Like so many of the classic cinema monsters, the zombie genre repeatedly undergoes periods of transformation and yet, as argued by Kyle Bishop, one of the factors that differentiates it from these other monsters is that ‘it is the only supernatural foe to have almost entirely skipped any initial literary manifestation’, instead leaping from folklore directly to film (Bishop 2010: 12–13). While Bram Stoker's Dracula and, to a lesser degree, Sheridan LeFanu's Carmilla, have been central texts for the vampire film from Nosferatu (1922) through to Penny Dreadful (2014–), Bishop argues that the zombie has ‘no germinal Gothic novel from which it stems, no primal narrative that establishes and codified its qualities and behaviors’ (Bishop 2010: 13). This does not mean, however, that the genre does not have any literary influences. Many scholars, including Bishop but also Roger Luckhurst and Alison Peirse, have demonstrated how White Zombie (1932), generally considered the first zombie film, was influenced by William B. Seabrook's Haitian travelogue The Magic Island (1929) (Luckhurst 2015/Peirse 2013). Peirse argues that ‘Seabrook's travelogue provided the discursive context for the film, a point confirmed by the extensive reprinting of extracts from The Magic Island in the film's pressbook’, acknowledging a direct correlation between the book and the film (Peirse 2013: 65). Furthermore, Luckhurst has unearthed a largely overlooked tradition of zombie stories emerging from the pulp presses of the 1920s and 1930s, arguing that these stories ‘alongside Seabrook's Magic Island, directly underpin the arrival of the zombie in American cinema just as the category of “horror film” was emerging’ (Luckhurst 2015: 59). As Luckhurst demonstrates, this tradition of pulp storytelling ‘follow[s] Seabrook very closely’ (Luckhurst 2015: 64), revolving around the Caribbean zombie in the form of a ‘being that hovered between life and death, the natural and the supernatural, and toyed with the gruesome prospect of being buried alive by nefarious native conspirators’ (Luckhurst 2015: 63). All of these narratives, as Bishop, Peirse and Luckhurst demon- strate, tap into colonial anxieties surrounding the Caribbean following the occupation of Haiti in 1915 by American military forces.
‘Needing to Know the Plural of Apocalypse’
In the television series Angel (1999–2004), the vampire with a soul encounters a group of lawyers-turned-zombies (‘Habeas Corpses’, 5.8) while trying to save his son Connor. Connor has never encountered a zombie before and having been raised in a hell dimension, he has never seen a zombie movie either. As such when Angel explains that the lawyer who keeps standing up despite looking dead is actually undead, a zombie, Connor naturally asks ‘what's a zombie?’, leading to the following exchange:
Angel: It's an undead thing.
Connor: Like you?
Angel: No! Zombies are slow-moving, dim-witted things that crave human flesh.
Connor: Like you.
Angel: No! It's different. Trust me.
Angel not only emphatically distinguishes between himself and the zombie but seems to take offence at Connor's suggestion that they are the same. Angel's stance mirrors the position of many fans, writers, filmmakers and scholars who emphasise the distinction between the ‘undead’ and the ‘living dead’, two creatures that are rarely presented as existing in the same universe and that have both developed separate histories of folklore, literature, comics, videogames, cinema and television. In fact, many scholars emphasise strict definitions that separate the undead into class-divided social groups in which, as Ian Conrich argues, ‘vampires are the aristocrats’ and ‘zombies are the lumpen proletariat’ (Conrich 2015: 19). Conrich's position is seemingly supported by Romero who has claimed that ‘the zombie for me was always the blue collar kind of monster and he was us’ (quoted in Simon 2000). Romero's perception of this class distinction is driven home in his graphic novel Empire of the Dead (2014–15), in which both zombies and vampires exist and conform to this well-established hierarchical division. Max Brooks’ graphic novel Extinction Parade (2013–15) also brings the two creatures together with the zombies portrayed as the masses, overwhelming humanity and bringing the living to the verge of extinction. In contrast the vampires are presented as aristocratic monstrous children, weakened by the fact that they are, according to Brooks, at the top of the food chain and therefore have never had to fight to overcome adversity nor have they ever faced an equal opponent.
