There's too much symbolism

I realize that this problem can largely be laid at the feet of George Romero, and I'll accept that, but every time I watch a Romero movie I feel like I'm being smashed in the face with the symbolism bat. It's not that he's an unskilled filmmaker -- although some have argued as much after seeing Diary of the Dead -- it's just that he's all-too-eager to use his zombies to advance whatever cause he wants to flog at the moment. Zombie movies are about ... racism. No, wait, zombie movies are about ... consumerism. No, no, the threat of nuclear war. Actually, go back to the first one -- they're about racism. Diary of the Dead, which I haven't seen, apparently uses zombies to set up the argument that there's too much reality TV. Has it come to that? I realize that zombies make a good catch-all, unlike, say, vampires, but there's a point where enough is enough. No more zombie message movies.

There's no growth in concept

No growth whatsoever, going back even before Bela Lugosi in 1932's White Zombie. One of the few interesting things about Resident Evil: Extinction was that it featured a subplot wherein the evil scientists try to reverse the zombie status of a zombie. They try to make him learn and regain some the cognition of a normal human -- but even this has been done before. Hell, the notion of zombies emerging from the fog of zombiedom has even been done by George Romero. What else have you got? The 28 Days Later films make zombies run fast and take care to not call them zombies, but that's hardly groundbreaking stuff either. Maybe the most innovative zombie movie I've seen in the last few years, Joe Dante's Homecoming, did something a little intriguing -- it gave the zombies a political motivation and had them intent on going to the voting booth. But even this is campy, and brushes up against my problems in point number one.

Michael Jackson ruined everything

The zombies in Thriller were scarier than most of the zombies in today's zombie movies, and that's a big problem. If you go back and watch John Landis's landmark short film/music video, you'll see that an enormous amount of attention to detail is paid to the makeup and the whole approach of the zombie horde. I admit the whole werewolf element is lame, and the werewolf makeup is atrocious -- is he supposed to be half wolf, half cat or something? -- but the zombies themselves are made up in an appropriately scary old-school horror mask style, with thick latex-covered faces and believable funeral wear and the whole nine. Whatever it is, it works. In contrast, one of the hallmarks of recent zombie films, like the 28 Days Later movies, is to barely let you see the zombies. They flash in and out of the frame or attack in such a way that you can't examine the lameness of the total zombie look. Who needs that?

What about skeletons?

I think every zombie movie should have to set up its own rules to explain why it's not a big remake of Jason and the Argonauts. I'm no expert on human decomposition, but any person who has been dead for more than a year would almost be certainly skeletonized, so why don't these skeletons come back along with the rest of zombies? Yes, I've seen the movies and I know they sometimes use the caveat "the recently dead are walking the Earth!" but they don't say why. What is it about having a few pounds of dead flesh on your bones that causes zombie reanimation? I'm not pointing this out to suggest that I'm smarter than zombie movies, I'm making a sort of follow-up to my second point. If there were more thought put into exactly what a zombie is and what it's instincts and basic properties are, that might be some grist for new thought and new ideas for continuing the genre.

No More 'turning'

Werewolf movies and vampire movies were exhausting the dramatic possibilities of monsters biting people and turning those people into monsters long before zombie movies became popular. The concept is completely played out, as evidenced by the fact that people at my recent screening of 30 Days of Night were cackling during what was supposed to be a dramatic moment -- one of the characters, bitten by the vamps, starts to give a big speech about his problem, and how something will have to be done about it. Yeah, yeah, we've heard it all before, pal. I'd like to see a zombie movie that makes a definitive break from this 'rule' or whatever you want to call it. Let there be a finite number of zombies so that someone can do something about the problem and we can all get on with our lives. Let's also point out how little sense it makes that the undead have the power to turn others into undead. How can the living go straight to being undead?

Follow the logic

It's often been said that the core appeal of a zombie outbreak is that it portends the apocalypse, and I agree with that, but we rarely see much follow-through on that theme. Zombies have, for the most part, been ground down into standard-issue whack-a-mole monsters. This especially applies to the 28 Days Later and Resident Evil films. Yes, I realize that those films include a nuclear or biological apocalypse that leaves nothing but a wasteland (and zombies) but I'm talking about the biblical apocalypse. The dead rising from their grave. When's the last time you saw a zombie movie that actually took into account the pure psychic trauma such an event would cause and the mass hysteria that would ensue? Can you imagine CNN announcing a zombie outbreak? There would be a war in the streets in, like, five minutes. I want to see that movie. It would be a lot more interesting than having zombies preach to us about shopping to excess.

Even when it works, it's depressing

My favorite zombie movie is 1993's Return of the Living Dead III, from director Brian Yuzna. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it. But even though that movie worked on me, it was extremely depressing. The message of the film is essentially "F--k humanity," which, when you think about it, is the whole message of zombie movies in general. Vampires and werewolves are abberations -- typically one or a handful of diseased individuals and never the dominant species, except in some comics and a few high-concept films. They are outsiders. But the threat of zombies is that they always seem on the verge of success -- of wiping out humanity completely or reducing it to what they represent. For a zombie film to work on me at all, it has to rise to the level of RLD III -- it has make me feel like the world is one big oven that we're all about to be cooked in. Is that why I go to the movies?

categories Cinematical