DID YOU READ

Zombie Metaphors: An Incomplete History

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05072007_28weekslater_article.jpgBy Matt Singer and Alison Willmore

Vampires have become sexy, mummies CG, monsters sympathetic, but no horror baddie remains as au courant as the lowly, lurching zombie. The reanimated undead continue to be the indie subject of choice for highbrow horror and lowbrow schlock, in part because they’re the cheapest to whip up — slather some grayish make-up and fake blood on a few extras, and voilà! — but also because they’re the most mutable stand-in for the less tangible things that plague us. It’s this symbolic potential that seems to be behind the recent zombie film resurgence: beside this week’s ’50s conformity spoof “Fido,” there’s festival mockumentary “American Zombie,” which purports to investigate L.A.’s “non-living community”; the brutal and epic sequel “28 Weeks Later”; Glasgow Phillips’ zombie western “Undead or Alive” and others. Below, we take a wander through some of milestones of zombie symbolism.

Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)
Directed by Edward D. Wood Jr.

Widely ridiculed for decades as one of the worst movies ever made (and not entirely without justification, either), Edward D. Wood Jr.’s “Plan 9 From Outer Space,” made nearly a decade before Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead,” hides a poignant allegorical critique beneath its pie tin flying saucers and bad Bela Lugosi stand-ins. Wood’s zombies are brought back to life by well-meaning (but also kinda dickish) aliens, who come to Earth with a warning: our constant desire to create bigger and more powerful weapons will eventually result in weapons so dangerous they will threaten the safety of the entire universe. Why the aliens thought that bringing a Swedish professional wrestler back to life in a small Southern California community would somehow alter the course of the military-industrial complex is largely left to the imagination, but that doesn’t change the fact that Wood’s zombies, like so many later ones, come to serve as a symbol of mankind’s self-destructive nature.

Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Directed by George A. Romero

The seminal zombie movie from the genre’s undisputed master isn’t as explicit in its messages as some its sequels, but its openness makes it even more interesting. In the forty years since its release, George Romero’s no-budget landmark has been discussed as everything from a critique of the Vietnam War to a reaction to the civil rights movement (its hero, an African-American, survives the zombie onslaught only to be murdered by the redneck-ridden cavalry). The text is so rich the interpretations are endless: the last time I saw it, “Night” struck me as an indictment of human indecisiveness — while Rome (or, in this case, rural Pennsylvania) burns, the survivors can’t decide whether to flee or to hide, whether to stay in the living room, or hunker down in the basement. Meanwhile, scientists bicker over whether some space probe from Venus is causing the dead’s reanimation. Like it matters! As that great Serlingian ending proves, we’re all screwed either way.

Dead of Night (1974)
Directed by Bob Clark

Almost a decade before Clark made a mainstream name for himself with “Porky’s” and “A Christmas Story,” he turned out this rough but wickedly effective indie horror film equating zombism with Vietnam vet trauma. The Brooks family hasn’t heard from soldier son Andy for long enough that his father and sister suspect the worst; it’s only his devoted mother who keeps the faith with a fervor that borders on madness. Her conviction that her son is alive seems to actually pull him from the grave — he arrives in the dead of night, having hitchhiked to the house, and, given that we witnessed Andy’s death in the jungle before the opening credits, it’s clear nothing good is in store. Andy’s changed — he’s monotone, unresponsive and spends most of his time staring at nothing from a rocking chair on the porch. Oh, and he’s picked up an addiction — he needs injections of fresh blood to keep himself from rotting. Dread builds over the course of the film, but so does a sense of tragedy; everyone is unable to understand that Andy has been (literally, in his case) to hell, and can only respond with frustration that he’s not the same.

Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Directed by George A. Romero

Ten years and three movies after the success of “Night of the Living Dead,” George Romero refined and expanded his vision of an undead apocalypse. Working with five times his original budget (a still shockingly paltry $500,000), Romero managed to top himself and make one of the best sequels of all time. This “Dead” installment critiques American consumer culture: four refugees from the zombie onslaught stumble on an abandoned shopping mall and lock themselves inside to ride out the storm. At first, the mood is euphoric, as they live out all their wildest shopping spree fantasies. But the fun doesn’t last. Even before their muzak-tinged utopia gets overrun by unruly bikers and hordes of flesh-eaters, they’re as depressed as a lottery winner who realizes his money can’t buy him happiness. There’s no defeating the darkness, but Romero’s uncharacteristically upbeat ending suggests you can escape it, especially if you leave the mall and vow never to return.

