This weekend Warm Bodies finished first at the box office, bringing in $20 million over the course of four days. It beat out the slushy-mouthed Stallone vehicle Bullet to the Head and the Christopher Walken-infused Stand Up Guys. That’s right. Zombies beat out a meat-head action movie and an old guys-talking-about-Viagra caper comedy. So many boner jokes died this weekend. Sad.
The thing is, zombies are everywhere right now. Not literally, of course. If they were literally everywhere, my hope is that you would be busy doing something more relevant to your on-going, not-being-food survival plan than reading this. No, I mean they’re everywhere in pop culture right now. There’s no point even listing all the places you can go to find zombie-based entertainment at this particular cultural juncture — it would in fact be easier to list where zombies aren’t. Which is nowhere. For long-time purveyors of intestine-chomping entertainment, this era may come to be known as “The Golden Years.”
The backlash is coming soon, though. Already you can feel it on the edges of the Internet — that the tide of unholy, undead entertainment will soon be turning. For example, my 67 year-old mother referenced the Zombie Apocalypse last week. When grandmas finally get word something is cool, let’s face it — it’s no longer cool. That’s just how the world works. The path to cultural uncool runs as follows: City teens, non-city teens, 20-somethings, 30-somethings, 40-somethings, everyone else and then grandmas. If your pop cultural phenomena makes it all the way through that list, being recognized by each group along the way as being “trendy” or “cool,” by the time you get to grandmas you’re done. Time to move on to Beanie Babies, or getting high to Teletubbies or whatever.
But I digress.
Zombies, as a subject of entertainment, have always grown in leaps after periods of stagnation. Tracking the history of the genre, which will not be recounted in painstaking detail here despite an insane desire to do so, it is obvious that very slowly over the last 50 years or so the zombie movie has gone from straight-up freak-out fright cinema to socially-relevant morality tale, to lampoon-able comedy, to pop cultural keystone. Most long-term fans of the genre are probably a little burnt out at this point. The realization that their beloved, soulless, undead now are in the same category as youtube cat videos and unicorns makes them weary of having to sit through ANOTHER inanely-plotted, half-assed movie where the only thing interesting that happens is some very predictable decapitations. We, the hardcore zombie genre aficionados, deserve more for our entertainment dollar.
Cue The Walking Dead and now Warm Bodies. These are excellent examples of how the genre can be turned on its ear, explored with creativity, and developed into something new.
With The Walking Dead, we got to see a survivor’s tale over time, with the zombie presence not only being a real-time threat to the character’s continued existence, but also operating as a source of constant pressure on survivor group dynamics. It’s fascinating to watch.
Alternately, Warm Bodies uses the zombie apocalypse as a vehicle for a fable about love — weird, but it works. The audiences coming out of the movie gave it a B+. That may not sound that great, but for a “horror” movie released as an alternative entertainment choice on Super Bowl weekend? It’s damn near amazing.
So this may indeed be another Golden Age of zombies. If directors and writers continue to explore new ways to keep the undead fresh (wakka wakka), we’ll be treated to wonderful reaanimations of the genre (geddit?), in which zombies will be used as tools of cultural and societal commentary anew. If not, the zombie genre will sink back into the mire of easy scares and gore tactics, and grandma will call you up and ask if you want to go see “Unholy Death Devils” and then grab a malted.
Hollywood, don’t let us (or the zombies) down, okay?