Alright deep breathe. This is the one we’ve all been waiting for. This is the only thing which could top Star Trek as a creative influence in my life. This is the one that has changed every aspect of my life and the way I look at the world. This is the one I can’t stop dreaming about and this is the one that won’t give up space in my head.
They aren’t renting space… they’ve moved in and built a home.
Let’s talk about Zombies!
I know if you’ve been a fan of my work or have known me for any length of time then you know I’m a zombie freak. I live, breathe, eat, drink, and sleep the living dead. I really thought that once I’d told my zombie tale that I might be able to move to other things and be done with them.
I was wrong.
After my first zombie trilogy was told, The Shores of the Dead, I moved on to new things but the dead still called to me. Since then I have worked on short zombie tales and a young adult zombie serial called Summer Camp of the Dead. I have recently accepted that the zombie genre will never leave me, the best I will be able to do is set it aside so I can work on other things.
This string of essays are, the nature of the subject, going to be long. I will be covering all the aspects of zombie’s in the media that have influenced me. But before we get to that we need an origin story, a brief rundown of how this all started.
But wait a second.
There is no way I will be able to cover everything. Doing that would be the work of a lifetime and I have too many irons in the fire to even consider that undertaking. I will do my best to cover all of the zombie centric things that were or are important to me. I will also be relying on some short bits from Wikipedia to give background information. These quotes will be placed in boxes in order to signify they are NOT my work.
In this first essay we will concentrate on the beginning of my obsession with the living dead. There are two incidents which made me a zombie fan. One of them will be obvious and the other might surprise you. So sit back and get ready… things are gonna get weird. Now with that out of the way let’s get down to the gory bits. It won’t be pretty but it will be awesome!
The Genesis 1
Night of the Living Dead is a 1968 American independent horror film directed by George A. Romero, starring Duane Jones, Judith O'Dea and Karl Hardman. It premiered on October 1, 1968, and was completed on a US$114,000 budget. The film became a financial success, grossing $12 million domestically and $18 million internationally. It has been a cult classic ever since. Night of the Living Dead was heavily criticized at its release owing to explicit content, but eventually garnered critical acclaim and has been selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry as a film deemed "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant." The film has entered the public domain due to an error by the distributor.
The story follows characters Ben (Duane Jones), Barbra (Judith O'Dea), and five others trapped in a rural farmhouse in Pennsylvania which is attacked by unnamed "living dead" monsters, drawing on earlier depictions in popular culture of zombies. Night of the Living Dead was the basis of five subsequent Living Dead films (1978–2010) also directed by Romero, and has inspired remakes.
When I was 10 years old my father let me watch a movie. It was Halloween night and everyone was exhausted from trick or treating and gorged on candy. It was about ten at night and I was just about ready to doze off for the evening when my dad and my step brother came in and changed the channel. I think it was channel 20 (one of the 2 independent Detroit UHF stations) because back then they would do “Shocktober” hosted by Count Shockula.
“You going to love this,” my father said as he set down on the couch next to me.
As the black and white movie began to play on the small screen I quickly became bored with it. That all changed when I heard something emanating from the TV.
“They’re coming to get you Barbara!”
Immediately my attention was captured and for the next 2 hours, although it felt simultaneously like 2 minutes and 20 hours, I was a prisoner. I didn’t sleep a wink that night. Every shadow, every sound out in the windy Michigan night, and every creek in the house was one of the living dead coming to get me.
I was terrified.
I was an addict.
It is safe to say Night of the Living Dead changed my life more than any other movie, book, or television show in my life. That simple, low budget, black and white horror show has buried itself deep in my gray matter and I don’t think it can ever be dislodged.
I have watched Night of the Living Dead more than 100 times. I’ve owned it on multiple platforms and have even watched the horrible colorized version from the 1980’s.
