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Monday, June 24, 2024

Will World War Z Resurrect Zombies as Monsters?

[quote]I will knock down the Gates of the Netherworld,

    I will smash the door posts, and leave the doors flat down,

    And will let the dead go up to eat the living!

    And the dead will outnumber the living!”

-Goddess Ishtar, The Epic of Gilgamesh, Tablet 6[/quote]

On the 29th of May, 2013, something lurched in the blighted wasteland of late night Channel 4. Ominous, sick creatures twitched and groaned, their insect-like faculties knowing only the need to feed.

I could turn that into a joke about Jimmy Carr or the bland studenty-types in the 10 o’ Clock Live audience, but no, I refer instead to this GiffGaff advert that premièred on one of the 10 o’ Clock Live ad breaks and took the whole damn thing up:


Now, in principle and on the face of it, this advert is not too awful. It has zombies, a decent message-cum-social commentary; “don’t judge a book by its cover, even zombies can be nice,” you, Derpy McZombiefan, might say. But hold on there, sparky. This is the very dangerous slippery slope that leads to this. And while it may be trendy to hate Twilight, I don’t care. It’s shit. Irredeemably shit. They turned one of the great erotic monsters into metaphors for repressed, creepy (in the wrong way) Mormon sexuality and more visually, into idealised sparkly Ken dolls.

I do not want that happening to my zombies. I say my zombies because I still believe that zombies have the opportunity to repulse, thrill and teach us all. By the same token, they shouldn’t simply be the punching bags of the frustrated nerd-world; the child molesters that everyone can imagine brutally destroying either, but let’s focus on the post-modern “nerfing” of them.

Okay, the lego heads were pretty funny.

Zombie Fans

Grar. *pushes air malevolently*

The problem with the advert is the very conscious way it is courting its target audience – people like me. I love zombies. I think that despite very few zombie films/miniseries actually being “good” (I’m thinking Night of the Living Dead, Return of the Living Dead, 28 Days Later*, Dawn of the Dead 2004, Shaun of the Dead,  Dead Set, The Walking Dead), there is an opportunity there that gets squandered by those wanting to use them for lazy gags.

To be fair, this is nothing new. The Return films wandered way into crappy territory when they fully embraced the zombie-exploitation-humour aspect. The first Return had a much better mix between comedy and horror; a tone that is rarely seen outside of Evil Dead 2. So did Shaun. It was dramatic and tantalising as well making tongue-in-cheek fun. And of course, there’s always this:


The problem, as I see it, is people like me. People who have been inspired by zombie movies. I want to make a low-budget zombie movie. Almost everyone I know does. I once had a friend who was in sixth form pitch a zombie movie idea to me. Basically a bunch of students dicking about in the forest, then…dun dun DUN! Zombies!

Yeah, no thanks. Much like everyone dressing up as the Joker from The Dark Knight, it is something that becomes annoying before it even happens.

And I think that’s what happened with the GiffGaff advert. A group of fairly talented people defaulted to a media student mindset and got a decent enough budget to make a hamfisted, inoffensive modern attempt at a zombie short, complete with desaturated colours and brand-appropriate optimistic social commentary.

And that’s what bugs me; call me irrational, I know I can’t stop it, and I know that it’s probably better than a lot of really terrible zombie films out there, but I don’t like one of my favourite monsters used to sell mobile phones. It just cheapens the whole thing, and zombies have enough of a problem with trying to remain a credible threat, storytelling element or social metaphor without being churned into whore-monsters for the mobile industry.


Another whore-monster for mobile phones.

The Dead Will Rise Again?


World War Z is coming. The book was fun (if you like slow walker zombies, anyway), and the film, though it looks like it’s only tangentially related to the book, looks promising, in that it’s supposed to be full of actual monsters and action. I will take what I can get to avoid more hacks raking up my undead monsters to sell phones to idiots.

Now, I’m sure it won’t be perfect, but I the choice of fast zombies has been the mainstay of most “serious” attempts at zombie films since 28 Days Later. I am willing to give this a shot, and I’m avoiding all reviews, hoping against hope that it’ll be impressive, for the most part logical, gory and at least one character I actually care about. It’s the biggest budget zombie film that’s ever been made, I believe, so I’m hoping it kicks ass.

Zombies in Left 4 Dead, Left 4 Dead 2 and In the Flesh (BBC series) have opened up new potential for the “serious” zombie genre. L4D gave us diverse “specialised” infected, bursting with new zombie crowd-dynamics, while In the Flesh supplied moral quandaries, pertinent social commentary and thought experiments.

So all in all, I’d suggest there’s undeath in the old corpse yet.


*A Note on Calling the 28 DL Infected “Zombies”

*28 Days Later, a post apocalyptic film set in Britain, introduced horror audiences to “the infected”, hyper-aggressive diseased humans. While not undead and certainly not Romero’s zombies, the film-makers did take influence from Romero’s films, as writer Alex Garland explains in the film’s production notes:

“I see it as a sort of oblique war film, relayed via seventies zombie movies and British science fiction literature,” says Garland, “Particularly J.G. Ballard and John Wyndam.”

Boyle also indicated his desire to mutate the perceptions of the genre and to give it new meaning:

 “Boyle was taken by the script immediately but did not want to make a straight genre movie. “I like zombie movies but they come out of a particular period, a society paranoid about what might be the dirty result of nuclear weapons and power. I’m not a big aficionado of the genre, I like it a lot, but I love that Alex gave us a twist on the viral apocalypse theme – that this is not a clinical virus but a psychological one – so in the long run, I feel there was respect for the genre but I hope that we freshened it up in some way.”

So yeah, there you go. That’s the pedants pre-empted. *gang gesture*

I was born very early in my life and now live on a diet of scorn and sarcasm. Follow me @ryezuul

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