Notes of a Zombie Fighter, Part 2
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End Times… All the Time

The problem with being a zombie fighter is that the world is always ending. Well, that and the smell of reanimated rotting corpses—no one ever talks about it, but a planet of decomposed bodies walking around…phew, nasty.

Here’s what my itinerary looks like any given day:

  1. Little touch of apocalypse….try to prevent
  2. Determine mysterious cause of zombie plague….supernatural, biological, alien, or grocery clerk Joey Fong (he would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for me and that meddling pup).
  3. Wash blood and guts out of leather pants
Zombie origins have always been about as diverse as their metaphorical significance and about as socially reflective (Mr. Fong notwithstanding), but their outcomes always mean one thing—the end. The evolutionary history of the genre begins with the mummy—an oatmeal covered, toilet paper wrapped, curse-driven fiend that dragged its undead body into collective imaginations after archeologist Howard Carter discovered the tomb of King Tut. This historically significant find was greeted with superstitious legends that circulated faster than artifacts on a museum circuit and quickly found their way onto the silver screen.

This supernatural basis spilled into the mystique and misunderstandings around the Voodoo religion of Haiti, and it wasn’t until Romero and Russo tag-teamed the undead genre that the culprit shifted. By the time Night of the Living Dead rolled into theaters, the space race had everyone’s eyes on the skies. This was combined with the Vietnam-era distrust of all things government.

Today, Anthrax, AIDS, and the age of bio-terrorism have left their mark on the genre. From the outbreak monkeys of 28 Days Later (see my review) to the corporate engineered virus of Resident Evil—the theme covers the genre spectrum from visionary artistry to utter cheesiness, and it doesn’t seem to be fading out any time soon.

The sweeping saga of semi-sequels that stumbled from NOTLD presents an array of alternate dimensions set in motion by the living dead lore. While the full history is probably only of interest to dead heads of the zombie variety and fans of intellectual property law, it’s still worth a note. The divergent franchise of founders Romero (Dawn / Day) and Russo (the Return franchise) perpetuated the mythos from its small-town origins.

Where Romero left his origins unanswered and focused on a world of zombies run amuck, Russo stuck them in specimen jars and made the military culpable, the zombies unstoppable, and the origins biomedical. Interestingly, Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2 is actually a sequel to the Italian release of Dawn (released as Zombi) owing little more than its title and Romero’s European success to the project. After letting his ROTLD series get away from him—with two dramatically different sequels—Russo returned to the concept to make an embarrassing reprise. This time around, he had secured the rights via the anniversary re-release of NOTLD—and rather than cast allusion to the original, he attempted a full-on sequel. Children of the Living Dead was the direct-to-video result of that experiment (gone horribly awry).

Four films primed for release will take the mythos even further—two of them will be covered here, and none of them are Children of the Living Dead 2.

Day of the Dead: Contagium

From the combination of zombie lore and copyright lapse emerges a fifth divergence in the mythos. The new Day sounds like Girl, Interrupted with zombies, featuring a mentally ill Scooby gang set to figure out the mysterious origins of a zombie plague (that dates back to none other than NOTLD) while exposing a military cover-up and preventing end times. Nothing says therapeutic recovery like zombie fighting—talk about radical treatment models!

Taking it in the gut:

Day of the Dead: Contagium promises to be an exploration of mental illness and socio-political commentary combined (while also trying to infuse "…all known (zombie) lore…" together)—an incredibly ambitious feat for any film, especially a direct-to-video release. In fact, it might be too ambitious. With disturbed teens being a staple of horror, mental institutions being standard fare for such flicks, and generic military industrial bad guys orchestrating generic conspiratorial government cover-ups, it seems unlikely it will offer anything new. In the wake of a worse-than-Watergate political quagmire (a pre-emptive strike and horribly violent occupation based on fabrications and outright lies), however, even the most trite pop cultural treatment of the theme can manufacture awareness.

Return of the Living Dead 4: Necropolis

ROTLD 4 features a group of teens pit against an evil corporation that’s responsible for zombie manufacturing. Hey, wait a second…group of teens, military industrial corporation, conspiracy, zombies? Why does this sound familiar? Well, here the toxic gas at the center of the events can be traced to Cold War era weaponry, and the events that were featured in NOTLD… oh, never mind.

Taking it in the gut:

While I’m skeptical of any film that gets hyped on what takes place behind the scenes rather than on content, ROTLD 4 has a buzz that’s central to its theme. Nothing says end times like an old fashioned nuclear meltdown, and nothing says meltdown like the Chernobyl Ukrainian power plant disaster of 1986. ROTLD 4 is the first non-documentary American film to have access to the site. Its opening scene uses not only the setting but also a fully-charged, pull-no-punches implicit laden metaphor tied up in all of our impressions of the event.

I was nine-ish when the disaster occurred, and I clearly remember my mom trying to explain nuclear winter, radioactive fallout, and the obliteration of all life on earth through hysterical tears. I was the only kid in my third grade class who read Greenpeace newsletters, obsessed about ecological devastation and developed an ulcer—all this before Mad Max taught me how to be post-Apocalyptic cool.

And while I’m even more skeptical of two sequels released back-to-back (ROTLD 5 is slated immediately after Necropolis), its use of post Cold War American bio weaponry speaks to our society’s current fears.

Looking for more Notes of a Zombie Fighter? Be sure to check out Part 1.

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