Zombies: Why We Like Them.
There is a reason - I think – why the zombie thing hasn't played out after so long. There is a reason - I think - why zombies are more popular, and more persistent, now than they have ever been. There is a reason why they've staked out a tract of pop culture real estate for themselves and aren’t budging. That reason - I think - is this:
Zombies are only ever zombies.
Vampires, by contrast, spend a lot of time getting away with pretending to not be vampires. They're charming, they're beautiful, they're powerful and they are - consequently - seductive.
Werewolves, no strangers to double lives, spend a lot of time throwing their weight around as people, typically. They're bikers, or stevedores, or gang members. They're built, they're dangerous, they're vital and they are - consequently - desirable.
But, at the horror-trope cocktail party, zombies are the awkward guy with bad skin standing by the dip and warming a plastic tumbler of Hawaiian punch, raising his eyebrows in hopeful greeting to whomever accidentally makes eye contact with him. There is no faking who he is.
Vampires, they're the trust fund kids of the midnight world.
Werewolves are the jocks.
Zombies... man.... zombies are us. Zombies are schlubs. Zombies are the working poor. Zombies are the short end of the immortality deal. Zombies are the third world living in tin shacks so we can have Oprah and premium cable. They're the guys who'll never bed a supermodel, the folks who'll never own a new car, the ones who work by the printer and no-one knows their name.
So why are zombie movies so much fun? Why can they be so damned satisfying?
Vampires are for people who haven't accepted their lot. Those who, in a way, want to be abducted by aliens because that way they'll be special and never have to get a job.
Werewolves are for the powerless who seek - or dream of - confidence through physical superiority. The "oh-boy-sleep-that's-where-I'm-a-Viking" type.
But zombies... zombies are for people who know full well where they're at in this life. Perfectly aware of their sole purpose as an anonymous load-bearing member for society's pyramid scheme. As one of the drones from sector 7G. Under no illusion that they are in any way a privileged outlier.
They are us. They are society's packing foam. And, for one glorious film, they get to be pissed off.
Sometimes there's a sadness to them - a yearning for connection even as they devour the privileged living. A question in the eyes that seems to say "Why didn't you come back for me?"
Other times... other times they're running for you down a darkened tunnel at sixty kay-pee-aitch with nine hundred of their friends and now, finally, it's your turn fucker.
Zombie movies are never really about the human protagonists. Not for me. It's an exploration of a "what if...?", and the question and the answer is always embodied in that lost expression, that questioning groan.
But what if you take that sad sack hopeless case and give him a little of the love that has for so long been the domain of the pretty boys? Give him a little smarts, give him a little social nous, give him a little agency.
What do you get? You get what is, in my opinion, one of the best zombie films of all time.
You get Fight Club.