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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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.