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]
Portlandia Season 5

Is It January Yet???

Portlandia Returns With Danzig, Louis C.K. and More on January 21

Portlandia returns January 21st, 2016 at 10P ET/PT.

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Circle the day on your calendar and mark your sundial, because Portlandia is returning to IFC for its sixth season on Thursday, January 21st at 10P ET/PT for ten all-new episodes.

Portlandia gif

In season six, Fred and Carrie embark on all new Portland-based adventures, including inadvertently creating a ramen noodle monster that wreaks havoc on the city.

Other things to look forward to this season: Doug and Claire break up, only to wind up frustrated by a way-younger party girl and an overly caring feminist, respectively. Dave and Kath decide to run a marathon that takes place the following day. Fred turns grey overnight and, in seeking answers from the universe, gets sucked into a black hole. Kyle MacLachlan, reprising his role as the Mayor, tries to lure a tech company to Portland and also puts the moves on Carrie with a canister of frozen sperm from his office refrigerator.

Guest stars coming to Portlandia this season include Jillian Bell (Workaholics), Louis C.K. (Louie), musician Wayne Coyne and The Flaming Lips, rocker Glenn Danzig, Gregory Gourdet (Top Chef), Mitchell Hurwitz (Arrested Development), Moshe Kasher (Another Period), Zoe Kravitz (Dope, Mad Max), John Levenstein (Kroll Show), NPR’s Kai Ryssdal, Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development), Robert Smigel (Saturday Night Live), and Bitsie Tulloch (rimm).

Returning guest stars include Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire), Natasha Lyonne (Orange Is the New Black), and Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley). Be sure to catch Seasons 1-5 of Portlandia on iTunes and Netflix and check back here for more announcements before the season six premiere on January 21st.


Read Carrie's Book

Carrie Brownstein’s Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl Is Out Now

Carrie's moving memoir is out now.

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Portlandia star Carrie Brownstein’s memoir, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, is out now at fine local book shops and at online retailers like iBooks, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon.

The book, a “deeply personal and revealing narrative of Brownstein’s life in music,” is getting rave reviews. The Washington Post writes that, “It’s impossible not to like Brownstein” in their review of her “engaging and witty” memoir. The AV Club called the book “engrossing,” adding that “for fans of Sleater-Kinney, it’s immensely compelling, particularly because Brownstein writes crisply, insightfully, and without vanity.” She even dedicated the book to her Sleater-Kinney bandmates (and Portlandiaregulars) Janet Weiss and Corin Tucker.

Pick up a copy of Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl in stores today, and be sure to catch Carrie on her nationwide book tour at one of the dates below where she will be joined by specials guests like Questlove, Amy Poehler and more.


WORD Bookstore at Saint Vitus Bar

In conversation with Questlove


Barnes & Noble Union Square

In conversation with Gaby Hoffman


Philadelphia Free Library at The Merriam Theater

In conversation with Aidy Bryant


Pitchfork at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

In conversation with Jessica Hopper


BookPeople at Central Presbyterian Church

In conversation with Liz Lambert


Vroman’s Bookstore at Pasadena Presbyterian

In conversation with Amy Poehler


Jewish Community Center of San Francisco

In conversation with Dave Eggers


Powell’s Books at The Newmark Theatre

In conversation with a Special Guest TBA


Elliott Bay Book Company at The Neptune Theater

In conversation with Maria Semple


Drawn & Quarterly at The Rialto Theatre

In conversation with Jessica Hopper


Toronto Public Library’s Appel Salon

In conversation with Johanna Schneller


Sounds Like Fun

The 15 Funniest Fictional Bands Ever

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Just because a band is fictional doesn’t mean it can’t be as popular as its real world counterparts. (Admit it, you still have that Zack Attack album buried in your closet somewhere.) Whether spoofing a famous act, or creating their own inept sound, these fake bands often wear their love of the music world on their sleeves. Documentary Now!‘s chronicling of the soft rock giants Blue Jean Committee is just the latest example.

It’s no surprise that the folks behind the show (Fred Armisen in particular) have a long track record of finding the funny in the music industry. (It takes musical talent, along with some serious comedy chops, to pull off the smooth lyrics of “Catalina Breeze.”) So, while Blue Jean Committee, or A Mighty Wind’s The Folksmen, could easily have been on this list, it’s not a shock that the folks behind them are. If you love music and comedy in equal measure, you’re going back to that well more than once. Here are some of the funniest fake bands to ever turn it up to eleven.

15. Citizen Dick, Singles

Citizen Dick, the band from Cameron Crowe’s alt rom-com Singles, was both a spoof of, and a turning point for, the Seattle grunge scene of the early ’90s. While many of the bands from that scene were cult hits, the Singles soundtrack helped turn them into superstars. It’s no surprise that the made-up band, fronted by Matt Dillion’s Cliff Poncier, could hold its own with so many grunge standouts, considering 3/4ths of its members were in a little group called Pearl Jam. Heck, Dillion even wore Pearl Jam’s bassist Jeff Ament’s clothes for most of the shoot. Now that’s commitment.