Let’s bite the bullet, the movie looks like shit and it drags in a few spots. The acting is spotty, but Judith O’Dea (Barbara) and Duane Jones (Ben) are phenomenal. Despite, or maybe because of, the movies flaws it has a dark grittiness that embeds it under the viewers skin and changes their perceptions forever.
This film inspired more short stories, some good some so bad I will have them burned when I die, than anything else. It has also lead to more sleepless nights than any other movie I’ve ever watched. I can’t tell you how many times a tree moving outside a bedroom window lead to near bed wetting and sleeping with a baseball bats. To this day the first thing I do when entering a new place is scope out the defensive options and escape routes always with an eye to zombies.
When I was a kid family members got really tire of my zombie obsession real quick. There were days when all I could think of were the dead and what the world around me would be like if the dead rose up and tried to eat all of us. It’s stayed with me all of these years.
Now for the other, perhaps surprising, beginning of my zombie fixation. You can laugh as much as you want about this one but if you are my age or a little older this might resonate with you just a little bit.
The Genesis 2
Michael Jackson's Thriller is an American 13-minute music video for the song of the same name released on December 2, 1983. It was directed by John Landis, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Michael Jackson.
It was MTV's first world premiere video. Voted as the most influential pop music video of all time, Thriller proved to have a profound effect on popular culture, and was named "a watershed moment for the [music] industry" for its unprecedented merging of filmmaking and music. Guinness World Records listed it in 2006 as the "most successful music video", selling over nine million copies. In 2009, the video was inducted into the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress, the first music video to ever receive this honor, for being “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant. The track was also listed at number one on "The Top 10 Halloween Songs" by Billboard.
Costarring with Jackson was former Playboy centerfold Ola Ray. The video was choreographed by Michael Peters (who had worked with the singer on his prior hit "Beat It"), and Michael Jackson. The video also contains incidental music by film music composer Elmer Bernstein, who had previously worked with Landis on An American Werewolf in London. The video (like the song) contains a spoken word performance by horror film veteran Vincent Price. Rick Baker assisted in prosthetics and makeup for the production. "Thriller" was the third and final video for the Thriller album. The red jacket that Jackson wore was designed by John Landis' wife Deborah Landis to make him appear more "virile".
To qualify for an Academy Award as a short subject, the film was shown in a theatrical screening along with the 1940 Disney animated feature Fantasia, in December 1983; the video however failed to earn an Academy Award nomination.
The first time I saw Michael Jacksons Thriller video I hid behind a chair. I cowered behind a battered and beat up recliner while Michael Jackson danced and sang his way across the small screen.
Yeah I know that sounds crazy but I was in second grade and when it got to the zombie scene I nearly wet myself. Over the months whenever I was in a home where they had MTV, hey we still had rabbit ears and a 25 inch black and white TV in my house, I would watch and wait for that fucking video to come on.
The makeup was amazing, the zombies were terrifying, and Vincent Price made me want to hide and whimper for my mommy when he started speaking. The video has earned its reputation as one of the best ever made.
It wasn’t until I was in the seventh grade that I saw the john Landis’s amazing making of featurette. It gave us a look at the complicated vision behind the video and the effort needed to put out a project of that quality.
It also made me never want to be a film maker.
There was brief time in my childhood when the idea of being a movie maker seemed like the direction my life was taking. I researched it and played around with the primitive video cameras of the day. I was within inches of dropping my writing in preference of film making when I saw the making of video for Thriller. My 7th grade ELC (it was my schools smart kids class) teacher showed it to us. When I was done viewing it I knew I would have been a shitty film maker, better than Uwe Boll but not as good as Michael Bay. So really in the end John Landis (An excellent film maker) made me a writer… without dropping a helicopter on me and some Asian child actors.
And that’s the end of the beginning.
And that’s the end of part 1. Next time we will be talking about the Romero zombie films, not just a few but the entire catalog and what I gleaned from each of them. This isn’t going to be a sprint more of a marathon so sit back and enjoy the ride Boils and Ghouls… I know I will.