by David A. Holcombe
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What would you do in the event of a Zombie invasion? Do you have an exit strategy? Have you built a bunker? Do you have a weapons stockpile?
A woman stumbling her way through a Zombie walk bears a tattoo on her forearm that reads: “Blades don’t need reloading”, a reference to a Zombie survival guide written by Mel Brook’s son.
Starz Inside: Zombiemania features interviews with such Zombie legends as George A. Romero, Tom Savini, Greg Nicotero, Max Brooks and Boyd Banks. Zombiemania is not a documentary, rather it is an oral history of the genre within the film industry. It touches briefly upon some interesting African folklore and Haitian Voodoo roots, but only insofar as The Serpent and the Rainbow used them as a leaping off point in creating a “real” Zombie theory. No, this is not an origins film. Mainly, it is a series of interviews with actors, directors, writers, and pop culture “experts” waxing philosophically upon the genre.
The most interesting aspect of the special is the exploration of the Zombie as social commentary. In cinema, Zombies have been used to represent excessive consumerism, mob-behavior, disaster panic, racial fear, impending doom, faceless evil, and political sabotage, among others. When the early work of George A. Romero is viewed within the context of society at the time his films were released, we see that Zombie situations can represent a horrifyingly accurate microcosm of the real world and all the tensions and fears that many Americans were dealing with in their lives. In his first film, Night of the Living Dead, Romero introduces mainstream society to the now popular Zombie-apocalypse. Apart from the many 1960’s era critiques, the film features Duane Jones as the lead character, Ben. Described by a 1969 movie reviewer as a “comparatively calm and resourceful Negro”, this casting choice, while not the intent of the director, turned out to be highly controversial. In the film, Ben slaps a white woman, tells a white man “You can be boss down there, I’m boss up here!” and is eventually killed and dragged away by a group of small town white police officers with meathooks reminiscent of the grainy Alabama lynch-era photographs. Suddenly this low-budget horror film was viewed as a sharp piece of social commentary, and has since become legendary within the industry.
Zombiemania features a nice mix of campy, “tongue-in-rotting-cheek” horror fun and a more serious exploration of the social commentary inherent in many of the genre’s films. The reasons that Zombies have remained a popular fixture of cinema are many, and Zombiemania is a great place to start the discussion. You can catch the encore presentation on Starz Edge at 1:50pm ET/PT on Halloween Day, October 31.
David A. Holcombe s a dedicated actor, fierce existentialist, intrepid traveler and a veritable homo universalis. He is currently using Chicago as a base of operations.
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