Monday, November 9, 2009

Zombies: The Ultimate Horror Device

So Halloween has passed. Sad face. But I still find myself thinking about scary things, as there are still a bunch of movies/books/web series.....lots of "web things" still doling out the horror. Seeing as though I try to keep content on this site somewhat related to horror, I had a revelation the other day.

There are many devices authors/screenwriters use to try to scare us. Supernatural beings like Vampires/aliens/zombies/werewolves/etc. There is always the serial Jason or Michael Meyers. There are disasters like comets hitting the earth or the end of the Mayan calender....(seriously don't you all think that maybe those guys just got tired after planning out over 2012 years of history? Or what if its all just a huge ancient joke and they are in their version of the afterlife rolling on the floor laughing?)

Vampires get staked (or glitter....I hate them I hate them I hate them) Werewolves get shot with silver bullets. Aliens...get viruses loaded to their wireless network. It may be a huge pain in the rear to accomplish these feats, but think of most movies/literature/Twilight (which is not literature) and you will see that something is done, even if the hero dies in the process. But there is a definitive ending, or at the very least a decent ending.

Serial killers usually die, or escape til the sequel, no mater the number. Sometimes the even get frozen and put into space where astronauts of the future unleash an unspeakable horror. But there is usually a definite ending, one that finalize the plot, even if there is a sequel.

End of the world movies, well nobody would watch them if Earth just got destroyed. Even if there is catastrophic damage, people survive and well yay! Same goes with government created conspiracy or disease outbreak plots. They always get exposed. Long story short a book or film wouldn't do well if the heroes don't in someway topple the opposition. They may die in the process, but its usually for the greater good. I also realize that as I'm writing this that there are examples to counter some of the things that are being said but the point is that it's extremely difficult to pull off effectively.

Which brings us to zombies. To include zombies in a story is really opening up a can of worms. You have to consider a lot of things: What stage of the outbreak, what type of zombies, what created the zombies, what kills zombies, how are new zombies created, etc? There are a lot of technical aspects that you must address if you are going to use zombies as a horror device. It is easy to have loop holes.

On the surface if you stack a zombie up against vampires, werewolves, sentient killers, comets, and prophecy then zombies kind of seem like the low undead man on the totem pole. They can't think, are usually slow, and usually can be easily dispatched. But zombie's strength lie in their numbers and their ability to never stop. Zombies have the best endurance ever. They are the endless hoard.

Equally as difficult about zombies, from the writer standpoint, is how to write an effective ending for the zombies. Sure survivors can find a "safe island" or the heroes can all die, or whatever, but nine times out of ten no matter what happens by the end of the book/film there are still zombies with which we must contend. Try to think of books or films where there is an ending you enjoy. Are there still zombies? Probably. Here are some examples that are the first to come to mind: (Spoiler alert, skip over the list in case you don't want things ruined if you haven't seen/read these:)
  1. Night of the Living Dead--hero shot by humans trying to hunt zombies, zombies remain
  2. Dawn of the Dead--two heroes are bit, the other fly off in a helicopter, zombies remain
  3. Day of the Dead--Most humans die...its been a while since I've seen but I know zombies remain
  4. Land of the Dead--Humans survive, but zombies find themselves a "home" Zombies remain
  5. Dawn of the Dead remake--Humans make it to "safe island" only to find...zombies!
  6. Shaun of the Dead--survivors "win" but zombies now exploited for entertainment, zombies remain
  7. 28 Days Later--Danny Boyle says they are not zombies, so they won't be included
  8. Zombieland--4 survivors now a "family" Zombies Remain
  9. World War Z--Survivors dictate the reclaiming of Earth from zombies, yet the job will never be fully complete, zombies remain
  10. Zombie Island/Nation/ All zombies defeated...but horrible ending Read For More Info
So you see a trend here. It is difficult to write an ending for zombies because they are that catastrophic. Those guys in Canada even did that whole research process on it. Read For More Info Most people who have tried have had a hard time completely getting rid of the zombies. It's almost impossible. It's almost even more impossible to write a good ending where zombies are gone forever. These reasons pave the road for Zombies to be regarded as the ultimate horror device for ever ever ever.

Agree/Disagree? Please back up your claims. 20 bonus points for the first person to correctly identify where the picture at the beginning of the post is from. Also: A Fun Zombie Song

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