[Photos: “28 Weeks Later,” Fox Atomic, 2007; “Plan 9 From Outer Space,” DCA, 1959; “Night of the Living Dead,” Continental Motion Pictures Corporation, 1968; “Dead of Night,” Entertainment International Pictures, 1974; “Dawn of the Dead,” United Film Distribution Company, 1978]

[On to Part 2]
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Mommie Dearest

Mommie Fearest

10 Moms Who Seriously Messed Up Their Kids

Spend Mother's Day with a 24-hour Mommie Dearest marathon Sunday, May 8th starting at 6AM on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Paramount/Everett Collection

We all love our moms. But sometimes, deep inside our therapist’s office, we have to admit that maybe they weren’t exactly perfect. Maybe they were a bit overbearing, or needed that cocktail a bit too much at the end the day. Thankfully, pop culture is rife with some seriously messed up moms who make our own mother’s foibles look like a cake walk. Check out a few of the worst moms from pop culture below, and then spend Mother’s Day watching an all-day Mommie Dearest marathon on IFC. It’s the best way to remind yourself that mom’s terrible tuna casserole isn’t the worst thing that could’ve happened to you.

10. Lucille Bluth, Arrested Development

Arrested Development
FOX

Whether it’s adopting a Korean child to look more charitable, or turning her youngest son Buster into the ultimate mama’s boy from hell, Lucille Bluth was never afraid to put her own needs ahead of her children’s. Her parenting strategy was to pit the kids against each other and hope one turned out needy enough to keep her martini topped off. At least she loved them all equally. Well, except for G.O.B. She never cared for G.O.B.


9. De’Londa Brice, The Wire

The Wire
HBO

De’Londa Brice was used to living a certain type of lifestyle, thanks to her baby daddy, Wee-Bey, and his hustler life. But when her fella got sent to the clinker, she needed to find a new man to take care of her. Thankfully, she didn’t have to look far. Namond, her teenage son, may have been a sheltered, spoiled kid who knew nothing of real life in the hood, but if De’Londa was going to keep that gravy train rolling, he would need to be her new cash cow. She basically forced him to start slinging drugs, all but assuring he would never escape the street game. And yet, somehow he did, leaving behind a mother who put her mink coat collection ahead of her parental duties.


8. Toni, Maron

While most parents try to give their children a better life, Marc Maron‘s mom (played by TV legend Sally Kellerman) seems more than happy to just give him a hard time. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree here, no matter how much Marc doesn’t want to admit it. A personification of Marc’s anxiety, guilt, and body issues, whenever Toni Maron rolls into town, chaos is sure to follow. (Watch some of Toni’s funniest parental moments above.)


7. Kate McCallister, Home Alone

Home Alone
20th Century FOX

Look, we get being a mom is a hard gig, especially during the holiday season. Relatives are in town. Gifts have to be bought. Everything has to be perfect. But let’s also admit that forgetting one of your kids at home, as you flit off on a family vacation, is more likely a case file from Child Services than a lighthearted family comedy. The fact that Kevin proves particularly adept at warding off vicious criminals doesn’t excuse the fact that nine times out of ten, that kid is going to end up dead as a doornail.


6. Mrs. Eleanor Shaw Iselin, The Manchurian Candidate

Manchurian Candidate
United Artists

There have been some cold-hearted moms in the history of pop culture, but few can top this Communist ice queen, determined to turn her son into a presidential assassin. Angela Lansbury, most famous for playing a loveable sleuth and a teapot, would earn an Oscar nomination for her turn in this classic thriller. Mamma Iselin proves that if you only have a kid to brainwash him in a desperate attempt to overthrow a government and further your own nefarious plans, you probably aren’t going to get a great gift come Mother’s Day.


5. Mac’s mom, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

Macs Mom
FX

No one on It’s Always Sunny received particularly good parenting, but in a murderers’ row of awful families, Mac’s might just take the cake. For one, his father is an actual murderer. But it’s his emotionally removed mother, who’s more interested in smoking a cigarette and watching some TV than dealing with her needy son, that really defines him. Desperate for love, he showers her with affection, only to receive the occasional gruff grunt in response. No wonder Mac is so delusional when it comes to his religion or his sexuality — his role model for unconditional love is a bump on the couch he calls “Mom.”


4. Livia Soprano, The Sopranos

Livia Soprano
HBO

Another matriarch whose cold, calculating ways and emotionally withholding mothering drove her son to his highest highs and lowest lows, Livia Soprano was one mean S.O.B. She tried to have her own son killed, for heaven’s sake. If that isn’t an example of some seriously unorthodox parenting, what is? Livia was miserable, and made it her life’s mission to make sure everyone else in her family was too. She even drove her son, an emotionally removed mobster, to give therapy a try, which we have a hard time picturing Al Capone subjecting himself too.


3. Joan Crawford, Mommie Dearest

With the bright lights and glamour, who wouldn’t want to have a movie star mom? We’re guessing little Christina, who faced a lifetime of torment after being adopted by fading movie queen Joan Crawford. Whether it was making Christina give away her birthday gifts to charity after opening them, or beating her with a wire hanger after she made the unforgivable mistake of hanging her dress on it, Crawford approached mothering as an out of control publicity stunt.


