Shaun of the Dead
The fact that this 2004 Edgar Wright film is a satirical take on the zombie attack genre did not stop it from giving me nightmares. I am instinctively terrified of zombies, as we all should be. Seriously, if there weren’t a real threat of a zombie attack, why else would there be AZMs (anti-zombie militias) across the country poised to take on a sizable onslaught of slow-moving reanimated corpses? In any case, zombies are fuckin’ scary. Even if they are approaching you and your best friend at a pace so slow that you have plenty of time to get away…or throw shitty record albums at them. Social commentary comes in when the main characters are too self-absorbed to notice that a virus that turns victims into zombies has taken over their city, and have no interest in finding out why they are being chased by reanimated corpses. The zombies move so slowly that only the laziest and most imperceptive of slackers would fail to get out of the way in time. But the protagonist does manage some pretty clever zombie-deflecting maneuvers, and the zombie pool cue beating/Queen dance sequence was good for a laugh, even if it didn’t stop the nightmares.
Night of the Living Dead
A classic. I saw this one when I was about five years old (around the time I first saw Full Metal Jacket), which probably explains a lot. Including the nightmares I just mentioned. It’s been a while, but usually they involve an associate and myself discovering that a pack of zombies is trying to bust through the front door, etc. We break our way out and run down the street, only it’s impossible to run. Try as we may, we’re glued to the pavement. I’ve always managed to get away—but still. Night of the Living Dead is what shaped my conception of zombies, and probably yours as well. This black and white 1968 flick spawned the zombie apocalypse genre, which, if you can stomach it, is a pretty good vehicle for critiquing various social ills. At worst it’s an excuse to throw around blood and guts. Interestingly, the undead are never referred to as “zombies” in this film, but rather “ghouls.” The word “zombie” only came to be associated with the film’s mindless villains over subsequent years.
Evil Dead II: Dead By Dawn
You may notice that in the previous two entries little reference has been made to either film’s plot. The reason is simple—the plots are all basically the same: Big scary undead people are closing in on a dude and possibly a chick. Dude must keep his wits as they inch closer. Evil Dead II follows a similar arc, but pokes fun at it the entire way. It’s also pretty disgusting; I had to close my eyes for most of it. The film is a sequel to the first Evil Dead, which followed the same plot but took itself seriously. Both are set at a cabin in the woods. Unlike the above two flicks, the undead attack as a result of main character Ash’s (Bruce Campbell) playing back of a professor’s recording of a passage from the Book of the Dead. This awakens a horde of flesh-inhabiting spirits, which attempt to close in on Ash over the course of the night. The end result is the image of Ash wielding a chainsaw in one hand, a shotgun in the other. There isn’t any social commentary to speak of in this one. MTW