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Breathing New Life into Zombies

June 20, 2013


I’ve never been hugely into the zombie genre and scary movies are something I’ve always avoided. But in recent years I’ve found books and movies that offer something even a wimp like me can relate to.  So consider this the reluctant enthusiast’s guide to the zombie genre.

The first zombie book I can remember reading was Carrie Ryan’s The Forest of Hands and Teeth. I was truly surprised how much loved this from the get-go, possibly because it reads more as dystopia than horror. She tackles religion, politics, disease and so much more while creating a scary-as-hell premise. The sequels open the world a bit to the larger picture of destruction and possibly hope.

Not too long after that came the movie 28 Days Later. I have no idea why I watched this movie; it was as scary as it looked! Actually, I probably gave it a try because I love Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Shallow Grave, later he became most famous for Slumdog Millionaire). Cillian Murphy is perfect as a hapless man who wakes up alone in a hospital and has no idea why he’s been spared, he only knows he wants to go on living. I’m not sure what it means that the destruction was caused by animal rights activists who let diseased monkeys out of their cages, but it’s thought-provoking at the very least. Their hearts were in the right places!

Next I watched Shawn of the Dead, a pitch perfect satire of the genre, hilarious and terrifying.

I picked up Banished a few years ago thinking I would get through the first chapter or two – just enough to sell it to my accounts – but ended up reading the whole thing. In addition to class struggles and Irish curses, zombies barely make an appearance in this first book of the series. That’s my kind of zombie book!

Most recently I’ve come across media in the zombie sub-genre that suggests the possibility of rehabilitation. I’m not enough of an aficionado to tell you if this is a new concept, but it’s new to me. Egmont has a title coming in July called Contaminated. It’s about a post-disease America where millions became infected with a zombie-like disease through a diet drink. Velvet and her sister are looking for their mother and are hoping to find her at one of the halfway houses that round up disease victims that aren’t too far gone (and not already exterminated or used by the government for testing a cure). She’s sure that her mother will recognize them if they can just find her, but they may be in for more than they bargained for. The idea of a food-borne illness spreading so far and wide is the scariest thing about this book considering what we hear every day about food safety. Cross that with the method of contamination, a diet drink, and you’ve got some serious messaging about where we are as a society.

Around the time I finished the manuscript of Contaminated I started seeing trailers for the movie Warm Bodies. The idea is that zombies who can start to form emotional attachments again may start to heal. If they’ve given up on humanity altogether they become skeletons and are beyond redemption. I loved the premise but the movie was just OK. I imagine the book is much better. It always is, isn’t it?

Lastly, I just finished the first season of a BBC series called In the Flesh. After a zombie uprising (origin not specified yet) the U.K. Government fights back with a medical treatment that can help them feel and remember their humanity. After time in rehab with regular treatments, those deemed fit are released back to their families. Only not everyone is happy to see them, especially the HVA, the Human Volunteer Army, which picked up the slack when the government wasn’t able to protect people from so many feral zombies. The vicar practically leads a witch hunt to find any PDS (Partially Dead Syndrome) sufferers in town. Complicating matters further, the show deals with issues of homosexuality, suicide, and parental disapproval (to say the least). In other words, I loved it.

Have a safe, happy and undead summer!

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