complete lack of willpower. The setup is that the heroine, Betsy, is a nurse who's been hired to care for the mentally ill wife of a wealthy plantation owner. 

Paul Holland is a dour, serious man. Not only is his wife in need of constant care but before she became ill she planned to run away with his brother Wesley. Despite multiple warnings from people living on the island, Betsy falls in love with the tormented Mr. Holland and then comes up with a wildly unconventional treatment plan in an effort to cure his wife. 

Kind of like Jane Eyre if Jane Eyre was set in the West Indies and Mrs. Rochester was a zombie. 

It's a smart, atmospheric horror that manages to be incredibly creepy without any gore. What's especially cool is that despite the film being 70 years old, the female characters are interesting, complex and actually move the plot forward.

I also love this disclaimer:

The characters and events depicted in this photoplay are fictional. Any similarity to actual persons, living, dead or possessed is purely coincidental.

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The Plague of the Zombies (1966) is kind of a zombie mystery film that starts out with mysterious deaths, a baffled doctor, and a secret organization led by the local squire. The baffled doctor and his mentor decide to dig up some of the recently deceased in order to figure out what's causing the plague. They find empty coffins and from there it's a whodunnit...with animated corpses.

The zombies are the same kind of voodoo zombies that you see in movies like I Walked With A Zombie, except that while earlier zombies could be mistaken for living people, these pretty much look like walking corpses. They're bloodthirstier too and prone to violence when left to their own devices.

The Plague of the Zombies is more spooky than actually frightening, but if you're looking for a non-gory zombie movie, this might be the one for you.

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To be upfront, Night of the Living Dead isn't my favorite zombie movie. I think it's interesting because of the way it transformed zombie myth, but the female characters are frustrating and it's a little dull. The best thing about it is that everyone dies in the end. I feel kind of guilty for not liking it more than I do, but...there it is.

Night of the Living Dead is an important movie though and no zombie movie marathon would be complete without it. It's the movie that made the leap from the old voodoo mindless-slave zombies to the aggressive, flesh-eating zombies of the modern era. These new-and-improved zombies have no master but their own insatiable hunger. They're not intentionally-made creatures either. Their condition is a side-effect of...well, whatever bad thing the author wants to comment on. In the case of the Night of the Living Dead, it's radiation.

The story is that radiation from the Venus probe is causing the recent, unburied dead to become animate. It's a "sudden general explosion of mass homicide" and the ghouls are "ordinary looking people, some say they appear to be in a kind of trance". They can only be killed by a shot to the head or blow to the skull. Because the radiation activated the brain, you kill the brain and you kill the ghoul.

Barbra ("They're coming to get you, Barbra!") and her brother have the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, visiting an isolated cemetery when the uprising occurs. The brother dies and Barbra escapes to a farmhouse where she holes up with a small, dysfunctional group of survivors.

Law enforcement and army deal effectively with the ghoul problem in more populated areas, but it takes them awhile to get into the country. While Barbra's group doesn't fare well, this isn't presented as an apocalypse. There's an uprising of a finite number of corpses. It's cleaned up and presumably people continue on as normal.

As far as gore goes, it's not a complete gore fest but the late night zombie picnic is pretty gross, as is the child zombie eating her parents. But, then, aren't child zombies always creepy as hell?

So...there's not an elaborate plot and pretty much all the characters are unlikeable, but nothing beats it for sheer influence. It introduced the concept of zombism as a widespread outbreak and the idea of zombies as flesh-eating ghouls that could only be stopped by destroying the brain. It's so influential that lots of people consider Romero's version of zombies in Night of the Living Dead to be the only true zombies...even though they're never actually referred to as zombies in the film.

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What's your favorite zombie movie?

Also... If you want to read some zombie (or zombie-like) books, Reaper's Touch is on sale right now for only $0.99, as is PJ Schnyder's Bite Me. So get 'em cheap while you can:) Not on sale, but still full of zombie goodness is Joshua Root's Undead Chaos.

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Eleri Stone is a RITA-nominated author of paranormal and fantasy romance. Born in New Jersey, she now lives in Iowa with her husband and their three children. All of her stories have some element of speculative fiction in them and they all end with a happily-ever-after. www.eleristone.com

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