You don’t need fancy explanations to understand zombies. Something happens, people die, they become undead, they want to eat the flesh of the living…there’s no need to over-explain it. What’s fun is watching what happens next (like when zombies start to learn things, like in Romero’s later zombie films or in Shaun of the Dead). We see the world rearrange itself, so that the most common landscape can become a place of horror. It’s a clever way of telling an end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it story, and I like those kinds of stories.
They can be done cheaply. Go to the nearest cemetery, field, park, street or industrial area (like one less than a mile from where I live; that’s where a local crew shot the upcoming zombie flick Flesh of My Flesh), find cheap ways of creating blood and gore, get people who are good at slouching and flailing and moaning, and voila! The horror (yes!), the horror! (Hey, if doing films that way is how Sam Raimi got his start in feature films, I support it.)
They can be political – note that in NotLD, the only person not to die at the hands of the zombies is the sole black character, killed by overzealous zombie hunters. They can be satirical, saying “Aren’t we ourselves zombie-like sometimes?” They can even be illuminating: put people in the worst situation imaginable, and see what they do. (As I thought during one scene in last year’s Dawn of the Dead remake, “It’s the end of the world! Get’cher freak on!”)
They can be loaded with all sorts of violence and transgressions and “good kills” (as horror film fans say) and explosions and fire and dismemberment and impaling and oozing wounds. These, in the context of entertainment, can all be fun.
In fact, they’re nicely nasty. Halloween can be a remarkably cleaned-up holiday, with cuddly, cartoonish and allegedly lovable images of witches and werewolves; but you can’t really clean up the image of zombies. Death, rotting flesh, that whole must-eat-brains thing…you’re not gonna see that made into sweetness and light. Good.
And – with the film and this stage version, at least – there’s no profanity. So you can’t corrupt children that way.
Can you tell that I had a good time? My fellow “Zed-word” aficionado Matt Kaplan joined me last night for the (it turns out) annual production, which condenses the 1968 film into just under an hour. Teens, 20-somethings and 30-somethings all performed as certain “types,” losing it or keeping it together or being stunned into paralysis by the horrific events that escalate and grow ever worse.
I’m glad I guessed right when I told Kaplan, "I wonder if there’ll be zombies in the aisles, like the animals in The Lion King?” Yes; we got closer-than-stage close-ups of the makeup these young actors had. Matt got an especially good view, as zombies kept sitting down in the row in front of him to rest. He was impressed with their gore. A wedding-dress zombie forced herself into an aisle seat near me. (Hey, guy she shoved! Be glad she didn’t do anything worse to you!) By the climax, the living dead had overrun the theatre; we’re talking hordes. Some of them (in true Day-or-Land fashion) had figured out how to pass the time, and were playing cards! Clever touches like that abounded. I giggled at ’em. And it’s very true to Romero’s original film, except for one non-Romero-y gag at the end that I still think would amuse him. (Two words: “Thriller” Dance.)
It was worth saying up late for all that, yes, yes, yes.