Cats and Zombies

2AM. Saturday morning.

I have only a few hours until I have to get up for work, but I’m wide awake. And sleep isn’t going to come easily.

Why aren’t I asleep?

Because I’ve just had a nightmare.

Yes, like a little kid, a bad dream has jolted me awake and now I’m lying in the dark, every noise transformed into something ominous by fear.

The dream started off well enough, with me as a cowboy. There was a shoot out between James Stewart and Audie Murphy, which left both dead. And then undead Audie got to his feet. Yes, Walking Dead style, it didn’t take a bite, but I blame George A. Romero as I’d been thinking about his movies a lot in the last week and eager to watch Dawn of the Dead again. Perhaps this was my subconscious’ tribute to the director?

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I managed to cuff Jimmy before he revived, but Audie bit another person. Having dropped the most decorated zombie in Hollywood, I saw the other zombie pursuing my cat, Midnight. Out of bullets (isn’t that always the way?), I hastily ran and shoved the zombie into a side room and grabbed Midnight.

Unfortunately the living dead opened the door and seized me from behind. It went to bite my neck.

At this point I awoke, but still gripped by the fading terror of the nightmare, I actually awoke in the process of throwing my elbow in defence.

Luckily the biter had come from the right and I was elbowing thin air. On the left and I would have clocked MWF in the face and probably sporting a shiner. And I suspect that her coworkers would have heard “my boyfriend elbowed me in the face while asleep because of a nightmare” and assumed it was a flimsy excuse, a slightly more inventive version of “I walked into a door”.

Luckily, Pumpkin, who in the dream was sensible enough to avoid the walkers, jumped into the bed and huddled in by my arm. Stroking him calmed me down and eventually I fell back asleep. And this time, without any nightmares.

Thank the gods for cats.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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My Favourite Films #33: Night of the Living Dead

This is the grandaddy of the modern zombie genre, and the first in director George A Romero’s “Dead” series (formerly a trilogy, but later installments have been added). The movie lays a lot of the groundwork for the familiar themes and motifs of the zombie genre.

night of the living dead

It’s a low budget gem, and while the effects are basic and some of the acting stilted it manages to remain an engaging and interesting movie. Like most zombie movies it deals with a small group of survivors having to hole up and fight off the undead, and the usual trope of the living being just as dangerous as the living.

The movie kicks off with Barbra (Judith O’Dea) visiting the grave of her father, accompanied by her brother, who proceeds to mock her for being scared of the cemetery as a child (“They’re coming for you, Barbra”), a slow, shuffling man appears and attacks Barbra. Her brother fights him, but is injured and Barbra flees, pursued by the mysterious stranger until she hides at a farmhouse.

O’Dea’s performance as Barbra is one of the film’s weakest as at times she’s a tad hammy and her inactivity is frustrating. I remember seeing this as a teen and the wet blanket Barbra drove me up the wall, but rewatching it recently I think it kinda makes sense, her shutting down being caused by her being traumatized. Her reaction to her brother’s mockery reveals she may already be a fragile character, and the horror she witnesses has clearly broken her.

Barbra (O'Dea) broken by the horror she witnesses

Barbra (O’Dea) broken by the horror she witnesses

With Barbra doing little the film’s real protagonist is Ben (Duane Jones) the clever, resourceful dude who arrives at the farmhouse and protects Barbra and attempts to secure the property. It was a bold move for a movie made in 1968 to put a black character in a lead role, and Ben avoids all stereotypes by being just a regular dude who happens to be black.

Ben is the guy you root for throughout the movie, he’s the most proactive and decent of the bunch. He’s also the smartest, as seen in his arguments with the angry Harry (Karl Hardman), who they discover has been hiding in the cellar with his family and two other survivors. Harry is angry, selfish and cowardly, further enhancing Ben’s standing as the film’s hero.

Duane Jones’ performance is a little stage-y in places and his delivery could be better, but it’s still a strong performance for a ’60s horror movie. He manages to convey Ben’s confusion but that this is a man who is proactive and quickly figures out the best ways to try and stay safe.

Duane Jones as Ben

Duane Jones as Ben

Race is an issue which lurks in the back of the movie, and while never openly addressed it could explain Harry’s reluctance and anger towards listening to Ben’s ideas, and it also raises questions about the movie’s gut punch of an ending.

As I’ve said, the budget is low, and the effects are pretty basic, but the movie continues to work, partly down to the fact that shuffling zombies are inherently unsettling. Romero’s best trick is to have the zombies be of all different types, showing that this event has struck all people, and at any time, we see zombies who have clearly been in bed or ready for bed and even a naked zombie.

night of the living dead zombies

Romero didn’t invent zombies, but his shuffling hordes are still the touchstone for the zombie genre, and the influence can still be seen in things like Shaun of the Dead and The Walking Dead. So too are some of the plot developments and genre conventions, as with later movies the characters huddle around radios and television which give warnings and advice, and show the growing terror and loss of control elsewhere.

Other conventions include the nature of the virus being spread, the way they can be killed (headshots only, people!) and the story line of people either (a) not realizing how the virus works or (b) hiding their bites.

headshot

There’s also the sense that the zombies have the upper hand, despite being slow moving and dull witted, although we do see them using basic things as tools here. They have the advantage because they don’t get tired and because the human survivors always fall foul of their own weaknesses (fear, selfishness, personal differences) and just bad luck. There’s also the tension building device of having every possible route of escape destroyed or blocked.

So while it’s a little creaky in places, and Romero would improve on his zombie themes with Dawn of the Dead, Night… remains a solidly made, creepy and entertaining zombie movie, and you can’t deny it’s role in shaping the zombie genre. If you’re into zombie movies, definitely check it out as this is where the groundwork was laid.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Closure, Limited and other Zombie Tales by Max Brooks

Max Brooks wrote one of my all time favourite books, the phenomenal World War Z (review here) and so when I found out that he’d done a collection of short stories about zombies I eagerly downloaded it onto my Kindle.

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I was not disappointed.

This collection of four stories sees Brooks continue his obsession with zombies, which he explains the origins of in his introduction, which is rather amusing and gives a nod to zombie legend George A Romero.

Two of the stories are told in the same style as the previous book, in the form of interviews conducted after the zombie apocalypse, and here Brooks shows his ingenuity and vision yet again in managing to add further layers to his global view of the zombie epidemic. He manages to explore new ideas that other writers haven’t touched on before.

One of the ideas, in the title story, addresses how people can find ways to move on after the zombie apocalypse, and it’s a well thought out and realized idea.

The two stories where Brooks tries a different style work very well too. One rather cleverly wrong foots the reader, with Brooks shifting tone and direction halfway through, in a rather effective way.

The other story is a bit of a departure from the more grounded, realistic (yes, I appreciate that’s a weird word to use when describing zombie fiction, but go with it) and introduces a supernatural element which gives the story a unique spin and is, to me anyway, a completely new idea for the zombie genre.

It might not be as epic in scope or as chillingly scary as WWZ, but Brooks crafts a set of extremely entertaining and gripping zombie tales, each showcasing his talent and intelligence as a writer, and further evidence that he has spent far too much thinking about the dead rising.

Verdict: Brooks continues to show his skills as a writer and this quick read is hugely entertaining and chock full of good ideas. A must for anyone who read WWZ and zombie fans in general. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.