So I'm a pretty big fan of scary movies. Not super diehard, but I enjoy them. I get asked why all the time and it's pretty simple - they make you feel alive. They make all your senses go into overdrive, zero in your concentration, and get your heart pumping. They bring out the sort of primal instincts we all have which have been buried underneath hundreds of years worth of social decorum and cultural rules. Plus, I dunno, sometimes it's just a nice release to see stupid people die (that sounds horrible, but you know you're like "YES, THANK GOD!" when they do, don't lie) and/or it's just fun to challenge yourself not to be scared by the material, which actually normally isn't that much of a problem for me. But I'm normally sort of a cold compartmentalizer, so when you remain vigilant in distinguishing between fiction and reality, it's not all that hard to separate yourself from the horror. No matter how gruesome or terrifying that world you're watching on the screen may be, it's all just coloured corn syrup and prop wires. If you remember that, you can pretty much handle anything it throws at you.
That's just movies and tv shows though. Games are a whole other monster that I won't get into today.
But anyway, really good horror movies stay with you afterwards, even if you are able to remove yourself in context. They make you question things ... does evil like that really exist? Could it ever enter my world? Is it, gasp, possible?
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
I think it's safe to say that these questions generally resonate less from campy horror movies (as much as I love me some Friday the 13th or Scream) and more from stories about human nature - what we're capable of and what we deserve. The only real horror/gore-driven stuff I've seen really touching on these themes are those concerned with zombies and serial killers. They both epitomize the potential of human depravity, and while the latter is fascinating because of the reality of its existence, I'll leave it for another post another day. To go back to what I was saying before, sometimes zombie movies don't really need to rely on this to be an effective horror movie ... like Pet #*%(ing Sematary, which to this day drains me of all happiness whenever I watch it (which is NOT OFTEN, if I can help it) because it's still downright freaky as $*@(.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Yet Robert Kirkman said it best in his introduction of The Walking Dead early in its run when he announced his belief that the best zombie stories are about the living, not the dead. And how true it is. There's seriously nothing about dead creatures eating living ones that's remotely interesting enough to have made the zombie mythos last so long and hold public fascination the way it has. If zombie tales had only this element they would lose viewers quickly, because why waste your time watching something so utterly ridiculous and seemingly implausible, right? But that's where the importance of the survivor(s) kicks in and where movies like Dawn of the Dead, I Am Legend, and 28 Days Later (the last two arguably not 'zombie' films but, for all intents and purposes, I'm counting them anyway) rise and shine above the rest. They show the ugly, the gritty, the depressing, the hopeful, and the shattering aspects of being faced with such primeval situations and motivations. I purposely left out The Walking Dead because I knew if I mentioned it it would take all my power not to go on a huge digression on its singular brilliance, but I have to talk at least a little about it now ... one of the biggest questions that faces Rick Grimes and the rest of the survivors in the series is, at what point can you look at yourself in the mirror and be able to still call yourself human? To still essentially be one of "us" and not one of "them"?
The Walking Dead (2003-present)
Nowadays people are at really at the height of feeling the zombie madness. I don't think there's been a time yet where zombies were so "cool". It seems anyone is willing and eager to talk about the possibility of a zombie apocalypse and how exciting it would be and what they would do, what kind of weapons they would use, where they'd go, and detail the entire post-apocalyptic plans they've got mapped out. I, for one, am the first to admit straight-up that if a zombie apocalypse broke out I'd probably be one of the first to go, depending on the situation. Hey, I'd LOVE to be all like Alice and kick the crap out of undead assailants and for all my plans to work out like successful Left 4 Dead campaigns or be able to shoot my mom in the face immediately like you know you were totally pushing for Shaun to do when he was faced with the very same situation in The Winchester. But let's be real here.
I Am Legend (2007)
I don't think I could. Could you? If your little sister or brother, whom you've sworn to yourself to protect and take care of, clambered out of their bedroom with empty eyes and the sole intent to tear your entrails out, would you be able to get over the emotional shock of it and whack their brains in right then and there? What if you're faced with that not just at the beginning of the zombie spread but somewhere in between, maybe months or years of spending time with that one other person, with no one left to talk to or be with otherwise?
And could you trust them to not do whatever it takes to survive? I saw a picture the other day that said "You're a great friend, but if the zombies come I'm tripping you." I know it's meant to be funny, but I think you and I would be surprised at how many people would actually do this. If two of you are running from zombies and they're just not stopping, what would you do? Have both of you keep running til you both lose energy and eventually become overrun, or ... do you put yourself first? As much as you would guarantee your survival, you'd be gambling between loneliness and the chance of finding someone else out there. Could you spend your days endlessly searching for food and water, a safe place to stay for the night, waiting for help that may never come? Would you be able to stay sane when you find cracks in time that allow you to process and think about what's happened, about how pretty much everyone you knew and/or loved is dead (or worse)? How much willpower and hope will you use up before you consider an alternative that would make life (or lack thereof) so much easier?
photo cred: James Ryman
I've gone on longer than I intended. It's just one of those nights where you can't shut up about these little but numerous questions you have about the silliest things. Now I can't stop thinking about the Dead Island trailer and the next issue of the Walking Dead. Good stuff to go to bed to. XD