Remember Scary Movies? Before the zombies came along? So do I. I remember taking my girl to the local 42nd St. Grindhouse, where we’d watch a horror triple feature. (I got confused and ushered her into the wrong theater– the porn palace was right next door.) And we’d watch, and laugh, and scream like girls, and wet ourselves… okay those last two were just me. But seriously, fellas, if your date lets you vomit into the popcorn bucket, you know you’re gonna get lucky that night.
But, watching these scary movies, what I remember the most, apart from the fascinating topography of my inner eyelids, is how quaint those movies seem nowadays, when real zombies are walking the streets. Those filmmakers were trying so hard to create a horrific reality, and real life has since outstripped their most grisly visions. Oh, my daughter wants to eat me? Boo-friggin’-hoo. How about my daughter wants to eat me, I’ve already reconciled myself to chopping off her head, the chainsaw keeps stalling, so while I try to put more gas in the tiny little spout, my daughter’s chasing me around the basement, getting blood all over my classic Pinto restoration, her head bobbing all over the place, and her mother’s all “Finish her! Finish her!” Like I don’t have enough on my mind. Now that’s horror!
So we’re going to take some time in the next few weeks to look back over some horror classics and discuss how things would be if the filmmakers were right– how awesome that would be!
For instance, let’s discuss George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead.” Though I distinctly remember it being scary when I first saw it, back in PZ or Pre-Zombie days, I have a different response to it now, when I manage to clear the satellite dish of brain eaters and watch it on StarZ. I actually tear up a little at the nostalgia I feel, brought on by the evocative black and white cinematography. It’s like the Father Knows Best of Zombie lore, except for the black guy– what’s he doing there?
Then there’s the zombies. They all look so fresh. No bugs crawling across their yellow teeth, no eyeballs dangling from their sockets. I close my eyes and imagine the scent they give off– like grass and lavender water. Those ain’t the zombies I know, bub. But then again, I only have experience with NYC zombies. Maybe everything’s more intact in Pittsburgh.
Zombies want to eat your… flesh? If that were the case, I could distract them with a limb or two, buy myself some time to hop to the napalm gun, which I operate with one foot and one hand. No George, they want my brains. And who could blame ‘em? Moist and tender, easy to chew if your teeth are rotten, my brains are Blue Point oysters to zombies. All they gotta do is crack the shell, and if they do that, I’m screwed. But in Night of the Living Dead, they only want the flesh. They prefer it cooked, too, if that car explosion scene is any indication. These are some civilized zombies.
Finally, the end. Meant to be pessimistic and dour, with the last of our heroes getting picked off by rednecks, I found it touching, almost heart-warmingly naive. A single bullet to the head? That just stuns the zombies. You actually have to remove the head to kill a real zombie. All those fat, slow-moving hillbillies, stunning a zombie with a head shot, then moving on. I thought, “You poor bastards. Give ‘em ten minutes for the brain stems to reactivate, and while you’re chugging your celebratory brew…”
Everyone knows the truth about zombies, or at least the ones that will survive know. So movies like Night of the Living Dead can’t do any more damage. So when you watch, enjoy the gaffes, the inconsistencies, the hopeful tone disguised as fashionable pessimism. But as you watch remember– it’s a great movie, but it’s fiction. Things are actually much worse.