30 August 2006

Plastic Smiling Zombies

There are few things cooler in this world than ninjas. While that short list also includes lightsabers and Ruby on Rails, above even these are zombies.

After about 9 or 10 years of geek living on this planet, puberty's early stages set in and my nerd know-how began to grow past Star Wars action figures and the burning desire to launch global thermonuclear war from my Commodore 64. While my junior-high loser colleagues were busy securing their social pariah status with comic books, I found a love for horror movies. Freddy made me want to sleep in and Jason had me wishing that my parents would send me to summer camp in nearby Crystal Lake. But as soon as I discovered an old black-and-white film called "Night of the Living Dead", all these slasher slackers would soon be forgotten.

Maybe it was the way black-and-white left so much to fear hiding in the shadows or in the tar-like blood. Perhaps it was the charm of its low-budget simplicity providing my 1980's over-stimulated senses with much needed room to breathe. And no doubt Romero's powerful direction, the everyman cast and the politically-cold commentary all played a part in my obsession with the film as well. Nah, I may have been supremely nerdy, but I don't think I was intellectualizing it that much as a kid. It was probably just the awesome premise of the dead reanimating with the sole intent of feasting on the flesh of the living. Oh, and that little zombie girl near the end eating her parents. Holy crap that was fucking cool!

Awkward family moment

My parents generally exercised poor censoring judgment. They let me watch "The Shining" on TV when I was like 8 years old. I was already having trouble talking to the ladies but that pretty much sealed the deal. Every time I would look at a girl in my 3rd grade class, the phrase "come play with us forever and ever and ever…" echoed through my mind. I probably would have had a goddamn heart attack if I ever saw twins. But I digress…

The poor job my parents did of filtering objectionable content from my impressionable senses led me to acquire what soon became a prized-possession: my very own VHS copy of "Night of the Living Dead". I must have watched it at least twice weekly. Soon I not only was able to do a pretty good zombie walk, but also an uncanny recitation of the film's classic line, "They're coming to get you, Bar-bar-a!"

As the film wove itself into my cultural DNA, I eventually hungered for more. There seemed to be an overabundance of slasher movies, but why the criminal neglect of what was obviously the best horror subgenre in existence?!? Then one day, while voraciously devouring the latest issue of Fangoria, I saw that George A. Romero was making a sequel to… "Dawn of the Dead"? Reading on, the article noted that "Dawn of the Dead" was his amazing follow-up to the classic "Night of the Living Dead". Okay, I could handle that there was one sequel soon to debut, but there was one before it which I missed? So this will be a trilogy? All this time I was savoring my new hope, oblivious to the knowledge that not only had the Empire already struck back but that the Jedi was soon to return!

In the end "Day of the Dead" was a bit of a disappointment, but I still cherished it. More importantly, much questing through bleak poorly-stocked video stores eventually led me to a copy of "Dawn of the Dead" and I quickly had a new favorite in the zombie realm. Growing up semi-suburbanly on Chicago's Northwest Side, shopping malls were familiar terrain so this helped transform boring outings to JC Penney's into potentially valiant missions to rid the Brickyard of cannibalistic hellspawn.

Years went by, decades in fact, with nothing more to see. Romero seemed to disappear just when I was hooked. I got older and finished high school, went to university, traveled the world, got jobs – all of that daily people stuff we all do – and just really gave up on any more zombie movies worth my time ever seeing the light of day. I had the classics to revisit, my sturdy old trilogy, and I grew to be okay with that. The Playstation even brightened my day along the way with the "Resident Evil" series, enabling me to spend late nights getting scared out of my socks while blasting undead baddies in the dark. Yes, the 90's were low on zombies, but there were a few bones thrown here and there for fans to gnaw on.

Fortunately the tide was destined to turn in the 00's: zombies were back big-time! I should make it perfectly clear now that I'm not one of those zombie snobs that kicks "28 Days Later" and the "Dawn of the Dead" remake out of bed for eating crackers (or humans, I guess): I can equally appreciate fast and slow zombies. Fast zombies are scary! Sure, it doesn't make much sense that they can run, but it's not exactly a compelling argument that a space satellite crashing to Earth could reanimate the dead in the first place. And yes, technically, the "28 Days Later" lot weren't really zombies since they were the living infected with a virus, but that virus made them act a hell of a lot like zombies, so that's good enough for me.

The gem of the new crop of zombie films, however, was not a remake nor a film filled with the technically-still-alive, but a romantic zombie comedy from England. "Shaun of the Dead" succeeded as not only a genre satire, but also as a quality entry in the genre itself. With the winning team of Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright behind it, how could it fail?

Previous to the RomZomCom film that garnered them international attention, Wright directed the brilliant Channel 4 comedy "Spaced". Written by co-stars Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson, "Spaced" followed the lives of a small group of North Londoners stumbling through their late 20's. Equally hilarious as it was kind and insightful, "Spaced" captured what it felt like to begin your quarter-life crisis at the end of the century. This was a "Friends" for the fuck-ups and we loved it.

Sadly "Spaced" was destined to last only for two short seasons, as most of the cast quickly moved along to greener pastures. There have been long rumored stories of an eventual third season or perhaps an hour-long television special, but that remains to be seen. It's no matter, really, as the moment has passed in some ways. I'm not sure much how a 30-something me would like seeing a 30-something Tim and Daisy anyway, but if anyone could pull it off with style and poignancy, it would be Pegg and Stevenson.

I lived through a drought of zombie films, so I can survive the current dearth of Pegg-Wright comedy. To hold me over, I made a trip to my local comic book store recently to procure an item that I deeply coveted ever since it was announced earlier this year: the NECA Cult Classics Series Shaun of the Dead action figure!

Standing approximately six inches tall, this menacing bit of plastic is sure to strike fear in the hearts of the miniature undead everywhere. He's currently standing atop my external FireWire hard drive, looking like he's about to take a cricket bat to my PowerBook. My PowerBook, happily, does not appear to be fear-stricken. (If it did, it's kernel might panic! Wakka wakka wakka… geek jokes: I got a million of 'em!)

And just so Shaun wouldn't feel lonely, I bought a zombie friend for him to attack from NECA's Series 3: Zombie Flyboy from the original "Dawn of the Dead"! He looks a bit green in the face and is rather blood-soaked as well. And Shaun thinks he's got red on him?! Hands off the PowerBook, Shaun – worry about that other classic horror icon creeping up behind you instead!

I've taken a few photos for your enjoyment and I'll leave you with them. If your DVD player can handle Region 2 DVDs and you haven't seen it yet, buy "Spaced". If Simon Pegg is reading this, congratulations sir, you've finally made it to the top of the geek heap: you are immortalized in plastic! Hey!!!


Geoff said...

Like you I'm a Zombie enthusiast. Shaun of the Dead is one of my favorite movies, so when my local comic book guy told me about this figure, I... was way too excited about an action figure. But it is a kickass figure so who cares.

Lisa said...

Hey Dave... With your enthusiasm, you should check out this contest.. Apartments.com is hosting a Possession Obsession contest, take a video of what you're passionate about and the Grand Prize winner will get $20,000. the site is www.apartments.com/possessionobsession. Thought you might be interested...