This Week in Geek: Keeping Zombies Fresh

By Chantel Delulio
Layout Editor

When it comes to the various forms of the undead and supernatural creatures, none are quite as en vogue as zombies. While, yes, vampires are at the peak of their popularity, it is a superficially won popularity that has little to do with how interesting they are as creatures, and more about the pasty-faced heartthrobs who portray them. But unlike vampires, zombies actually have an undeniable coolness to them.

But the power of that coolness is in danger of waning. Although zombies have been showing up in pop-culture at an incredibly high rate, they come off more as ornaments used to appease knowing horror fans and little else.

The fact of the matter is, the zombie is dangerously close to going the way of the vampire. As some may recall, there was a time when the vampire was associated with the likes of Bela Lugosi and Max Schreck instead of Robert Pattinson. Now, the very mention of vampires is a surefire way to bring images of glitter and doleful, chaste stares. It’s a slippery slope from the badass Vlad the Impalers and Count Draculas to the “Twilight” love-sick “vegetarian” types.

Thankfully, there aren’t any schlocky romance novels aimed at prepubescent girls featuring a worthless girl and her equally worthless brain-eating boyfriend as star-crossed lovers. However, if one were to come into existence, it’s a pretty safe bet that no one would be all that surprised. (Although it’s starting to look like werewolves are the next in line to be Harlequin-romanticized.)

In recent years, the zombie tradition has taken to resting on the laurels of the inherent coolness of the creatures. And it’s perhaps the much lauded “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” that is the most notable offender. The concept of the book is, to its credit, a very funny one: Take the literary classic and add in scenes of Elizabeth Bennet and company using their martial arts capabilities to take out hordes of the undead. The premise is ripe for comedy. But instead of utilizing the idea in a way that would be especially clever, the author instead just copies and pastes the scenes of zombie-slaying into the original text. This is all well and good except that it lacks any finesse. If it were anything else, no one would have looked twice at the book.

Indeed, the unfortunate thing is that instead of fostering creativity in those who have taken on the genre, it results in the very opposite: Stale stories that get a pass because of their inclusion of zombies. In all fairness, some people are still putting out interesting and entertaining titles. “Zombieland” is a great example of a recent title that gives audiences the undead-busting action they crave without depending on said audience’s pre-established affinity for the genre. But films like “Zombieland” tend to be the exception rather than the rule.

There’s nothing wrong with zombie loving. In fact, it’s probably because they are creatures that are just straight up gross, which allows them to remain untouched by fangirls looking for the latest supernatural creature to sexualize. The cool factor of the zombie is here to stay. But, unfortunately, it’s the power behind that cool-factor that’s currently fading.

It sounds prissy to say, “Well, now that X has become popular it’s just not as good.” However, that is more or less the root of the problem. The recent surge of zombie popularity has caused the pop-culture landscape to become utterly saturated with tales of slaying the undead. And this would be perfectly fine. Great, even. But most of these titles merely emulate the work of their predecessors without giving us anything new or different other than, “Hey! Look! I just split this guy down the middle from head to toe using a chainsaw! Isn’t that awesome?!”

And yes, Guy-With-A-Chainsaw, that is pretty awesome. But why should anybody care? People have been splitting zombies from head to toe for generations. And when the same things get used over and over again with nothing new behind them, the schtick gets stale pretty fast. If someone wants to see a zombie get split in half, there are about a million and one sources he could seek out.

Filmmakers, video game developers, television executives, and comic writers should be striving to set themselves apart from the pack instead of just trusting that fans will lap up whatever they put out just because they slapped a walking corpse on the cover. Audiences aren’t going to settle for just anything for much longer.

Instead of just looking at the coolest ways to do their zombies, creators should look at the most innovative, like “28 Days Later,” the “Resident Evil” series, and “Shaun of the Dead.” There’s something these things have in common besides their undead personage. It’s that they are just not exceptional in terms of the genre, but they’re exceptional in the broader realms of film, video games, and comedy.

It’s a genre that’s beginning to run its course; it’s in need of having life breathed into it. If people want to continue to contribute to it, all the power to them. But it’s not as simple as slapping something with “Zombies” or “Living Dead” in the title anymore. Audiences have (un-munched on) brains and, sooner or later, will be asking for a little more substance to go along with their style.

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