Blood, guts and gore – dissecting the zombie filmPosted: May 10, 2011
Zombies are everywhere! Zombies are in our films, in our TV series, in our comics and graphic novels, in our games and in our music. But what makes a good zombie?
There’s two clearly distinct forms of zombism (albeit arguably one isn’t strictly zombie in nature). Not delving too deeply into the origins of the zombie, but specifically media texts, we have the traditional, stumbling around, virtually lifeless. The second is the fast paced, super infectious, aggressive type. Both have their pluses.
Okay, so now we get onto the survivors. There’s always survivors. Nobody will watch 90 minute films with just zombies stumbling around. But since this is an offshoot of the horror genre, we have to have a legitimate fear of death for the characters. That means, we have to see at least one character eaten – preferably more.
Now, with the traditional zombie, we inevitably see group cohesion is quite bad. People do things that mean others and/or themselves become zombie-chow. In the adrenaline infused version, group cohesion has to be stronger. 28 Days Later, had characters that were equally willing to share food, supplies and even kill instantly anybody who gets infected, without hesitation. With Left 4 Dead, we have a group of 4 survivors that have better chances when they stick together – except The Sacrifice obviously. If you want to be able to keep the survivors alive, group cohesion and tensions should be at a bare minimum in the adrenaline version, whereas group dynamics can be played with more in the traditional versions.
Next we have zombie lore. The cause of the outbreak is rarely truly known. After all, the survivors should be too busy trying to survive, rather than looking for the cause. Second, how long does the infection take to set in? This is something that’s often played around with for dramatic effect – sometimes very quickly, other times incredibly slowly. It would make sense that it would differ slightly from person to person, but overall, it should be roughly the same. In Left 4 Dead, the survivors are immune to the virus, but not the violence. 28 Days Later, it’s merely a few seconds.
Situations and locations are the next problem. Having one exit/entrance is better for standing your ground, however, the lack of escape means that it’s either pass or fail. Rarely used in most zombie texts. Then there’s a place with fewer exits. The house in Night of the Living Dead had a few exits, meaning dramatic entrances from the zombies. It’s necessary to note though, most zombie films and games have multiple locations – either locations built up around a larger location (such as the back rooms and the shops in the mall from Dawn of the Dead) or going along a string of completely separate locations.
Zombieland, while it was an enjoyable romp, did actually go one step further from all of the other zombie films and games – noted what kind of people would be the survivors. The fat people, close knit families wouldn’t survive, but people who are creative (coming up with rules for survival, using environments and weaponry creatively and even downright manipulation to steal from fellow survivors are all hallmarks of the personalities of main characters) would .
One thing that has been shown though – we need more than simple survival in our zombie texts, we need intelligence, we need excitement, we need drama, a unique experience and we need consequences. We also need to know that anyone, ANYONE can be killed off. Even the main characters. Even if it doesn’t happen, we need to know that it can be done – and why it doesn’t happen. What gives them an edge? Militancy, stealth, intelligence, innovation, determination, not taking risks, etc…
I keep coming back to a zombie TV series idea I had a few years ago, which involved the adrenaline based zombies, along with my own additions of uniqueness. I won’t talk about my ideas too much, just in case they actually come to fruition (oh, that would be awesome), but needless to say, it will involve each of the elements described above.
Oh, and remember: Aim for the head!