You feel the hairs on your neck stand alert with apprehension.
Your palms begin to sweat, clammy from the anticipation of the onslaught. The doors slide open, and you hear it:
Michael Bublé oozing out of the loudspeakers a full two months before the holidays.
Despair not. While the rest of the world has moved on to taking your hard-earned dollars for spiced drinks and manufactured cheer, I’m extending my Halloween into November instead of starting Christmas early. I’m here to talk about the dead. The living dead, that is.
My foray into horror began trepidly. As a suburban teenager unaware of any true tribulations, save those I manufactured for myself (“But what if they don’t like me?” or some variation thereof), I was terrified to watch any scary movies alone. I have a distinct memory of walking into the room while my older sister was watching The Mummy right at the unfortunate point when a brain-eating scarab burrows its way beneath the skin of its victim and digs up to his skull.
I must have been eight or nine, and from that experience on I avoided the genre for years (it took me until the tender age of 14 to finally watch The Mummy. I made a friend stay on the phone with me for its entirety. It was daytime). Sure, in middle and high school my friends and I would pile onto couches, hands gripping one another or acting as impromptu shutters, and watch Halloween or Jeepers Creepers. But watching something from the genre alone? That was a fear I had no plans of facing.
That is, until my best friend gushed superlatives about Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, and was too busy to watch it with me.
Some context: watching 28 Days Later by myself wasn’t just watching a scary movie. It was watching a scary ZOMBIE movie. At that point in my life, the only recurring theme in my infrequent but intense nightmares was some form of zombie apocalypse. Even now, one of my greatest fears is a pandemic. That and the massive earthquake that will eventually swallow me and the rest of Los Angeles. Still, I toiled through the film, next to a single bedside light and my friend at the receiving end of my frantic AOL instant messages.
To this day, 28 Days Later remains one of my favourite films, and I’m still horrified by it.
There’s an allure to zombies. There must be, or we wouldn’t have nine seasons of The Walking Dead to show for it. My appreciation for horror has grown over the years, though I still wouldn’t call myself a horrorphile (Slasher masher? Somebody please come up with a good name for a horror-head; the internet offered surprisingly few solutions). I’ve always been fascinated by their historical importance. After all, the best way of discovering a culture’s greatest fears is to watch their horror films.
In the US, the 1950s saw aliens and atomic monsters rise up alongside the burgeoning space program and threat of nuclear war with the Soviet Union. The 60s introduced the zombie as the Vietnam War raged on, mindless and directionless. The 70s and 80s had motiveless killers (sharks included!) probably as a backlash to the Free Love movement, as new parents aged out of their hippie ways and consumer culture boomed. But since their introduction in Night of the Living Dead, zombies have stayed at the forefront of the horror genre, forever in the running… or at least in the ambling.
As terrified as I am of them, I love that zombies reflect whatever current fears plague a society. Beyond illustrating the horrors of war or pandemic, zombies symbolise our dependence on technology, our loss of connection to one another, and our materialism. They caution us to take advantage of our lives, lest we become, well, the living dead. My favourite device is the use of zombies in contrast to the human characters in a film who prove, beating heart and all, far more cruel and evil than the undead could ever be. On its surface, 28 Days Later is a film about our fears of an unstoppable plague. At its core, it’s a film exploring the base, carnal desires of humans and the ensuing corruption of power when there no longer are societal checks to curb those desires.
Horror films exist to shock and scare us, yes, but also to remind us to find our humanity.
You might be sick of zombies, but at least it’s not another Marvel movie.