In the last chapter, I considered the evolution of the sympathetic vampire and its influence on the development of an equally sympathetic zombie. In the figures of Kieran from In the Flesh and R from Warm Bodies, we see characters that embody the introspection, self-loathing, empathy and pathos that have become the hallmark of the sympathetic vampire. Furthermore, we see undead figures who, while bearing the signs of their zombie state – pale, near translucent skin, bleached eyes, unhealing scars – have yet to show signs of decomposition and so remain attractive figures and subjects of love and romance. In this they have more in common with the traditional image of the vampire than with the decaying walkers who populate the post-apocalyptic landscape of The Walking Dead. Running parallel to this development, recent years has also borne witness to the presence of an alternative version of the vampire to its attractive and sympathetic brethren. This vampire is more violent and monstrous, spreads its contagion very quickly, operates in large numbers and exists within a dystopian, often post-apocalyptic, landscape. This strand of vampire text, therefore, similarly highlights an interconnection between the vampire and the zombie that is the subject of this book.
Much like the I-vampire/I-zombie, the vampire apocalypse has begun to appear in multiple locations. In literature, the genre received global success through Justin Cronin's best-selling novel The Passage (2010) and its sequels The Twelve (2012) and City of Mirrors (2016). Similarly renowned Mexican horror filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro has co-written the vampire apocalypse trilogy, The Strain (2009), The Fall (2010) and The Night Eternal (2011), with Chuck Hogan, author of, among other things, The Blood Artists (2009), an outbreak narrative in which a new virus takes human form. The Strain has subsequently been adapted to television by FX, produced by Del Toro, Hogan and Carlton Cuse. It has also been adapted in comic-book form by Dark Horse (2011–15).
On television, the traditionally romantic, often erotic, vampire series True Blood altered its tone in its final season by developing a decidedly apocalyptic narrative strand. At the conclusion of Season 6, human scientists developed a virus, Hep V, which is highly contagious and fatal to vampires, and deliberately contaminated the supplies of the blood substitute TruBlood.
A pale and emaciated woman lies dead on a stretcher, abdomen split open, surrounded by sheets soaked in blood (see Fig. 2.1). A vampire plunges a large syringe filled with his venom directly into her heart and then proceeds to apply cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), encouraging blood to flow through her arteries and veins, thus spreading his venom throughout the body. The scene cuts from a series of close-ups of the woman's open dead eyes and the vampire's blood-soaked hands as he continues to apply pressure to her heart, to an overhead shot of the body on an operating table surrounded by surgical trolleys and medical equipment all bathed in harsh overhead lighting. Later as the vampire continues to encourage her transformation by injecting her with more venom through small bites on each of her limbs, the sequence moves from the overhead shot to a closeup of the woman's face, via a series of jump cuts, before plunging beneath the skin through her nasal cavity and into her blood stream, conveyed through computer-generated imagery often referred to as the CSI shot, in which a virtual camera penetrates beneath the skin to explore the inner workings of the body (Hamit 2002: 101). Here the virtual camera follows the spread of the venom through her blood and into her heart, seemingly crystalising and hardening the inner structures of her body. These images are accompanied by a sound montage of the woman's screams. This is the beginning of Bella Swan's long-awaited transformation into a vampire that concludes the first part of the final instalment in the Twilight Saga, Breaking Dawn Part 1 (2011).
Despite the series’ romantic preoccupations, this sequence has replaced the eroticism of John Badham's Dracula (1979) and the romanticism of Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) – characteristics often associated with vampire seduction – with the brutality of a painful transformation, while the tantalising bite of the vampire has been substituted by the efficiency of a syringe to the heart. The vampire has become the subject of the medical gaze, in which, according to Michel Foucault, ‘the medical eye must see the illness spread before it, horizontally and vertically in graded depth, as it penetrates into a body, as it advances into its bulk, as it circumvents or lifts its masses, as it descends into its depths’ (Foucault 1993: 136).
On 13 February 2013, the Canadian House of Commons gained global attention when it became the first government body to address within official proceedings an issue of global concern when the then-MP for Winnipeg Centre, Pat Martin, raised concerns over the possibility of a zombie pandemic, and asked whether the Minister for Foreign Affairs was ‘working with his American counterparts to develop an international zombie strategy so that a zombie invasion does not turn into a zombie apocalypse’. Martin's remarks were met with laughter and applause by fellow MPs and followed by the then-Minister for Foreign Affairs, John Baird's response as he assured all Canadians that ‘Canada will never become a safe haven for zombies, ever”!’ This comedic interlude within Canadian politics followed a public announcement that the Quebec civil security department was planning to stage a zombie apocalypse as part of training on how to respond to a catastrophic event. This event was modelled on similar training that has repeatedly been run across Canada and the US, even by the American HALO Counter-terrorism unit (31 October 2012). The potential benefits of making use of the zombie apocalypse as a means of preparing people for how to respond to disaster was identified in 2011 by the Center for Disease Control who launched their ‘Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse’ website, with the following declaration:
The rise of zombies in pop culture has given credence to the idea that a zombie apocalypse could happen. In such a scenario zombies would take over entire countries, roaming city streets eating anything living that got in their way. The proliferation of this idea has led many people to wonder ‘How do I prepare for a zombie apocalypse?’
