I’ve written a lot of things in my life, some of which I’d sweat over trying to make the readers feel something genuine. I’d spend days on a single page in an attempt to make readers laugh or cry. And when one of those stories is published, I hope that someone out there felt something real when they read it. More often than not, the reaction to the story is a deafening silence.
And then without thinking I write something like a running written commentary of a forgotten horror movie and people connect with it. Such was the case with my thoughts on The Video Dead.
Despite the international entries into the zombie genre, there is something deeply American about zombie stories. When a Baltimore university recently announced a zombie course in their curriculum, a lot of smart people I know thought it was ridiculous. Which is a real shame.
The story of Dracula is not merely a story of a vampire arriving in London. It is also the story of a charming foreigner arriving in your city and seducing your virgin daughter. It is a metaphor of a deep-seeded fear of being forced to interact with those who are clearly different, with the worst case scenario being that they might become part of the family. A fear that clearly exists today. This would be the perfect avenue to explore European culture through its horror literature and to ignore Stoker’s book would be a missed opportunity.
So why skip the opportunity to explore American culture through horror literature, especially the zombie genre? It’s always been there. You can see how Edgar Allan Poe was attracted to it, how H.P. Lovecraft embraced it, and how Nathaniel Hawthorne flirted with it. At its most basic level, the zombie represents our fear of death and how we need to confront it (something I don’t think we’re very good at as a society) sooner rather than later; however, there’s something deeply troubling about fighting an enemy that is us, and no matter how hard you fight, inevitably, you will become one of them. And its lack of ideology makes it even more horrifying; the starkness in its complete lack of ambiguity is disconcerting for a culture who believes “there’s always a way.” There is no way to reach an agreement with a zombie, and they will not compromise; to end the nightmare, you must either become the monster philosophically or become the monster physically. This is why the best zombie movies are such downers, because by winning, the heroes of the story must lose, whether it’s their sanity, their honor, or their principles. This sort of resolution is what truly horrifies us Americans, and it is what good zombie stories do better than other kinds of horror stories.
The Video Dead effectively manages to completely piss on all of the aforementioned ideas. And yet, it’s still awesome!