14. Titannica, Mr. Show with Bob and David

With hits like “Try Suicide” and “Try Again,” no one rocked harder than Titannica, the heavy metal band made famous in one of the downright weirdest sketches from the cult hit Mr. Show. But no matter how messed up their music was, the boys of Titannica knew it couldn’t hold a candle to the creep show that was their biggest fan, a chipper kid with the body of a wet cigar. This sketch is a surreal lesson in the power of music.

13. Sonic Death Monkey/Kathleen Turner Overdrive/Barry Jive and the Uptown Five, High Fidelity

You can watch Jack Black become a star in the final minutes of the 2000 cult hit High Fidelity, as his character Barry takes the stage to front his frequently renamed band. While Barry may not be able to decide on a sound for his band, Jack Black knows how to deliver when given the chance. A fun movie about and for music lovers, this scene is the cherry on top. It doesn’t matter what type of music you’re playing, as long as you leave it all on the stage.

12. Dethklok, Metalocalypse

When Metalocalypse co-creator Brendon Small was working on his previous Adult Swim hit, Home Movies, few would’ve guessed that he’d be responsible for one of the most face-meltingly metal bands to ever grace the small screen. And Small didn’t just dream up Dethklok he writes and performs every one of their songs with co-creator Tommy Blacha. While Dethklok has surpassed mere superstardom on their show, becoming the seventh largest economy in the world, their popularity in the real world isn’t far behind. Small and Blacha have fronted more than one tour as the band, and recently played the comedy/music festival Festival Supreme, created by none other than Barry Jive himself, Jack Black.

11. David Brent and Foregone Conclusion, BBC’s The Office

In The Office Christmas Special, which served as the final episodes of the beloved BBC series, co-creator Ricky Gervais revealed his character David Brent had finally chased his dreams of stardom too far, by recording a cover version of the hit “If You Don’t Know Me By Now.” But while the show was wrapping up, this sojourn into music was just the beginning for the former general manager of the Slough branch of Wernham Hogg. Gervais has kept up with his most famous character, recording a song for Comic Relief and creating a series of YouTube guitar tutorials. This all culminated in a tour with the made up band Foregone Conclusion. Rumor has it, he’s even been prepping a movie to cover Brent’s presumably delusional journey through the English music scene. While knowing when to say goodbye is a gift, it’s not something David Brent would be capable of, so why should we expect any different from his creator?

10. Dr. Fünke’s 100% Natural Good-Time Family Band Solution, Arrested Development

Playing in Dr. Fünke’s 100% Natural Good-Time Family-Band Solution was a great excuse for some family bonding time, while promoting a worthwhile product to boot. At least that’s what David Cross’ Tobais Fünke thought on the first season of Arrested Development, forcing his family to play in the pharmaceutical funded family band. More a promotional vehicle than a hit maker, any chance to see the dysfunctional Fünke family interact is worth inclusion on this list. The music may not be worthwhile, but the fury behind Maeby’s eyes is.

9. The Rutles, All You Need Is Cash

The Beatles were no stranger to parody, as you’ll see later in this list. But what separated The Rutles from the legion of spoof bands that plagued the world as the ’60s turned to the ’70s was the guidance of Monty Python Hall of Famer Eric Idle, and a will to not just send up, but really satirize the boys from Liverpool. The band first premiered in 1975 on Rutland Weekend Television, a sketch show fronted by Idle, and immediately took on a cult following. George Harrison was such a fan, he ended up appearing in The Rutles‘ feature film All You Need Is Cash.

8. Ian Rubbish and the Bizzaros, Saturday Night Live

Long before Fred Armisen made his name on Saturday Night Live, he was a drummer for underground punk bands. The Clash in particular was an inspiration, and even with a right turn into comedy Armisen’s love of punk never diminished. That’s evident in this SNL sketch about a very Sid Vicious-like rock star who hates everything…except for Margaret Thatcher. Initially just a one time performance, the bit struck such a chord that Armisen reunited The Bizzaros for his last sketch as an SNL cast member. Still not done with his alter ego, he’s since taken the band into the real world, playing gigs as the foul mouthed punk rocker with a love for the Iron Lady.

7. Wyld Stallyns, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

If your band is responsible for world peace, you probably deserve a spot on this list. While Bill and Ted start off as musically inept, one visit to the utopian future brought about by their sweet jams reveals them to be more than a mere rock band. They’re modern day messiahs, which is most excellent.

6. Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, The Muppet Show

For many of us, Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem was the first exposure we ever had to a rock band, real or otherwise. For the better part of four decades the Electric Mayhem has kept at it, managing to cover everything from classical to “Crocodile Rock” with a drummer so wild he has to literally be chained to the set. Even Keith Moon wasn’t kept in shackles.

