Zombies, Zombies, Zombies!

What a sexy title that is, right?  Well, we’re talking about zombies this time.  Why?  Because, I was very disappointed with the second Maze Runner story, “The Scorch Trials” that there were zombies in it.  Just as I was disappointed with the first book ended with the Maze and its monsters being all a gigantic human hoax for finding some sort drug manufactured in teenagers brains as a cure for the Flare, the Flare being the zombie disease on Earth.

Why  couldn’t the Maze have been either an alien survival game, with fans rooting for certain runners or betting on who would the scream loudest when a monster ate them or who would die the most horrible way, or would survive another day.  I know, that was done in the Hunger Games, but aliens would be an interesting twist.

But some sort of super secret government test?  Where are all the imaginative writers who could write about aliens who have conquered the Earth or are planning to conquer mankind, experimenting on teenagers to see how they would survive against their attackers?  There was a plethora of such stories in 1960s television, in Dr. Who, Star Trek, Twilight Zone, and the Outer Limits, to name a few.  And likewise, in the 1990s and early 2000s on TV on Babylon Five, the various Star Trek and Stargate series, and Battlestar Galactica.  Can’t anyone ever think of anything original anymore?

Zombies, today, are spinoffs of direct George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead”.  Before that film, where a band of travelers are trapped in a farmhouse surrounded by ravenous, bloodthirsty zombies out to eat them, zombies were reanimated corpses or victims under such hypnosis that they appeared to be dead.  Romero’s concept of zombies created a whole movie horror sub-genre, the Zombie film.

It is sad, though, that the old classic zombie, the one with the stiff and emotionless character, is gone.  Film and acting critics used to refer to several actors, especially new and untrained actors, as giving zombie-like performances or even as being as stiff as a zombie.  No one can use that reference anymore, because zombies are blood-thirsty, flesh-eating monsters.

However, there are still plenty of interesting twists even to this new zombie-genre.  In Disney’s now classic film “Hocus-Pocus”, a zombie is released from his grave by the three witches to chase down their teenage prey.  The zombie’s awkward, clueless and clumsy.  And he doesn’t want to serve the witches, relating more to their victims.  Likewise, in “Warm Bodies” the zombie narrator explains that zombies eat their victims brains to relive the victims memories, thereby feeling a brief moment of humanity before returning to their cold and meaningless existence.  Also, the hero in “iZombie” eats the brains of the dead to learn about their lives, the hero of course being a zombie detective.

Another zombie variation occurs in “Warm Bodies” where the zombie narrator kidnaps a young woman to save her from the other zombies.  Eventually, he begins having feelings for her and this in turn causes his heart to beat again and his body to warm up, thus curing him of the zombie plague.  Eventually, more zombies begin to feel again and become human once more.  Of course, the more evil and beyond all hope boneys, who have have no skin and little humanity left, can’t be saved.  (I’m sure glad they didn’t call the boneys boners.  I’d never be able to see these monsters as anything but comical after that.)

Another zombie variation shows up in the Brad Pitt film, “World War Z”.  The zombies in that film swarm walls and buildings, climbing on top of each other like hordes of giant ants.  Now what makes that so disturbing and at the same time so cool is how primal and primitive that behavior is.  In fact, it is literally insectile.  The writers and visual artists for that film made the zombies seem even more alien than most of the other films have thought of making them.

Good writing of fantasy and science fiction, or even any fiction, requires consideration and thinking of new ways to portray characters and creatures.  Now, I want to say I’ve enjoyed the Maze Runner movies.  The zombies in “…the Scorch Trials” were as interesting and scary as any other modern zombies.  I just wish they could have been aliens instead.  (Even better: Alien zombies.  What would they be like?)

What I’m suggesting here is that when you create a zombie story that you put as much original thought into it, including into the zombies, as you can.  Don’t just take the easy way out.  And maybe try combining the classics with the modern.  There is an old Val Lewton film, “I Walked with a Zombie” where a woman has been cursed by a voodoo master into becoming the undead, sort of like Dracula, but without all the personality and vampire qualities.

Val Lewton, by the way, was a great horror film director of the 1940s who kept the suspense up by not showing the monsters but revealing them through odd and creepy sounds and shadows.  Its something to consider when create original stories.  How do you reveal your monsters and demons without literally showing them to the audience?

And while we’re talking about zombies, let’s not forget Simon Pegg’s “Shaun of the Dead.”  There’s not many zombie comedies out there.  (Zombie comedy, that’s so fun to say.) Anyways, how cool is it that Simon’s character keeps his recently turned zombie friend out in the tool shed in the back yard, where he can play computer games with him even though he’s a monster!

Some could say that many politicians today are zombies or zombielike.  And certainly some are more like the classic undead zombies rather than the flesh eating zombies of today.  But there seems to be no limit to the brain chomping, flesh-eating zombies in politics nowadays.

What other kinds of zombies can we talk about?  How about zombie ghosts?  They cannot hurt you but they still make a try for you.  Zombie wives?  It’s already been done in “The Stepford Wives” films.  Zombie robots?  Zombie sheep?  Zombie bugs?

Whatever you come up with will be interesting, I’m sure.  But be as creative as you can.  Think out of the box.  Thinking out of the box is among the greatest of tools a writer can have.

See you out there!

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