Well, we're here to answer that question for you, and hopefully share a few tips about preparing for real emergencies too! (Kahn 16 May 2011)
The campaign was so successful that they began blogging about The Walking Dead, drawing upon events within the series in order to highlight the dos and don'ts of disaster response (Silver 2012) and have subsequently produced an online graphic novel Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic (Silver 2015).
In the Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In (2008), a lonely twelveyear- old boy, Oskar, who is bullied at school, is befriended by the new girl, Eli, when she moves into the apartment next door. Oskar is drawn to Eli as she appears to be an equally lonely child of a single parent who, like him, does not seem to fit in. Eventually, however, Oskar discovers that his new friend is a vampire. After this revelation, Eli explains that she is just like him, reminding Oskar that the first time she heard him speak, he was holding a knife and rehearsing threats against the classroom bullies. He counters by pointing out that he doesn't kill people, to which she responds ‘but you'd like to if you could to get revenge’. She, as Eli explains, kills only out of necessity. To make her point, she sits on his lap, stares into his eyes and asks that he ‘be me for a little while’, inviting him to see the world through her eyes. This is followed by a lyrical shot/ counter shot sequence between an extreme close-up of Oskar's eyes and Eli staring down at him, all filmed in shallow focus as if for a moment they are unified in private space. As Oskar closes his eyes and a gentle musical score plays over the image, the film suggests that perhaps he is able to see the world through her eyes, even if briefly. This shot is then followed by a short over-the-shoulder shot of Eli, now revealed as an old woman who once again begs Oskar, ‘Please – be me, for a little while’. While the shot of the older Eli is a moment that reminds us that she is not what she appears to be, that is a child, there is also a sadness to this image of the old woman trapped within the body of a child. This image represents, in part, the ‘othering’ of the vampire as a creature that blurs lines of identity, but it also provides a glimpse of who she is on the inside. It is a highly subjective moment that positions the audience, along with Oskar, in her point of view.
This sequence introduces two key ideas that are important for our understanding of a significant strand of the twenty-first century undead.
In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode ‘Get it Done’ (7.15) vampire slayer Buffy Summers discovers the origins of the slayer-line. It is revealed that the Shadowmen, pre-modern precursors to the Watchers Council who oversee the training of Slayers, infused the body of the first slayer with the spirit of a demon, deliberately constructing a human/demon hybrid as humanity's protector from monsters. Buffy is horrified by this revelation and refuses the Shadowmen's offer of additional power as the risk to her humanity is too high a price. In the same episode, however, the preference for pure humanity is called into question by former demon Anya when she complains about being human again: ‘Being human? Ugh! You're always icky on the inside, disgusting on the outside’. In the same episode recently re-ensouled vampire Spike is forced to find a balance between his soul and his inner demon in order to help Buffy. He finds his strength by embracing his dark side and rekindling his pleasure in the kill, something he had lost with the restoration of his soul. Similarly reformed witch Willow – whose power had escalated out of control after bringing Buffy back from the dead in Season 6, as discussed in the last chapter – taps into the recesses of her dark magic to re-open the portal through which Buffy had travelled to meet the Shadowmen. While both Spike and Willow are hesitant to draw upon their powers and slightly horrified by the results, the episode makes it clear that these actions put both Willow and Spike on the path towards accepting their power and the hybridity of their identities which enables them to play a major role in saving the world at the end of the series. Furthermore, after Buffy refuses the Shadowmen's offer, they give her a vision of the vampire army that she will eventually have to face, which forces her to question her decision, telling Willow, ‘I think I made a mistake’. The episode may express anxiety about this type of hybrid identity in the face of the potential loss of their humanity, but it also celebrates hybridity as a necessary component of a hero, particularly in the face of an impending apocalypse.
On 1 April 2012, the Horror Writers’ Association, in conjunction with the Bram Stoker Family Estate, named Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend (1954) as the Vampire Novel of the Century, effectively declaring Matheson's work as the best – or most significant – vampire novel to be published in the century since the publication of Bram Stoker's Dracula (Horror Writers Association 2012a). The other nominees included oftendiscussed publications such as Salem's Lot (Stephen King 1975), Interview with the Vampire (Anne Rice 1976), Hotel Transylvania (Chelsea Quinn Yarbro 1978), The Soft Whisper of the Dead (Charles L. Grant 1983) and Anno Dracula (Kim Newman 1992) (Horror Writers Association 2012b). This recognition for Matheson's work, received just over a year before his death on 23 June 2013, acknowledges the significance and influence of the novel upon the horror genre.