5. Faith +1, South Park

It’s tough to pick between the two most famous bands to ever be fronted by foul mouthed fourth grader Eric Cartman. While the boyband Fingerbang is for sure a classic, Cartman’s Christian rock band Faith +1 combines his megalomania, cynicism and racism into a beautiful collage of sacrilegious majesty. And considering South Park is far from done, who knows what other bands creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have up their sleeves.

4. PoP!, Music & Lyrics

Hugh Grant is perfectly cast as one half of a Wham!-esque group in this charming rom-com. And he learned from the best — Martin Fry from the new wave group ABC served as Hugh’s vocal coach.

3. Sexual Chocolate, Coming to America

Both “good and terrible,” Randy Watson may not have been the legend he believed himself to be, but to fans of Coming to America, he and his perfectly named backup band were responsible for one of the funniest scenes in this classic comedy. Eddie Murphy was at his peak here, donning the puffy faced prosthetics necessary to truly inhabit the pitchy son of Jackson Heights. And having Morris Day of The Time fame on guitar didn’t hurt either.

2. The Blues Brothers, Saturday Night Live, The Blues Brothers

As the ’70s gave way to the ’80s, The Blues Brothers, along with their creators John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, were forces of nature. The two comedians and friends first premiered their creation on Saturday Night Live, promptly launching a sensation. At one point, Belushi found himself the star of the week’s number one film (Animal House), number one television show (Saturday Night Live), and singing on the number one album (Briefcase Full Of Blues). Belushi and Aykroyd would soon add a hit Blue Brothers movie to that hot streak. Combining their perfect chemistry with a whole lot of soul, Jake and Elwood transcended comedy, and helped relaunch the popularity of the blues genre itself.

1. Spinal Tap, This Is Spinal Tap

If the last two entries show you anything, it’s that the ’80s were the high water mark of fake bands in popular culture. And yet, with all the classics that came out in that decade, there was never any doubt who would sit at the top of this list. Spinal Tap isn’t just a movie. They aren’t just a band. They’re the id of rock music, manifested into reality by the all-star team of Rob Reiner, Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer. In the ridiculous world of rock and roll, which already operates in a perpetual cycle of self parody, finding the balance of comedy and reality is no easy task. By using the form of a documentary, director Rob Reiner allowed his brilliant cast to improvise their way through the movie, creating the gold standard of fictional bands in the process. The film also introduced the “mockumentary” form to a mainstream audiences, which has gone on to become one of the most popular styles of comedy over the last three decades.


Sweatpants 4 Ever

5 Great Moments in Sweatpants History

Spend Thanksgiving in sweatpants with IFC's Sweatsgiving Weekend.

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Photo Credit: United Artists/courtesy Everett Collection

Ah, sweatpants. They give us so much and ask for so little. Before you pull out your sweats for IFC’s Sweatsgiving weekend, take a moment to remember some iconic moments in sweatpants history.

5. Regina George wears sweatpants in public, Mean Girls

Regina George Mean Girls

Head “mean girl” Regina George discovers the wonderfully elastic qualities of sweatpants after gaining weight from the Kalteen bars Cady gave her.

4. Meg Ryan watches TV in sweatpants, Sleepless in Seattle

Everett Collection

Everett Collection

In the ultimate meta movie moment, Meg Ryan watches TV on the couch in sweatpants while scarfing on popcorn. This process would be repeated a million times over in the real world with every Meg Ryan movie ever made.

3. Johnny Depp hangs out in sweats, A Nightmare on Elm Street

Johnny Depp A Nightmare on Elm Street

Johnny Depp burst onto the movie scene in the original Nightmare on Elm Street, forever immortalizing the sweatpants and a half-shirt look. And then he was never heard from again. Whatever happened to that guy? Be sure to catch his one and only film when A Nightmare on Elm Street airs Friday, November 27th during IFC’s Sweatsgiving weekend.

2. Rocky jogs through Philly, Rocky franchise

Rocky Balboa

Robert “Rocky” Balboa brought sweatpants into movie history thanks to his triumphant training montage in Rocky. The sweatpants returned in Rocky II and Rocky Balboa, hopefully thoroughly washed.

1. That time you hung out in sweatpants and watched awesome shows and movies, IFC’s Sweatsgiving Weekend

What better way to spend Thanksgiving weekend than in your sweatpants while watching your favorite IFC shows and hit movies? All weekend long starting Thanksgiving day, IFC is airing marathons of That ’70s Show and Todd Margaret. Plus, you can scare off the calories with Nightmare on Elm Street, The Exorcist and Resident Evil movie marathons. And since you’re spending the weekend on the couch, be sure to tweet or Instagram a selfie while watching IFC with the hashtag #IFCSweatsgiving and you’ll be entered to win a sweet pair of IFC pants. Because if history has taught us anything, it’s that you can never have too many pairs of comfy pants.

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