So there it is, the crux of the matter. The fly in the ointment. The monkey wrench if you will. What exactly constitutes a Zombie flick?
Once again, this may seem like a pretty simple question, and I think Zombie purists would have a very clear and well defined answer.
Traditionally, movie zombies are:
#1) Human corpses (that is-- and this is important-- people who have died) that have:
#2) become re-animated in some way.
#3) The standard Zombie characteristic action that follows, after this re-animation, is the "seeking and munching of living human flesh."
The actual history surrounding zombies, of course, dates back to Haitian/Caribbean mythology, and the practice of Voodoo. The story goes, that a local villager (for example), pisses off a local witch doctor, is given a potion that renders the individual immobile and with no detectable vital signs. With the level of medicine that was present in the villages at the time, I think this is entirely plausible. We can check off (#1) above-- the individuals would very much resemble a corpse, and would then be buried - check!
When the buried individual revives (re-animates)-- and manages not to succumb to terror and suffocation-- he would likely claw his way out of the grave -- (#2) above - check (or be dug up to later be used as a slave).
And, well, I'm sure all the flesh-eating (#3) above, is all about being really pissed off about being drugged and buried alive.
That, of course, is the "scientific" explanation for the stories. Add a dash of witchcraft and a pinch of the supernatural, and you've got the silverscreen's rendition.
And while there are a number of zombie movies that incorporate the Voodoo explanation ("The Serpent and the Rainbow","Zombi 2", reviewed in this Blog, are two examples), most Zombie flicks as we all know and love today, make no reference to Voodoo or witchcraft.
In fact, so many of the recent zombie movies of the past few decades have not really had any supernatural basis to them whatsoever.
And I think this is what really helps define a zombie movie. Zombie culture (and the movies they spawn) are about the unknown, and the loss of control (and the fear of the loss of control). People of the past have feared the supernatural; therefore the creeping terror that stalked them was of course supernatural. It's interesting that the present day zombie flicks depict zombies brought to life by environmental, viral and/or chemical means. It's what is in the news today that is scaring the bejesus out of us. It might also explain why we have a new breed of zombies (the fast-paced "zoom-bies"). There's a real sense of urgency and impending doom to our fear-- hense the urgent pace of the undead movement (both literally and figuratively). Ah, the zombie movie as social commentary-- that's fodder for another discussion.
That being said-- some simple rules...
- Zombie flicks have gotta have flesh eating (brains, intestines, limbs-- it doesn't matter) and plenty of it. And FYI, zombies did not start wandering/limping/running around screaming "braaaaains" until "Return of the Living Dead" -- so I'm cool with any body part becoming a meal for a chomper.
- I'd prefer the walking dead to have been dead before they started walking-- but I will settle for zombies that were alive when they become flesh-eaters (as in 28 Days/Weeks Later). We aren't talking about cannibals-- cannibals are really just carnivores that happen to eat their own species-- and it's entirely natural (at least to them).
- The zombie-munching in zombie flicks should have a feeling of un-naturalness to it (but not necessarily supernatural). It's the loss of control by these undead that is truly horrifying; perhaps illustrated by their stinted gate (as if they're trying vainly to stop themselves, but just ... can't ... quite ... stop ... biting...) Even if somewhere deep down inside, they wanted to stop, they couldn't. More horrifying is when they've acquired the ability to run... you down.
- And when you're bitten, and infected, that will be you-- trapped inside your undead, hungry, out-of-control body.