Thursday, October 28, 2010

[TV] The Walking Dead

Let this serve as your official reminder that Frank Darabont's The Walking Dead premieres on AMC this Sunday night, Halloween, at 10 PM.

I'm very excited to see this show. I wouldn't call myself a huge horror fan, but certain classic concepts really work for me and the Zombie Apocalypse is one of them. Horror hasn't been especially well-represented on television over the years, and zombie-horror even less so.

This particular show is based on the comic books of the same name. I never read it, but I've seen the enthusiasm online and I've watched the previews for myself and I'm sold.

The zombie mythology hits on several common themes and human fears. One is fear of death and the unknown nature of life and death. What makes a person alive? What makes them dead? If we don't truly understand that, then how can we be sure that the dead will stay that way?

And, of course, dead things are scary. We don't want to end up like them, and that's part of it, but there's a certain primal fear of corpses, especially a fear that the corpse will open its eyes and rise up in search of revenge or blood or whatever it is you really, really crave when it's late and you're dead and you haven't had dinner.

Also, we fear the apocalypse - the destruction of our civilization and the massive loss of life that would ensue because of catastrophe, war, or famine. We've got it pretty good, and the notion of having to survive among the ruins without all of our luxuries and our laws - having to scrabble for the remnants of the past while fighting off the strong who would prey on the weak - that's scary stuff.

Finally, the zombie apocalypse speaks to our fear of plague. Our terror of an unknown pathogen spreading from one person to the next - effectively turning our close-knit society against us - invisible, undetectable, and horrifically fatal. And zombie-ism is the worst. As bad as pus-filled blisters, wracking coughs and flesh-eating bacteria may be, they pale in comparison to rising up from the dead to hunger for the flesh and brains of your friends and family.

George Romero is the undisputed father of the modern zombie genre, beginning with his original 1968 film Night of the Living Dead. I have to confess, I watched the original B&W film and I wasn't really taken by it. I thought the story and acting were just okay, but compared to, for example, Planet of the Apes, which came out the same year? I just wasn't impressed. If I were a better scholar of motion pictures, I might recognize something about the story, the camerawork, the acting or the music that somehow catapult it to legendary status, but I'm not so I don't.

In recent years, however, the zombie genre has exploded (some would say it's been saturated) with some fantastic works. On the big screen, movies like 28 Days Later and The Crazies (also based on a Romero classic) put zombies right into modern-day cities and let us scramble in fear alongside the poor survivors who had to somehow, against the odds, escape their predations. In books, we've got Max Brooks' truly excellent World War Z, and the clever faux-classic Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. And in video games, we've got games like Left for Dead, among a slew of others. And in song, of course, there's the absolutely outstanding re: Your Brains by Jonathan Coulton.

That's a whole lot of brain-eating going on! Fast zombies, slow zombies, business zombies - they're all well-represented. But none of them have been on television. Until now. The zombie apocalypse is coming, people. Consider this new AMC series to be part of your survival training, and be sure to tune in Sunday night.

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