In 1957, just three years after its publication, Matheson was commissioned by Hammer Studios, responding to the success of their first foray into the horror genre with The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), to adapt the work as a screenplay for their consideration. While the studio decided not to produce the film (more on that below), the book has been officially adapted three times: The Last Man on Earth (1964), The Omega Man (1971) and I Am Legend (2007). It has been unofficially adapted in the form of the mockbuster I Am Ωmega (2007), made by Asylum productions – the creators of Snakes on a Train – as a straight-to-DVD production. I Am Legend has most notably been acknowledged as an influence on George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968) but Chilean director Jorge Olguín also cites the novel as an influence on his film Descendents [Solos/ 2012]. Burr Steers describes his approach to the undead in his adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016) as ‘more I Am Legend … They're more cognisant and have retained more of who they were. My whole idea was that the zombie now think of themselves as being a competitive race with humans … They've evolved’ (quoted in Berriman 2016: 84).
The phenomenal popularity of the zombie in twenty-first century cinema now positions the zombie as a central member of the canon of classic big screen monsters, alongside its undead cousin the vampire, as well as the mummy, the wolfman and Frankenstein's monster. Many of these creatures have been making a re-emergence in contemporary cinema and television, although with nowhere near the ubiquity of the zombie. Arguably, even the vampire has not had the same level of transmedial impact as the zombie. This is despite the fact that the zombie was for many years positioned in a more marginal role alongside its monstrous brethren. Regardless of this new-found popularity, little consideration has been given to the role of television within the development of the zombie genre, despite a growing number of suitable and, increasingly, long running texts to examine. More attention has been paid to vampire TV with many book- length studies devoted to Dark Shadows (1966–71), Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, True Blood and The Vampire Diaries. In comparison, the TV zombie has, with the exception of The Walking Dead, been largely ignored. This is in part because, historically, the zombie has not played a major role within television horror, primarily as a result of its generic association with a corporeal body horror. From its earliest origins, the zombie embodied the abject corpse raised from the grave seemingly devoid of a soul, which was subsequently splattered in the 1960s and 70s by George Romero (Abbott 2015). This type of graphic material has, until recently, been unpresentable on television as it has been more strictly regulated in terms of what is considered acceptable to be screened on terrestrial television. Furthermore, the zombie, by its very nature as a corpse that has risen from the grave, lacks identity and character, features that are key components of television drama. In contrast while the vampire similarly embodies the dead returned from the grave, it is not presented as a corpse but rather as immortal and usually characterised by his/her charismatic personality and past as a human. The vampire is the undead creature who blurs the line between the living and the dead while the zombie is a graphic reminder of the corporeality of death.
You wanted to blow other people's minds and you wanted to blow your own.
The 1970s represent one of the great transitional periods for Hollywood, producing an increasingly independent and confrontational approach to cinema in terms of both narrative content and aesthetic display. Film–makers sought to break violently with film–making conventions by reimaging genre tropes through a more visceral and realistic style, challenging audiences with graphic, nihilistic, and often brutal imagery. Thus, John Carpenter, director of The Thing (1982), confesses that he “wanted something savage to happen. I don't believe I could do that now. I don't believe they'd let me do that,” while David Cronenberg explains that he “wanted to blow other people's minds” (both qtd in The American Nightmare). This attitude was particularly apparent within film genres as they were being reimagined in this period. For instance, the western The Wild Bunch (1969), the outlaw film Bonnie and Clyde (1967), and the gangster film The Godfather (1972) all featured dramatic shootouts in which the bodies of protagonists were riddled with bullets in an orgy of bloodletting and violence. Similarly, big budget Hollywood horror films were reworking their scare tactics through visual display and special effects, both The Exorcist (1973) and The Omen (1976) featuring regular and escalating set pieces in which the body comes under brutal attack by the devil and his minions. Nowhere was this emphasis on graphic imagery—defined by John McCarty as “splatter”—felt more keenly than in the arena of independent exploitation or underground cinema. McCarty argues that splatter cinema is a type of film whose aim was “not to scare their audiences, necessarily, nor to drive them to the edges of their seats in suspense, but to mortify them with scenes of explicit gore. In splatter movies, mutilation is indeed the message” (1).
While we most commonly associate splatter with horror, many of the era's exploitation film–makers were increasingly rethinking the nature of genre, blurring the lines not only between art and exploitation, but between sf and horror. Splatter especially served to reimagine sf within the context of increasingly independent modes of film production and a growing cult audience.
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