Monday, 12 August 2013

When is a zombie not a zombie? - blog

When is a zombie not a zombie? When he's a mummy.

Last night I found myself watching The Mummy with my daughter when she asked me if I was going to review it. After all, she said to me, Mummies are just Egyptian zombies.

I'm not going to lie that it had flashed through my mind, and maybe she was right but wouldn't that be just opening up a can of worms and adding a substantial additional catalogue to my endeavour. After all I'd recently reviewed Bloodstörm (Nazis at the Center of the Earth) which definitely wasn't a zombie film despite trying to appear like one, and at least in The Mummy the undead were actually dead.

Coming into this I'll admit I had quite a clear definition of what I thought a zombie was. Forged from Romero, Boyle and The Walking Dead, it was clear to me that a zombie was a shuffling, brainless reanimated corpse with an insatiable hunger for living flesh. Ok, there's a bit of licence to deviate here and there, but I was fully onboard the zeitgeist.

Here we are, seventy odd films in and things have got a bit murkier and more complicated. What about revenants, draugr, the sentient dead found in films like DeadHeads, Dead of Night (Deathdream) and The Last Man on Earth. Then there's the whole not dying thing in 28 Days Later, the inherent ambiguity of REC, Dead & Buried and Pontypool. With my head starting to turn to look at things like Frankenstein, The Mummy and even The Crow and Pirates of the Caribbean I thought it time to look at the whole thing a bit more closely.

I'm going to attempt to put down my thoughts to create some kind of framework as to what I consider and don't consider a zombie and/or zombie film that will dictate, hopefully, what I review going forward.

Zombies are dead and reanimated. They're not dead and brought back to life a la Frankenstein's monster. Self awareness and sentience in death, as in Deadheads is very different from resurrection and returning to life, with a heartbeat and pulse. As for the early voodoo non-dead hypnotised-slaves zombie films? I've come to learn that Caribbean voodoo zombies were the zeitgeist before Romero and heritage dictates their validity and inclusion.

Zombies have an insatiable hunger for living flesh. Not blood as that would make them vampires or that strange hybrid the revenant. The Return of the Living Dead replaced flesh with the inimitable brains and that's ok, it's still consumption of the living. There are exceptions. You'll generally find living flesh replaced with something more pallatable in childrens films and I know, I have reviewed more adult focused films that skate around eating anything at all, like Dead & Buried or City of the Living Dead, and there was no eating flesh from the early voodoo zombies, and I'll explain...

Infected and not dead films dressed up to appear like zombie films will be reviewed, a la 28 Days Later. I'll call them out as not dead and not zombies though. If popular culture thinks something is a zombie film it's worth further study. Further, from time to time I'll watch something clearly thinking it's going to be a zombie film then discover it's clearly not, and I reserve the right to put down my thoughts (Bloodstörm).

Mummies are not zombies. This one is a bit of a tougher issue. Zombies are brainless reanimated automatons, Mummy's are uber intelligent malevolent magical beings reanimated or brought back to life, by a spell which is often from a book of the dead. Ok, this isn't always the case but there's more. The mummification process removes not only the mummy's organs but its brains too and this coupled with the magic necessary to bring it back to life dictates a whole different method of dispatch from the traditional zombie brain smash. One last thought. Mummies are a clear undead class and trope of their own; they're clearly defined and culture identifies them as distinct from zombies, and they don't really fulfil my first two rules. There's still the argument the reanimated mummy's foot soldiers in the films are zombies, but again, I see them more as magical reanimated puppets like the skeletons in the 1968 adventure fill, Jason and the Argonauts. Yes skeletons aren't zombies.

Demonic possessed dead, as in Evil Dead, REC are a grey area especially with what I've put down on Mummies. In truth I don't really think they are zombies but they do possess many zombie elements and especially, as in REC they are dressed up to appear a bit Z with a definite desire to appear/appeal to the zombie fan. There's also a big difference between these and other clear cut possession films like The Exorcist and as with all things zombie, where there's ambiguity I will always aim to review.

There you have it. It's by its nature not an exact science and sometimes it will simply come down to instinct and interpretation but here are my basic ground rules, for now.


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