Last night on TV I caught the first few minutes of the remake of Night Of The Living Dead that came out in the early nineties. (The reason for the remake, I think, was that the writer-director of the original flick, George Romero, was shut out of the considerable profits that resulted from its success, and he, naturally, wanted a bit of financial payback that was long overdue; he was a writer and producer of the new version, which Tom Savini, special-effects grand goremeister, directed.) I hadn't seen the flick in probably eleven, twelve years, and so I was a little surprised to find myself more than a little freaked out by the opening cemetary scene, complete with lurching zombies and a screaming woman and ominous music that sounded, well, ominous. (I remember watching the original version and the new version back to back in my bedroom in St.Catharines with my friend Mike, both of us trying to stay up all night one New Year's Eve back in early high school, and back-to-back zombie flicks seemed like the way to sustain our sleepy selves. Haven't thought about that night in a long time. That was many years ago.)
Zombies are scary. I don't know why. I think it's because there's just something fundamentally wrong with them. Dead bodies dressed in suits are not supposed to shamble around among us. And they're so relentless, zombies are; they shuffle and poke their way forward, never getting deterred, never getting discouraged. They come, slowly, and they will keep coming, undaunted, until they eat you, and kill you. Simple. Primal. Almost unapologetically, ghoulishly pure.
I haven't seen any of the new zombie movies that have popped up over the last few years -- the recent remake of Romero's Dawn of the Dead, or 28 Days Later -- but there's a reason why they keep coming back. (The movies, that is -- not the zombies. I'm sure they have their own reasons, the zombies, but I know not what they are...)
Horror is all about metaphor, and zombies are a perfect, twisted metaphor for who we (sometimes) are and what we (potentially) could become: mindless, shambling shells of our former selves. Romero's original Dawn of the Dead was set in a shopping mall and was a savage indictment of consumption and excess; he has a new zombie film set to premiere sometime this year called Land of the Dead, and I imagine he'll take some more incisive shots at what western society has (d)evolved into.
The one downside about zombie films is that they are, by their vary nature, awfully repetitive, derivative and one-dimensional. There's not much that zombies can actually do; you have to have a pretty clever story, with intriguing characters, as well as appropriately spooky music and visual flair to offset and somehow accentuate the gloomy monotony of zombies shuffling through graveyards and parking lots.
Still, they're an acquired taste, zombie movies are. (As are zombies themselves.) Not everyone's cup of tea. If done poorly, these flicks are atrocious to sit through and easy to forget. If done well...
You may find yourself looking over your shoulder every now and then as you leisurely wander through your local park on warm, spring afternoon, as dusk paints the sky its patented brand of purple. You may glance nervously at the lingering shadows that start to form between the bushes, behind the shrubs. You may start to slowly tremble when you hear behind you footsteps that softly pad their way across the grassy field. Towards you. And you alone.