One look at me leads many people believe that since I’m a writer I must write romantic
comedies, or ultra-heavy drama making a searing statement on society. Nobody guesses that I’m actually a huge horror and sci-fi buff, and therefore focus my writing in these areas. “Write what you know”, they say – and I do. Haven grown up on a steady diet of all things Stephen King with “Best Of” sci-fi almanacs for dessert, I know my stuff. With all this goodness coursing through my blood (and guts) I found myself wondering “why do people love horror movie so much – and beyond that – zombie movies”?
I’ve heard the theory that horror movies are an audience’s way of virtually enacting the violent scenes on screen within the safe confines of their living room. I have to say I’m not too keen on this one. For one thing, when I watch a movie like the current EVIL DEAD reiteration I’m not wishing I were the one doing the killing. “It’s subconscious!” You say. “Bah” I say, that ridiculous. I don’t love to see people die in any movie (unless I can’t stand that character!). Maybe that’s why I prefer a masterfully spun tale of horror such as THE SHINING, or MISERY, over the FINAL DESTINATION series, or worse yet the SAW movies, but I don’t think so. While I’m sure that there are many people (especially hormonally charged teenaged boys) that love a good slasher solely for the body count (the more gruesome the better) I think the love of these movies resides even deeper.
I’ve also heard the theory that we are experiencing our greatest fears in a safe way in order to subconsciously gain control over them. It’s the same theory that pervades the love of rollercoasters and haunted houses. We love to be scared – but only if we know it’s really safe. This is the same reason Hollywood loves a happy ending. After our hero (or heroine) survive the – insert horrible killer here – we like to know they’re finally safe, because in essence we are them. We have fought against, and survived the serial killer/deformed nuclear-charged monster/human trafficker and come out the other end stronger and wiser, all from the safe confines of our popcorn strewn seat.
Science- ahem, I meant: SCIENCE tells us this is true in part. Watching, dreaming about, or playing video games about situations puts our brains through a mental jungle-gym though which we experience the situation, and learn from it, almost as if it were real. In particular I think that zombies illustrate one of man-kinds worst fears: that everyone has turned against us, and forces us to face that fear, at least in practice.
I also think that the love of zombies go far beyond the need to be faux-scared and practice survival. I think that the love of zombies taps into our dissatisfaction of the everyday grind. Even if you love your job, love your house (with the huge mortgage) and love your kids (with college expences looming) they can seem like a yoke around the neck for many people, even during the best of times. A zombie apocalypse is as attractive as any other apocalypse to the tired masses – it’s a get out of jail free card from oppressive debt, pain in the ass neighbors, and the prison of middle management. It’s a golden opportunity to REALLY start over again. We all have pioneers and explorers in our DNA, or we never would have made it out of Africa hundreds of thousands of years ago; a zombie apocalypse is just what we need to exercise those genes again – at least for the duration of the movie or TV show.
Finally zombies represent something even more deeply rooted in our psyches then the need to escape every day mediocrity. They embody the same fear and distrust of others that form the basis of sectarianism, but now in a new and more palatable foe. The only other faction that can be so universally hated and not leave a bad taste in your mouth are Nazis. But Nazis, as reviled as they are, are outdated. With zombies we can once again band together in our hatred for an adversary and no one feels guilty for killing. It’s a simple us against them formula where there is no redeeming quality for the bad guys to fall back on, and there never will be. We have absolution for our hatred and bigotry. We’ve finally found an expectable way to express our hardwired evolutionary dislike of other groups without offending anyone, or running the risk of discovering that they are just people, exactly like us.
With all this psycho-babble voodoo hoodoo surrounding the love of zombies it seems nearly impossible not to love the.
So say we all. 😉