The delicacies of the cadaver

Diane,

In my line of work, one must look in a lot of grim and disturbing places for information.  When I’m not wrestling with the meaning of dancing dwarves who speak backwardly, I can often be found in the morgue – searching for unusual marks, wounds, and other signs that might appear meaningless to the casual observer.  Sometimes you can find a clue tangled in the victim’s hair, resting in her stomach… or lodged under a fingernail.  Every place is subject to investigation. 

Death be not proud, though some have called thee mighty and dreadful, thou art not so.  We men (and women, Diane) make our lives out of death.  We peer at it, we wonder about it; we celebrate it in art and yet denigrate it through the very act of creating that art.  We who obsess over death, who are ultimately made finite and in the end punctuated by death, stand up and reject it nonetheless.  We are Camus’s absurd hero – except for those of us who are too damn cowardly. 

The beauty of this thing lies in its essential contradiction.  To come to the void and embrace it – it’s madness, and yet it’s all we can do.  It is the realization of the potential of our essentially meaningless (and therefore potential-less) lives.

Which is why zombie movies are the fucking shit.

So a big hell yes! to the works of:

GEORGE ROMERO

who gave us the quintessential family of zombie movies: the grim and terrifying template, “Night of the Living Dead”; the comic book-colored, cynical yet strangely optimistic nightmare, “Dawn of the Dead”; the deeply flawed but fascinating “Day of the Dead”; and the mediocre, basically unnecessary “Land of the Dead.”

STUART GORDON

who primarily works in the “Lovecraft plus tits and gore and Jeffrey Combs” genre, but within this narrow field produced the great splatter/zombie classic, “Re-animator.”

PETER JACKSON

who seems to stride manfully into a different type of movie every time out, but was gracious enough along the way to gift us “Dead Alive,” the movie where a living intestinal tract tries to strangle the hero, where the climax involves a lawnmower and a literally record-setting quantity of fake blood, and where, most notably, a zombie priest fucks a zombie nurse while her nearly-severed head flops around from the flap attaching it to her neck (let’s see Harry Potter’s Nearly Headless Nick do something THAT awesome).

SAM RAIMI

whose “Evil Dead” trilogy is not truly about zombies, but certainly warrants his inclusion here – not least because of its influence on Peter Jackson and “Dead Alive.”

LUCIO FULCI

who directed a lot of movies that are extremely gross and make absolutely no sense, but goddammit if that scene with the zombie fighting the shark in “Zombie” (a.k.a. “Zombi 2″*) wasn’t the very greatest thing ever.  And a girl gets her eye impaled on a giant wood splinter, too.  The man was positively obsessed with eye trauma.

EDGAR WRIGHT and SIMON PEGG

who made “Shaun of the Dead,” a movie that blew away my fairly high expectations and was one of the funniest damn films of the last decade, while also bringing the gore in plentiful amounts.

Let us also not forget to celebrate ZOMBIE-BASED VIDEOGAMES, such as “Resident Evil” (in its many iterations) and most especially “Dead Rising.”  “Resident Evil” taught us that zombies could make for a good and fairly frightening videogame experience; “Dead Rising” taught us that slaughtering thousands of well-rendered zombies with garden shears, frying pans, and sledgehammers is completely fucking awesome.  (You wouldn’t think we’d need to be taught that, but maybe we sort of forgot about it until we started playing that game.)

Zombies have been stand-ins for our rampant consumerism (“Dawn of the Dead”), for our fear of war (“Night of the Living Dead”) and distrust of our government (“Night,” “Land of the Dead”), for sickness and plague (basically all of them, but especially “28 Days Later”), and for the usual shallow summer entertainment (“Dawn of the Dead” remake – tagline: “You’ll Believe A Zombie Can Run Really Fast!”).  But above all, zombies are what happens when a guy with a knowledge of art but both feet in pop sets pen to paper, and tries to express how he feels about his own mortality.  The answer that comes back is usually “I don’t fucking like it, so let’s stomp in some undead heads.” 

If you want to join me, Diane, I’ll be screening “Night” or “Dawn” or “Day” right around Halloween every year from now until they slide me into a coffin and bid me a fond farewell.  And I swear I won’t mind if you decide you have to dig under my fingernails before I go.

* “Zombie” was known as “Zombi 2” in its home country Italy – a transparent ploy to pose it as the sequel to Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead,” which was called “Zombi” for its Italian release.

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