When people say, “I love zombie movies,” used to be that I imagined they meant they enjoyed the blood spraying everywhere and guts and brains getting more screen time than most of the actual actors. Anyone who knows about my high school obsession with Edgar Allan Poe might think I would enjoy a little gore now and then, but that’s really not the case. I’d see parts of zombie movies when my husband watched them, but was more than satisfied with those brief glimpses.
Then I watched Shaun of the Dead, and I liked it. Of course, I suspect I’d like about anything that Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright wrote together (especially if it also features Nick Frost). Because of my husband’s love of zombies, I ended up seeing some of The Walking Dead and getting totally drawn into it (I know this is a TV series and not a movie, but really I’m talking about zombie stories generally, right?). Then just a few days ago I watched Warm Bodies and fell IN LOVE with it, and I thought to myself, “Wait. Do I love zombie movies?”
I guess I kind of do. Of course, my eyes close automatically most the time when the zombies are actually doing their thing so maybe that has something to with why I can enjoy it. (Because really? Ew, gross.) I like zombie movies–or at least some zombie movies–because of the human element.
It’s about humans at our rawest, about surviving the monstrosity of people who have lost their humanity and the struggle not to lose our own. It’s about the best and worst of being human and about trying to triumph over our basest instincts.
Really what I love about zombie movies is the characters. I’m fascinated by how they go about facing what seems like an unstoppable force and what changes in them when everyone around them has turned into literal monsters. (Of course, one of the things I loved about Warm Bodies–and, in some ways, The Walking Dead and Shaun of the Dead–is that it kind of turns the monster idea on its head.)
I do think sometimes zombie movies can seem like they’re reveling in the horrific as much as or more than they’re examining the human situation, but I also think that zombie movies might touch on aspects of our fears and strengths that other genres can’t quite reveal. As soon as you’ve got actual monsters or non-zombified humans as the “enemy,” you’ve stepped into something different.
Maybe it’s because zombies bridge the line in our psyches between the imagined and the possible. They are a metaphor for our deepest fears in a way that aliens or monsters can’t be because zombies look like us, they are us. And at the same time, they’re enough removed from reality that it allows us to face our fears bravely and examine them.
I suppose that is why I (kind of) like zombie movies. Of course, I’m not going to watch them all the time, but I am going to go watch Warm Bodies again. Probably this weekend even. And I’m guessing I’m still going to love it.