2. Cartman’s mom, South Park

South Park
Comedy Central

At first blush, Cartman’s mom seems like a dream compared to most of the malicious mothers on this list. She’s as sweet as sugar, and loves her boy to death. But beneath the rosy surface, there are a few secrets that may help explain her foul mouthed boy. There’s the fact that she’s as racist and homophobic as they come. Or that she’s a “crack whore” who does German porn. Frankly, she’ll have sex with just about anyone from the town’s mayor to a cyborg Bill Cosby from the future. Oh, she also may be a hermaphrodite who might have impregnated herself to bring Cartman into the world. All in all, outside of her insane commitment to baking cookies, there’s a lot going on behind closed doors here that may have turned young Cartman into the raging mini monster he is.


1. Margaret White, Carrie

Carrie
United Artists

A religious warrior, Margaret was convinced the Devil was all around her. Why else would her husband leave her for another woman? Surely not because she only had sex with him twice, and wanted to kill herself afterwards. This woman had issues, not the least of which was her insistence that her teenage daughter was a witch, and needed to die. As prom night downers go, that has to rank right at the top. The fact that Piper Laurie, who memorably played Margaret, thought she was making a comedy for much of the shoot, only makes this messed up performance all the more terrifying.

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Fred Armisen drums

Drum Off

Fred Armisen Joins Will Ferrell For an Epic Drum Battle in This Week’s Funniest Videos

This week we're laughing at Fred on drums and Star Wars emojis.

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Photo Credit: Funny or Die

Friday is here at last, and you know what that means — time to laugh off the work week. From a epic celebrity drum battle to a Silicon Valley geek facing off against Captain Picard himself, here are five funny things from this week you need to watch.

1. Fred Armisen Joins the Will Ferrell and Chad Smith Drum-Off Rematch

A while back Will Ferrell faced off against his lookalike, drummer Chad Smith from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, in an epic drum battle on Fallon to prove who was the superior skin smasher. Well, the duo had a rematch at a live charity event, this time bringing in some famous drummers to help out. Joining them onstage is everyone from Motley Crue’s Tommy Lee to Fred Armisen, someone who knows his way around a drum kit. What’s next for Chad and Will? A remake of Twins, perhaps?


2. Maron gets the world’s worst roommate.

The two-episode season premiere of Maron — which you can watch right here on IFC.com and on the IFC app — found Marc landing in a rehab center where he rooms with a wannabe rapper named Trey who makes our favorite curmudgeon’s life even more miserable. Played in a perfect bit of casting by real life celebrity rapper Chet Hanks, Trey is already looking to be the breakout star of the new season. Check out a clip from the episode above, and be sure to catch new episodes of Maron Wednesdays at 9P on IFC.


3. Star Wars: The Force Awakens as Told by Emoji

Adobe After Effects gets a delightful workout in a Disney animated short that retells the story of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in the form of cute emoji. Officially released by the Mouse House, the imagery is saccharine sweet, but the textspeak interpretation is pretty clever — like the Force-controlled battle between Rey and Ren over preference setting toggles.


4. Puberty Tips with Aparna Nancherla and Jo Firestone

Those of us who made it out of our preteen years intact can tell you that puberty is a nightmare. Between hormone surpluses and crippling self-doubt, it’s hard to pinpoint any laughable detail about the matter. Fortunately, comedians Aparna Nancherla and Jo Firestone tackle the subject head on in this educational short intended on guiding young adults into maturity. And as with most educational shorts, there’s a lot of misinformation. (For more Jo Firestone comedy, check out the Sound Graffiti sketch from the Comedy Crib series Video Frogs.)


5. Thomas Middleditch and Patrick Stewart play Star Trek “FMK”

In the grand tradition of Star Trek’s reinterpretation of chess, baseball, and Klingon mating habits, Silicon Valley’s Thomas Middleditch and Captain Jean-Luc Picard himself Patrick Stewart play a round of F***, Marry, Kill in the style of the galaxy-hopping franchise. And as it will surely be decided by the rabid fan base, we’ll soon learn whether this qualifies as Trek canon.

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Let-go-and-let-pod-v2

GIF Giving

The Funniest Gifs From the Maron Season Premiere

Watch the Maron season premiere now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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Last night, Marc Maron returned in all his haggard glory in the darkly hilarious season premiere of Maron. In case you’re not caught up, Marc has fallen into a downward spiral of drugs and addiction, having lost his house, his podcast, his cats, and the ability to say he doesn’t live in a storage unit. And only someone like Marc can make the situation laugh-out-loud funny.

Here are the 5 funniest GIFs from last night’s Maron premiere, which you can watch right now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

1. Dave Anthony, Professional Truth Teller.

Maron Not Okay


2. Storage locker etiquette is important.

Maron Storage Locker


3. We’re sure Chris Hardwick would love to have Marc back on Talking Dead.

Maron Dumb Show


4. We can’t unsee Dave in that apron.

Maron Shit Bucket


5. The first step is listening. Marc has a lot of steps to go.

Maron Shut Up

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