Saturday, March 19, 2011

Zombie Rules

I liked monsters before they were cool. I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer back in the nineties before anybody cared who Sarah Michelle Gellar was (which is actually pretty similar to now.) I love a good horror movie with lots of glistening corn syrup and high-pitched screaming. I laughed myself into a painful stitch in my side when I saw Shaun of the Dead for the first time. I enjoy the Halloween and Freddy movies, and I'll even get behind some Bruce Campbell campiness.

Of course, now, I'm just a nerdy cliche. Actually, I don't even think you can associate monster mania with nerds anymore after the influx of super-hot vampires slinking across every movie and television screen in American, and don't even get me started on all the vampire books. And now, zombies are getting the "cool" treatment, too, with popular films and series like, Zombieland and The Walking Dead. There are even zombie songs, like No More Kings, "Zombie Me" and Jonathan Coulton's brilliant, "Re: Your Brains."

Unfortunately, years of watching zombies shuffle across the screen have done little to address some of my basic questions about zombies and our world post-zombie-ocalypse. As a writer, I understand that the creator of a film, book, or television show creates a world where the action takes place, and that this action must follow the rules of said world. In all my years of zombie viewing, however, I've yet to see any rules that make sense or even stay consistent within their ficitonal realm. I would like to address a couple here.

Lifespan - How long do zombies live? Are they immortal like vampires and werewolves or do they, like the Energizer Bunny, just keep going and going until they run out of juice? In the films I've seen, zombies seem to be in the midst of varying degrees of decay, and with nothing to arrest this process, wouldn't they eventually just rot into impotence? Sure they want to eat your brains, but you don't see too many zombies with a toothbrush. So what happens when their molars fall out? They may be called the undead, but calling something immortal that is made of flesh and blood just doesn't add up. They're not lizards. They're not going to re-grow severed limbs, and nature is a powerful force when it comes to reclaiming its dead.

In, The Walking Dead, the survivors of the zombie-ocalypse sneak into zombie-infested Atlanta weeks or months after the original outbreak. Couldn't they just wait it out? With no food souce, would the zombies just languish and disintegrate? Which brings me to my next question...

Appetite - Do zombies need a minimum quantity of flesh to sustain "life"? Can the undead starve? In films like 28 Days Later, Zombieland, and in the show The Walking Dead, there are dramatic scenes of zombie hoardes mobbing the streets looking for a little human (or in the case of The Walking Dead, horse) meat. If one follows the zombie blight to its "natural" conclusion, wouldn't the stumbling mumblers eventually exhaust their food source? And if that is possible, wouldn't it (once again) be most logical to go somewhere secluded and wait them out? Zombie films seem to underestimate the number of people in the world and how many other people it would take to feed them. Do the math people. We're talking about a lot of hungry zombies in need of a hot meal. If my suggestion is correct, then suddenly waiting it out in a mall (as they tried in Dawn of the Dead) could theoretically work (if they hadn't fallen into the classic zombie trap of keeping an infected person alive. Gosh, it's like they've never seem a zombie movie.)

Of course, if the zombies eat other living things (like the ill-fated horse in Walking Dead) that would broaden their food chain, but there would still be a limit. Zombies aren't exactly living self-sustainable lives. It seems to me that their future is quite finite.

All of this is not to suggest that the zombie-ocalypse is entirely unplausible/unreadable/unviewable. Instead, I submit to you, that every zombie film/television show I've ever seen would benefit from a clear definition of its own rules and regulations. Can zombies live forever? Fine, then maybe they shouldn' t decay before my eyes. Is their eating only a sympton and not relevant to their survival? Then make that clear....though that would seem to fly in the face of every zombie-related thing I've seen or read.

There are other small things that are specific to certain programs/movies that I also find to be in need of clarifcation, such as zombie dormancy. In The Walking Dead (yes, I know I'm hitting that show hard, but it's freshest in my mind and raises a lot of questions), zombies, who appear to be simply dead people sprawled out on the ground, rise up when prey arrives in the form of a tasty unsuspecting live human and chases them down the street. Do they go into sleep mode like undead laptops, their personal motion detectors kicking them awake when some idiot walks by? Or are these zombies actually lying in wait, trying to look dead, so they can catch a meal? And if they are, then wouldn't that be require thought and reasoning, and therefore, a sign of brain activity - you know, everything a zombie CAN'T do?

And what about the zombie baby in Dawn of the Dead? Wouldn't it have tried to eat its mother/host? Not a pretty thought, but one worth asking if you've seen the film. And don't even get me started on incubation periods and the classic zombie movie blunders (which I wouldn't change for the world.)
All in all, I'm just a nerd in need of some answers that I know I'm probably not going to get, but I'm trying to take some solace in the fact that it will be difficult for Hollywood to find a way to make zombies sexy (like they've attempted with vampires.) Oh, who am I kidding? HBO's probably already got a show in the works about four spunky lady zombies who laugh and cry (which both sound pretty much the same when you're a zombie) while they navigate the world of zombie men and high-calorie humans. The name of this future hit? Bite Me.

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