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Scary Column 1: the Awakening

2008-05-30 15:24
In the past, horror was mostly about demons and ghosts, because almost everyone believed in an afterlife, and the fires and eternal torment of Hell was perceived to be a very real option offered by an allegedly kind and loving God.

Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus was published in 1818, slap-bang in the middle of the Industrial Revolution, when people were scared of new inventions and steam-powered machines that were threatening their jobs. And of course, they were also terrified of doctors, who were yet to discover the comfort of an effective anesthetic, and the fact that it might be a good idea to wash their hands and instruments before cutting into their patients.

Vampires have been around since forever, but became hugely popular in Victorian England. This is because vampires are all about sex and erotic fantasy, and the Victorians were so prudish they make an ACDP meeting look like a Girls Gone Wild video. To put it into perspective, they were so scared of their own sexuality they thought it was crude to use the word “leg” in polite conversation. No wonder blushing Victorian ladies swooned at the thought of a beastly predator sneaking into their private chambers and penetrating their delicate, alabaster flesh with phallic fangs and spilling their virginal blood. Hey, did it suddenly get hot in here? Save me, Buffy!

Skipping forwards a whole bunch of years and wars and suddenly, in the 1950’s, monster movies are all the rage. No surprise, really, given the fact that the world’s most powerful nations had decided in their ultimate wisdom that testing – in other words, detonating - radiation-spewing bombs wherever they could was a pretty neat idea. Many of the monsters’ origins were radiation-based, including the Japanese creation, Godzilla (1954), who comes from the sea and tears their cities apart. That must have struck a chord with Japanese audiences. Then the 1960s saw the rise of the best horror movie boogyman of all time, the zombie. At first, these rotting, flesh-eating badasses were also explained as a result of radiation, but after a while writers didn’t even bother. Who cares where zombies come from? They’re freaking zombies! They’re reeking, they’re leaking and they want to eat your braaains! Look, there’s your dear old Daddy coming to visit you. Didn’t you bury him just last week? Well, now he’s back, and he wants to bite your face! Aha ha ha ha ha! Yes, ladies, they want to eat you! But not in a nice way.

And in the last few years, it’s great to see that zombies have made a bit of a comeback, with remakes of Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, 28 Days/Weeks Later and a whole bunch more. Some are great, some are good, and some are just zombie movies, which is great.

So why are there no zombies on television (in case you forgot, this is a TV column)? How about a zombie medical drama? It could be called Greying Anatomically. Catchy, don’t you think? Or how about a sitcom called Two And A Half Men? Jeez. Didn’t even have to change that one. OK, what about How I Ate your Mother?

Unfortunately, zombies are just too disposable for television. Just as you’re getting to like a character, half his face falls off. Now suddenly you have to re-evaluate. Do you like half-face guy as much as you liked full-face guy? If not, does this mean you’re shallow? And if you do, does this mean you’re easy? Hey, what if you were subconsciously attracted to full-face guy, and now you’re pretending you don’t like half-face guy as a person because you’re in denial about your own sexuality? Huh? Gotcha, lesbians!

It’s a pity they’re not television material, because zombies satirise all that is shallow, consumerist, and mindless about our western culture. The best example of this is the George Romero’s satiric Dawn of the Dead, with the survivors barricaded in a shopping mall and zombies clambering to get in as if there were a Big Sale on, or something.

They growl and groan in a singular monotone. They walk together in crowds, all Hell-bent on achieving their single, destructive objective: to consume and destroy anyone that isn’t one of them. One of them alone is slow and weak, and easily killed. But faced with 200 of the bastards? You’re pretty much screwed.

Zombies represent the stupidity of the crowd, and how vicious and hateful they can be if you’re not one of them – and the fact that you can so easily become one of them yourselves makes them extra scary.. They remind me of religious and political gatherings, crowded shopping malls, the xenophobia, and sometimes the comments I read under my columns.

And sometimes they remind me of me, gazing blankly at the television, wondering vaguely what dickweed executive gave the green light to yet another season of The Ghost Whisperer. Ghosts? Is that supposed to be scary? A ghost is just mist that talks. That’s not scary. Why don’t they make The Zombie Whisperer? Well, I suppose they don’t because the zombie message would always be “Braaains!”, and every time she listened she’d risk losing an ear. Ah, well. Best I just go with the flow and watch what they give me. And like millions of other viewers, I settle back for an hour or so of mindless entertainment.

- Chris McEvoy

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