Quo Vadimus

Thursday, March 25, 2004


Words of Wisdom. #009:

From Andrew O'Hehir's "Beyond the Multiplex" column:

Flesh-Eating Zombies: Worse Than the Taliban, or About the Same?

Why do I get to write about the No. 1 film in the country in this column? Oh, you know why. Partly because nobody else who writes about movies for Salon wanted to touch Zack Snyder's remake of "Dawn of the Dead" with a 10-foot zombie-killing stick, and partly because, well, we know exactly what you art-geek types like to watch when you're taking a break from those bootleg all-region Tengiz Abuladze DVDs.

Well, anyway. The good news about the new "Dawn of the Dead" is that it's not a devastating parable about nuclear war or terrorism or sexually transmitted disease or the decay of the suburban dream. Don't get me wrong; we went through all that in the '80s with Wes Craven and David Cronenberg and John Carpenter and Clive Barker and zombie-meister George A. Romero himself, and it was great. Every movie where somebody got their face eaten off or grew a new sex organ or wound up as a piece of pepperoni on Freddy Krueger's hellish slice of pizza was an allegory for whatever it was we currently hated about Reagan's America, man.

But with Snyder's "Dawn of the Dead" and last year's equally enjoyable (and equally pointless) remake of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," horror movies seem to be experiencing a badly needed back-to-basics movement. Even Danny Boyle's "28 Days Later" -- although I didn't think it was as great as the entire rest of the world did -- exhibited a low-budget pretentiousness that belonged to the depresso British '70s rather than the espresso American '80s.

No, this is a movie without deeper meanings, and I want you to feel OK about that. (Profound significance will return to the horror genre; we just needed a break from all that.) This is an old-fashioned gross-out movie, in which Sarah Polley wakes up at dawn to discover that her beloved daughter has become a ravening, flesh-eating zombie. Her husband soon follows suit, and our heroine goes out the bathroom window without a single look back. She and a handful of other still-human survivors (hardass cop Ving Rhames, troubled playa Mekhi Phifer, lovable loser Jake Weber, sinister redneck Michael Kelley, etc.) end up in a shopping mall encircled by the undead, just as in Romero's deathless (ha!) 1978 original. But back then that was a grand joke: zombies at the mall. Today, where the hell else would you go? The mall is pretty much all there is.

So there they are, growing ever more paranoid as they suck down the leftover mochaccino slush at Starbucks and watch each other for signs of impending zombiehood. How did this happen? Is the world at an end? Can they bust out successfully with a couple of "Road Warrior"-style souped-up mall shuttles? Snyder and screenwriter James Gunn know better than to take any of these questions seriously; in Romero's grand tradition, nothing is ever explained. No, I take that back. It's just that they understand what questions are really important and dare to broach medical-slash-metaphysical puzzles never considered before. What happens when a pregnant woman who has become a zombie gives birth? See this and, at last, you will know.
Note for Esselle: The opening credit sequence of Dawn of the Dead uses J. Cash's "The Man Comes Around". It's perfection.

posted by Linus | 7:29 AM