Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Zombies 101: A gentle introduction

If you don't love zombies you should.

They are metaphors for a number of things in life: your friends, your relatives, your coworkers. They evoke feelings of post-apocalyptic dread - the fear that a vast plague will consume humanity to purge it of its sins. They remind us of the fragility of the human race. And because zombies are people like you and me, they remind us that the enemy is within.

Ok, I made all of that up. But chances are - you'll still like zombies.

Now I know that vampires get all the attention these days, what with that rabid fan following generated by the Twilight phenom and all the critical plaudits heaped on True Blood. But seriously, vampires are getting on my nerves. Primarily because they are so darn pretentious. I like my undead straightforward and down to earth (literally). I also like the fact that zombies don't just bite someone and let go - thus ruining the said bitten's life for no untoward purpose whatsoever. Nope, zombies eat people they bite. This is a very environmentally sound thing to do - nothing goes to waste.

Now the curious thing in all of this is that despite my love for stuff like this - I'm basically a wimp. I can barely sit through a scary movie. I am probably the last man on earth who hasn't seen The Blair Witch Project. I can't bear to watch any torture porn (like say the Saw flicks). I often watch scary movies on mute or (if in a theater) from behind the cracks of my fingers.

If you are like me and curious about zombies, you are in luck.

I've compiled below several varied ways of getting to know zombies and enjoying their company. No need to get scared silly while doing it.

Book: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith)

Ok, I know Jane Austen is a much beloved author and all. But I'll confess, her books always put me to sleep. Perhaps I just didn't appreciate that plodding, I mean florid language. Maybe it was the meandering whack-a-mole plot. I probably failed to pick up the ground-breaking feminism of women trying to salvage their dignity while trying to marry themselves off to a fine upper-class prospect. Yes, my loss.

Fortunately for me there is Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. And to help you understand the magic of it, think about that first Ball in the book (or movie if you've seen any of the zillion adaptations): everyone is circling each other. Women are ogling men. Social gossip is rampant. In other words - Snore!

But wait, suddenly when it looks like all is lost and you might nod off - kerrash! The glass in the windows is shattered! Zombies crawl through and grab the first two old ladies they can find - crushing their skulls and splattering the chandelier with blood. Lizzy (the main character in the book for non-Austen lovers) is summoned to a pentagram formation by her father along with her sisters. They whip out daggers from under their dresses, call on their training at the Shaolin temple and proceed to clinically behead all the zombies in the room. The men watch aghast.

And yes, there are ninjas in this book as well. Jane Austen was never this compelling!

Movie: Shaun of the Dead (Simon Pegg, Nick Frost)

Easily one of my favorite movies about a town turning into a wasteland of zombies. Structured as a comic homage to zombies, the running joke in the movie is that it takes Shaun (Simon Pegg) about a third of the movie to even realize the people around him are zombies. Reflective of how we've all become zombie-like social drones, the movie also plays on the idea of how disconnected we've become from others - how unaware we are of what is going on around us socially.

In one scene a zombie enters Shaun's backyard. "Oh my God!" Shaun exclaims "She's drunk!"

Shaun and his friend then proceed to repel two zombies by chucking LPs from Shaun's collection at them, making spot decisions on which album to keep and which to discard.

"Purple Rain?" asks his friend
"Keep it!"
"The Batman Soundtrack?"
"Throw it!"

It's like a critical review from hell.

Graphic Novel: Marvel Zombies (Robert Kirman, Sean Phillips)

Take virtually every beloved character in the Marvel Universe. Put them all in the same comic book. Now make them all zombies! That wisecracking super-hero with a leg barely attached to his hip? Why its Spider-man! That super-hungry one whose stomach rips open after every meal? None other than Hulk. The guy with the sawed off head? It could only be Captain America.

Written with playful and uncompromising irreverence for Marvel mythology by Robert Kirkman (be sure to check out the zombie series that got him this gig: The Walking Dead) and illustrated brilliantly by Sean Phillips, Marvel Zombies also features zombie versions of some very famous Marvel Comics covers through the ages. My favorite parts in this comic are the occasional full page of a flurry of panels that show the super-heroes chomping on body parts.

Movie: 28 Days Later (Cillian Murphy, Naome Harris)

Before Danny Boyle made the movie that had us all talking for most of the second half of last year - he made this terrific zombie flick - a critical and commercial success.

What was so interesting about Boyle's movie was the zombies in the flick were like nothing I'd seen before. Unlike their more well-established zoned out brethren who trudged the earth, Boyle's zombies were fast, ferocious and intelligent.

Replete with gorgeously constructed vistas of a post-apocalyptic London, 28 Days Later had me so enraptured that I entirely forgave it for scaring the living daylights out of me.

But what about Bollywood?

