List: 5 almost (or barely) zombie movies

Posted by Cory Casciato On March - 17 - 2010

Is this a zombie movie?

I saw The Crazies this weekend. I liked it pretty well. It wasn’t a zombie movie. It did contain some very zombie-movie like themes and ideas, and the infected were somewhat zombie-like, but it wasn’t a zombie movie. Director Breck Eisner does a good job of explaining why in this interview. Here’s the key point, for my money:

They don’t lose their personalities and persona completely. It just lets loose this monster within and it does it differently with each person. That’s what makes it different from a zombie movie.

Now, arguably the same could be said about certain Romero works, especially Day of the Dead and Land of the Dead, but even in those movies, the creatures were zombie first (eat the flesh of the living above all else), remaining persona second. The Crazies had some of its infected do nothing more than just mill about aimlessly, while others actively sought revenge on those they perceived to have wronged them. Some worked as a team, some drove cars — does that sound very zombie-like to you? Compare that to other “infected” movies that, to me at least, are zombie movies, such as 28 Days Later. The infected in 28DL act like zombies — they seek out and attack the uninfected. They have lost all vestige of their previous personality, mind or soul. They can’t open a door, much less drive a car or operate a firearm. That’s a zombie.

Time will tell whether Eisner’s The Crazies is considered a zombie movie or not, despite his explanations and intentions. Ultimately, it’s the film’s audience and history that decides how a film is classified (never forget, Romero never considered his creatures zombies until audiences classified them as such and he went with it!). And that definition can be fairly arbitrary. For reference, here’s a look at five movies that utilize zombie-like ideas and creatures, yet alter the zombie mythos in fundamental ways. Some are considered zombie films, some are not.

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Undead Confusion: Zombie? Ghost? Both?

Posted by Cory Casciato On February - 10 - 2010

Ghost zombies? Zombie ghosts? It's all very confusing...

Zombie or ghost: It should be simple. If it has a body, it’s a zombie. If it doesn’t, it’s a ghost. Or to put it another way, a soulless, living dead body is a zombie, while a disembodied spirit is a ghost. But no, filmmakers have to go and make it all confusing and ambiguous — usually in terrible, terrible films.

I can’t say for sure that’s a result of mixing/confusing the two very different undead creatures, but I will say this: chances are good if you don’t know quite what kind of movie you are making, it is going to suck. And if you aren’t really sure what kind of creature your movie features, then almost by definition you aren’t real sure what kind of movie you’re making, right? Here’s a look at a few of the movies that blur the line, in an effort to sort out whether we’re looking at a ghost-like zombie, a zombie-like ghost or some genuine hybrid.

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Defining the dead: What is a zombie?

Posted by Cory Casciato On March - 31 - 2009

zombie_dead

In an earlier post, I addressed the question of what makes a zombie. My preliminary conclusion was if it looks like a zombie, acts like a zombie and isn’t something else, it’s a zombie. Here, I’d like to help nail that down with a definition and a look at the key question of zombiedom: is it dead?

Zombie: a) a dead human that’s been reanimated to a state between life and death; b) a human in a death-like state that strips them of cognition, will and other mental or spiritual traits most considered unique to humanity, esp. the soul.

Many zombie fans would argue that the second definition is incorrect. To their point of view, if it isn’t dead, it isn’t a zombie; nothing else matters. It’s frequently the justification given to deny zombie status to the infected in 28 Days Later, for example. But it isn’t that simple. The zombie is all about blurring the lines between life and death. After all, in real life, dead people do not walk around, much less try to eat people’s faces off, right? So it seems a wee bit absolutist to argue, “If it isn’t dead, it isn’t a zombie.”

Is the zombie alive? Dead? Well, there’s a reason they created a word – undead – for it. It’s neither, really. Not technically alive, not technically dead, but in a third state. And again, since this state is largely imaginary, it’s impossible to definitively say what that means — at least until the real zombie apocalypse breaks out, which I expect any day now. But that’s another story.

To my way of thinking, the unlife/undeath of a zombie is all about the corruption or loss of humanity. This is frequently represented by the horde in zombie movies: i.e. the loss of individuality, subsumed into a mindless, unthinking mass. In this light, the Rage zombies of 28 Days Later are just as easily seen as zombies, despite being technically alive. Certainly, they’ve lost their cognitive functions, their identities and their ability to exercise free will. They act only on the impulse to kill and to infect. The heart beats, but something vital — the spark of humanity itself, whether you call it a soul or a mind — is gone. How is that not a zombie? (There’s also the fact that they are clearly in a zombie movie, but that’s a subject for another post entirely…)

There can’t be any absolute answer, since we’re talking primarily about fiction. What makes a zombie for me might not for you, and we could both be “right.” I do think that when trying to determine the validity of a potential zombie, the death question is absolutely key. If it isn’t dead, or in a death-like state that strips some essential component of its humanity from it, then no, it isn’t a zombie.

Is it a zombie?

Posted by Cory Casciato On March - 5 - 2009

kirsty1What is a zombie? It’s an obvious and necessary question for any blog that seeks to cover the wide variety of zombie media. In my research and writing, I’ve encountered a number of different definitions for what is or isn’t a zombie. It’s something that really, really seems to get zombie lovers riled up. If you want to see an example, check out the discussion page for the Wikipedia list of zombie movies (it’s in my blogroll links). It has pages of discussion over 28 Days Later, much of which can only be described as frenzied.

Many people take what I feel is a ridiculously narrow view. In a list of the best zombie movies of all time I wrote a while back, some of the commenters complained that The Serpent and the Rainbow didn’t belong. Another commenter said if it wasn’t an ambulatory, flesh-eating corpse, it wasn’t a zombie (in other words, it’s a Romero clone, or it’s not a zombie). That’s just ridiculous. For one thing, it makes the list of zombie movies and media about a ten percent of what it actually is, or should be. For another, it completely ignores the history and development of the zombie. Worst, it completely excludes some of the coolest zombies of all time.

Personally, I take an expansive, inclusive position on what is or isn’t a zombie. I use what I consider a common-sense approach: if it looks like a zombie, acts like a zombie and/or is called a zombie, then it’s (probably) a zombie. I know that might seem like a circular argument, but we are talking about a largely fictional creature here — a zombie is what the people who make zombie media say it is, and, to a lesser degree, what the people who experience that media think it is.

It’s not quite that simple; there are other considerations. For starters, it’s definitely worth noting that zombies are, in one incarnation, a real thing. You can’t say that about too many other monsters! The first zombie stories came from reports of Westerners who visited Haiti and witnessed or heard about the creations of Voudon practitioners. From there, zombies were incorporated into film and theater, then later books, video games, etc.

On the other hand, things that are clearly and definitively something else, such as vampires, demons or ghosts, are not zombies (although there are some special cases that might qualify as zombie hybrids). These creatures have their own traditions and tropes associated with them. Trying to encompass them in the definition of a zombie simply dilutes the definition beyond usefulness.

That’s the basic premise: if it looks like a zombie, acts like a zombie and/or is called a zombie (i.e. is based on the reality of the Voudon practice of zombification or any of the fiction inspired by that practice) and isn’t something else, it’s a zombie. I’m not done with this topic, not by a long shot. I’m actually working on a super-scientific method for determining zombieness and I intend to address several specific characteristics of zombiism in later posts, but I think I’ve poked the fire enough for one day.

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