Re: Your Brains. (Music link; use headphones if you’re at work, not because anyone cusses – they don’t – but because it’s f’ing rude not to, OK? Thanks.)

I was talking to Aaron a few weeks ago and he asked if it was just him or if everyone is all of a sudden really into zombies. “Zombies are the new vampires,” I told him. I’ve thought more about that since then, and wondered why. I’m sure a lot of it is just fashions changing, but we all know that the fashion of horror says a great deal about a society’s fears. In the ’80s it was all serial killers and nuclear-waste zombies: under Reagan our greatest fears were superhuman sex pervs and the irradiated proletariat hordes of post-nuclear Marxism. In the ’90s, our enemy was defeated, long gone, and in the era of trashy talk shows and self-help and Trainspotting we wanted what scared us to be intimate and sexy, to have a face we wanted to kiss before we died. We wanted that which we feared to be some dark reflection of ourselves, not because we were afraid of our inner demons or at all seriously self-critical but because we thought they flattered our waking-life features.

Post-9/11, the enemy is something that has no face, no name, no body; it is a concept, an abstract. It is also, quite frankly, almost impossible to actually fear. Those of us who simply were not busy duct-taping plastic wrap around the windows the last four and a half years and watching the alert level to see if it’s still breathing are busy joking about being afraid way more than merely being afraid. Zombies are a nice fit for that sort of thing: nameless, faceless, relentless, but also easy to be all self-consciously ironic about. Oh yes, the zombies are coming, etc., we’ve seen this part of the movie like a gazillion times! It’s so easy in a society where terror alerts only happen in election years and the fatwahs get issued by guys we’ve never heard of whose names we’ll never remember and whose pictures we’ll never see. Yeah, OBL is out there somewhere, but you certainly don’t hear the Prez’nit talk about him, or anyone else, so he’s easy to forget. He’s just kind of there, like the way Davros is there somewhere in Dr. Who, issuing orders to the Daleks, but nobody remembers Davros, they just remember the Daleks.

Poor mutant, scarred, irradiated Davros, all one big electronic eye in the middle of his misshapen forehead.

See how easy it is? I started talking about terrorism and ended with Daleks. That’s why zombies are so perfect. They’re like the Mad-Libs of horror, just a big sheet full of blank spaces and devoured brains. Add the verbs, nouns and adjectives of your choice to make the story you want to tell. What do they want? What can they tell us about ourselves? Brains, and nothing, in that order. They are unintelligent, unresponsive, inscrutable, unrepentant. They require no complex justifications, no back-story, no catalyst event, no redemption. They show up, they munch cranium, they get axed to death, next scene please. They will repeat, over and over, a thousand times over, so that we can cram whatever meaning we want into them, fill them to the brim with whatever motivation we can’t ourselves articulate. Though I would argue that every zombie movie I have ever seen had strong, often blatant and overt elements of social commentary to them, and always come away believing the zombies represent something, the zombies themselves never make the case. Zombies have no agenda and have no desire to make the case themselves. They have no fear to articulate for us. The ball’s in our court on that one. It’s that simple. Louis can grab Christian Slater by the throat and slam him against the wall and state, plain and simple, that the point of the Interview was to explain why it’s terrible being a vampire and that he knows we all want the everlasting hotness anyway, but no zombie is ever going to produce an almanac of pop culture and explain how their actions over the course of the original Dawn of the Dead will describe the rise of the shopping mall as the new public square, the crass commercialism and remorseless ethic of the ’80s, the end of the “Me” Decade and the beginning of the heartlessly go-getter, active-verb “I” Decade. It’s there, but we have to find it and express it ourselves.

Zombies are open-source horror. Roll your own reason to fear them if you can’t find one you like. It really is that easy. They don’t mind one bit.