Now why doesn't Bollywood make great zombie flicks, one might ask? It could be any number of reasons: it costs too much money, the horror market is commercially unproven, you can't cast Govinda in it, the make up artists don't know how to do it.

But I'd like to make a case that Bollywood has been making Zombie flicks for years. I mean, how many movies have you seen in which actors lurch through their roles, giving blank stares all around and end up eating my brain?


meena said...

aspiiii...first things out of the way before we talk about zombies..you dont like austen? whaaaat! florid? you must be confusing her with one Thackeray. Feminism? Lizzy would have blinked at this word and she was the quick one...this paradigm did not exist then my friend, nor did they even remotely want it:)

I always found Austen had the most tight precise prose of anyone I know and though her style gets called 'gentle irony' (what a crappy phrase) when you read her you know she was laughing at everyone without demeaning them...kind of like the drift:)

Unknown said...

meena, I will not dispute anything you say. In fact, I would have even gone back and reread her stuff based on your readjustments.

But the world in her books scares me more than any zombie stuff I've ever read or seen.

meena said...

I dont know Aspi I have come full circle now...if you look beyond the husband hunting, the essence of the era was a constant interest and curiosity about other people, neighbors, people they barely met, etc... The people-should-mind- their-own-business attitude is feeling jaded to me now. The austen way promoted a lot more human connectedness.

meena said...

..anyway back to zombies. I realized I dont know one single thing about zombies having grown up on a steady diet of dracula:)

no stake through the heart or exposure to sunlight works..how would you kill a zombie? anyway they eat people? gosh. how does one turn into a zombie? what are the basic characteristics of these undead? you need to add a quick cheat sheet:) am gonna watch 28days later though...looks interesting.

Unknown said...

Brilliant questions. Part of the reason why I like zombies is that they are so impossible to make sense of. For example you look at them and feel - well, hardly a threat, one should be able to outrun them or beat them silly. But hey, next thing you know, you are zombie lunch.

To turn into a zombie you have to be bitten by them so that the 'zombie virus' passes on to you.

Now two things can happen. In any subsequent confusion if the zombie fails to eat you up - you don't get to be a zombie because you are being um, digested. On the other hand, if you get bit and left along, you'll become a zombie shortly.

There is a third case: you get bit, eaten partially and then left behind. In which case, you get to be my favorite kind of zombie - one that has to drag their entrails behind them.

28 days later would be right up your alley.

meena said...

..but aspi, how do we kill them? whats the equivalent of zombie klyptonite?

Unknown said...

We're all a little fuzzy on that.

The head is definitely involved but there is some controversy about exactly what needs to be done.

Its usually one of two things:

(1) Blow the head up and destroy the brain. Ironic considering zombies are so stupid anyway or

(2) Behead the unmentionable, severing ties between the brain and the rest of the body.

(1) seems to be a good option because it always takes care of (2)

meena said...

I'll tell you whats wrong..the zombies need to sexy up their act pronto if they want to stand a chance against the vampires. order up some SA..take a clue from Darcy or get zac efron guy to act one in a movie :0

Unknown said...

Sheesh, don't get me started on Darcy - responsible for preprogramming countless women for a liftime of relationship dysfunction. Heh heh, I'm really enjoying the (somewhat fake) Austen-bashing.

Zac Efron eh? I'm getting old, you're keeping up with the times.

katherine said...

Oh. Zombies. I am *so* not a horror fan, but I have an inexplicable fondness for zombies.

Now, Govinda keeps saying he wants to stop comedy and move in new directions, perhaps he *could* be cast in a zombie flick after all?

Or perhaps David Dhawan could be persuaded to do a remake of "Sean of the Dead", starring Govinda yet again?

The imagination boggles.

Unknown said...

I think that's a great idea, Katherine. In fact, it might be fun to watch Salman beheading zombies because we all know David Dhawan can't make movies without Salman so he'd be in it.

katherine said...

Hey! They keep saying they can't find a story for Partner 2. Salman and Govinda and Zombies!

Works for me (but I am, perversely, a fan).

(Also would help if I could spell. Shaun. Shaun.....)

katherine said...

And would it be cruel of me to suggest Arbaaz and Sohail for the Zombies? (Which I think I'd find very amusing, now that I think about it.)

Unknown said...

Unfortunately Hitch never had a sequel so a new movie must be picked to copy from for Partner 2. This, as you suggest, could be Shaun of the Dead.

There should be a scene in there where Salman and Govinda try to repel zombies with photo frames of Salman's old girlfriends. Govinda asks "Chuck or keep" and Salman basically decides. This movie would be a superhit.

katherine said...

Oh, Aspi. I was actually working on a post about the remake, and wondering what they'd do for the "keep it, chuck it" scene. You've come up with the perfect idea.

Too funny.