Dead man still walking: A critical investigation into the rise and fall...and rise of Zombie cinema.
Kyle William Bishop
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Horror films act as a barometer for society's tensions and anxieties, and the early years of the twenty-first century have seen a notable increase in such movies, the zombie narrative in particular. This "Zombie Renaissance" demonstrates increased dread concerning violent death---via terrorist attacks or contagious infection---and establishes the currency of a critical investigation into this oft-maligned subgenre. The zombie narrative has particular value to American cultural studies as the creature was born on the shores of the New World, rather than being co-opted from the Old, and it functions as a symbolic reminder of the atrocities of colonialism and slavery. Drawing on ethnographic studies of Haitian folklore, the voodoo-based zombie films of the 1930s and '40s do crucial cultural work in their own right, revealing deep-seated racist attitudes and imperialist paranoia, but the zombie invasion narrative established by George A. Romero has even greater singularity. Having no established literary analogue, Romero borrowed instead from voodoo mythology, vampire tales, and science fiction invasion narratives to develop a new tradition with Night of the Living Dead in 1968. His conception of a contagious, cannibalistic zombie horde uniquely manifests modern apprehensions about the horrors of Vietnam, the struggles of the Civil Rights Movement, and, in the more recent films, the problems of excessive consumerism and the anxieties of both the Cold War and the current War on Terror. Essentially, zombies work as powerful metaphors for modern-day society and the prevailing cultural unease surrounding violent death and the loss of autonomous subjectivity, and, as recent production proves, the subgenre will continue to serve the viewing public as it grows, mutates, and evolves.
Hurston’s to Métraux’s.4 According to Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert, The various versions of the story of Marie M’s zombification [such as Hurston’s] posit sexual desire—the erotic—as a fundamental component of the zombified woman’s tale, hinting at, although never directly addressing, the urge to transcend or subvert race and class barriers as one of the repositories of the sorcerer’s lust. . . . The underlying truth behind this tale is that victim and victimizer are separated by insurmountable
Dead, it’s unclear whether zombiism is viral, born in the blood, or merely a prevailing effect of extraterrestrial radiation; in a reversal of I Am Legend, hard science plays little role in Romero’s movie at all. What is clear is that those attacked by zombies eventually and inevitably die from their wounds, and they soon rise from the dead as cannibalistic ghouls themselves. Regardless of the rational explanation, Romero’s zombies themselves act like a virus, for direct contact with the living
Romero’s first film from a psychoanalytic and culturally critical viewpoint, along with an understanding of the narratological tradition of the Gothic, reveals the movie to be a devastating criticism of 1960s culture. In quite simple terms, when confronted with the grim and frightening realities of mortality, the human characters of Night of the Living Dead prove themselves incapable of coping, just as America in 1968 was suffering under a similar inability to cope with both climatic social
appears strangely isolated from the rest of civilization, surrounded by the buffer of the parking lot and clearly void of human life. Yet because they need a place to stop, eat, and rest, the four protagonists tentatively land their helicopter on the roof of the imposing structure. Once they feel secure in their lofty position, the four cautiously investigate the condition of the building, assessing its level of safety and the potential spoils there for the taking. Looking down through the
exposed internal organs. Now, after even more exposure to global warfare and bloodshed, the twenty-first-century audience, largely desensitized by violent video games and other media, demands an upping of the ante. In response, 28 Days Later and Land of the Dead feature zombies with missing limbs, decaying flesh, and only partially constituted heads and faces; even the rather light Shaun of the Dead (a self-proclaimed “romantic comedy” zombie film) has some exceedingly gruesome ghouls and