Saturday, November 1, 2014

My Pet Zombies

Well, since it's Halloween (or at least it was when I started working on this post), I thought I'd have a little fun and take a quick look at the individual zombies that I have found the most frightening or unsettling over the years. Although not all of these zombies come from movies that I would characterize as "scary," each of these zombies, for one reason are another, is just flat out not okay. These are not the best zombie films. Hell, these aren't necessarily even the best zombies. They're just the ones that mess with me. Please feel free to comment, critique or argue with me in the comment section below. 

Coming in at number 6, from Italy and a movie that I must shame-facedly admit to not having seen in its entirety - Worm Eye from Fulci's Zombi 2 (also sometimes known as Zombie or Zombie 2). There are a couple of things about Worm Eye that really heeb me out. First, is the fact that there are, um, live fucking worms crawling around in his eye socket. Yeah, that. I'm comfortable in saying that's definitely a big part of it. Honestly, I don't have much of a problem with worms. As long as we aren't talking about the tiny parasitic kind, worms rank well behind maggots and centipedes on the list of things that make my skin crawl. But apparently that changes a bit when a zombie slowly rises from the dirt and they taken residence in his effing eye hole. Not cool, Fulci. Not cool. The other thing that really gets me about Worm Eye is his awful deliberateness. Although he's only in the movie very briefly, the scene is painfully drawn out. There's no haste in his rise from the dead. No hurry. He just slowly sits up from the dirt, hovers over his victim, and then takes a chunk out of her throat like he has all the time in the world. Somehow, the wait for him to rise to his full height, and the brief switch to the p.o.v. from his empty sockets, makes the scene that much more horrific, and one of the most memorable in all of zombie cinema. 

I've included a short clip here from Zombi 2 (from TheClassicHorrorMovi's channel on Youtube) for those of you who are unfamiliar with the film. A warning: Fulci might as well be Italian for Not Fucking Around. For 1979, the special effects are startling. If you are easily grossed out, you probably don't want to press play. For the rest of you: enjoy. Worm Eye shows up around 1:38.

At number 5, from Danny Boyle's incredible 28 Days Later, Infected Private Clifton. Before I took the time to actually find out which soldier this was, I referred to him as "the one with the hat" or, mostly to myself, "I, zombie?" Although I acknowledge that Mailer, in many respects, is the zombie from this film (and yes, he IS a zombie), the scene where Clifton sees himself in the mirror while "hunting" for Hannah scared the shit out of me when I first saw it in the theater, and has come to frighten me for quite different reasons ever since. The first time I saw the film, it was the almost unbearable tension of the scene that did it. As
Hannah clings to the back of the mirror, we watch in horror, sure that Clifton is going to come barreling through the glass, just as we have seen so many "infected" do throughout the film. Except... he doesn't. He sees himself. He waits. He doesn't run, he walks slowly, deliberately, even cautiously to the mirror. He examines. And though I have to stop short of claiming that he recognizes himself as an individual, there is certainly a recognition that what he sees in the mirror is not an un-infected, and thus not what he wants to bite and rend and tear. After several terribly intense moments, he turns and runs away in pursuit of a victim un-like himself. In a way that is still somehow horribly mindless, there is a sense of identity to Clifton, here, that is really troubling.

Number 4, the stinkin ol' Fat Lady from the Dawn of the Dead remake (which, though not nearly as smart as the original, is also not half as bad as people pretend). I think, more than anything, what horrified me about the lady that comes in on a wheelbarrow and dies without a name is that death, inexplicably, improves her. I don't mean to say it improved her appearance, and it probably didn't do great things for her odor (by the looks of her, that one might have been a push), but it improved her capability. There is simply no way this lady could move like this before she died and came back. A woman who probably shuffled along quite slowly, hops up like a damn linebacker seconds after she expires to run down Ana. Big, hungry, and fast as all get out. I don't need that in my life.

Take a look (courtesy of MovieClips on Youtube):

Honorable Mention of the Dead. Also in Zack Snyder's remake is the Newborn zombie. Honestly, I thought this was going to be a lot worse than it was (I mean, it didn't eat it's way out...), but a zombie baby, however it is handled, is still pretty messed up. Fun fact: I took my then 16 year-old brother to see this when it came out in theaters. When it became clear that we were about to welcome a brand new, bouncing baby zombie into the world, my brother got up and walked out, simply saying "Nope, I can't." I didn't blame him then, and still don't.

Number 3: Bub. The pinnacle of Romero's zombies that "remember." Bub, though undead and hungry for flesh, is among the most human zombies we encounter in film. He "shaves," "reads," and even takes a stab at "communicating" (in the Maverick and Goose vs. the MiG sense of the word). For me, though, the most horrific memory Bub seems to have, is the ability to shoot a gun. Because that's what the apocalypse was missing. Zombies with guns...

At number 2, in an almost dead heat (because sometimes puns happen on their own), the Zombie that Orders His Own Dinner in Return of the Living Dead.
Without question, the most iconic zombie from Return is Tarman ("Braaains!"). He's a nightmare, visually, and he's actually pretty bright - he uses a chain and a pulley to rip off the door his intended victim was hiding behind. However, that was nothing, absolutely nothing, compared to what we see a little later in the film. Overhearing the ambulance's radio while he is feasting on a paramedic's brains (he is reeeeaallly digging in there), an idea occurs to the zombie who is clearly too smart for his, well, our own damn good. Breaking from his repast, the zombie crawls over to the radio, clicks the button and carefully says "Copy dispatch. Send. More. Paramedics." This is not a scary movie by any stretch of the imagination. It's goofy, and hokey, and more unintentionally funny in a way that seems to set the tone for 80s zombie cinema, but its zombies are the absolute worst case scenario of zombies (see the convenient chart, provided at the top of this post). They are fast, they are smart, and they are indestructible (no amount of double tapping is going to save you here, folks; hide and hope, those are your options). 

If you ever plan on watching AMC's The Walking Dead but haven't started yet, please do not read any further. Go watch the first two seasons, and come back. 

Seriously. Spoiler alert.

Well, I did my best.

Finally, the zombie that scares me more than any other...


For those of you who don't watch The Walking Dead (and even for some of you that do, I'm sure), it might seem odd that I would pick a little girl zombie, hardly the most gruesome we've seen, who was never really a physical threat to anybody, from her first step out of the barn until she gets put down just moments later. The idea of losing a character that you have grown attached to is kind of a staple of zombie fictions. Whether it's Johnny in Night, "Flyboy" in Dawn, or Frank in 28 Days Later, the loss of loved ones, and their horrific returns, are central to the way zombie horror operates. First, having group members (there's always a group) die and reanimate creates a dynamic where everyone in the group is now viewed as a potential zombie and therefore a threat. The medium of television, however, allows The Walking Dead to approach this convention a little differently, and to much greater effect. Unlike the other main characters who become zombies, both on the show and in other zombie texts, the disappearance of Sophia is shrouded in uncertainty. She doesn't get bitten or devoured onscreen, for the audience to see. The total ignorance of her whereabouts and well-being is keenly felt by characters and viewers alike. This absence, the resulting searches, the teases of hope, all stretched out over the course of several episodes allows the ultimate loss to resonate in a way that few if any deaths in zombie fiction have been able to approach. The scene, which follows a lot of dramatic build-up that, if you are like me, completely distracts you from even thinking about Sophia, is simply devastating. And it brings home a reality that takes a lot of the fun out of imagining the world after a zombie apocalypse. One of the main things that separates the zombie from so many other horrific figures, is its ability to take the familiar, the Self, and render it monstrous. The effect, here, is heartbreaking.

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