World War Z Triumvirate of Zombies, Plague, and Resurrection

zombies II

Finance Post reports that World War Z, starring Brad Pitt, is projected to make $50 million this weekend.  The public seems to love the triumvirate of zombies, plague and resurrection.

World War Z is based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Max Brooks.  It is directed by Marc Forster. In Z, Brad Pitt stars as Gerry Lane, an ex-United Nations employee trying to stop a worldwide zombie apocalypse.  He learns that a contagious (naturally) virus turns people into the undead.  Lane agrees to join his former colleagues in searching for the cause of the plague and save humanity

We love zombies.  Over 600 films have featured zombies, going back to Outrange in 1936 and the Zombies of Mora Tau in 1957.  There are a lot of interesting cinematic variants of the zombie mythology, with film titles such as Zombies on Broadway (1954), I Eat Your Skin (1964), Kung Fu Zombie (1981), ), The Aliens and King Kong Zombies (1986), Redneck Zombies (1987), Nudist Colony of the Dead (1991), Zombies vs. Strippers (2012), and just plain Zombies!  Zombies!  Zombies! (2007)

There is also the socially conscious Urban Decay (2007), as well as Fast Zombies with Guns (2008), a movie that addresses the nagging question of why zombies are such a threat when they move so slowly and don’t have firearms to compensate for their shuffling gait.

A viral plague seems to be the favored means of making people into zombies.  In 28 Hours Later (20022), starring Cillian Murphy, the accidental release of a highly contagious virus causes the transformation.  In the five (so far) installments of Resident Evil, (2002 and counting) which stars Mia Jovovich, a T-virus is unleashed from an underground facility owned by the Umbrella Corporation, rendering people into lumbering killers.  The plague does provide beneficial results for her, in that as a result of it she is genetically reengineered into a super powered heroine.

Zombiism has always had an association with plague.  Fourteenth century bubonic plague suggests what a zombie plague would look like, since it spread from Asia to Europe and killed about fifty percent of Europe’s population.    Plague devastates the society, just as a zombie apocalypse does.   The Spanish flu of 1918 killed more than fifty million people.  Zombie wars may have originated from the escape of all evil out of Pandora’s Box.  Plague has not disappeared from the earth, as the outbreak of anthrax in recent years attests (see “Zombies:  a Living History” on the History Channel).

The contagious nature of plague has developed into the notion that zombies have a biological imperative to spread the virus by biting the uncontaminated

Since humans are usually the cause of zombiism, they are the ones that should suffer from the disease.  But animals, at least dogs, aren’t spared.

The most famous zombie in history is, of course, Frankenstein.

Variants on the theme of viral zombie-making epidemic can be seen in a novel and its several adaptions.   A viral pandemic turned people into vampires in I Am Legend, the 1954 novel by Richard Matheson. The novel spawned three cinematic versions:  Last Man on Earth (1964), starring Vincent Price; Omega Man, starring Charlton Heston (1971); and I Am Legend (2007) with Will Smith.  In Legend, the plague is a genetically-engineered version of the measles that refashions its victims into mutants.  The vampires in Last Man are a zombie-vampire combo.  Biological war causes zombiism in Omega Man.  Admittedly there is a clear distinction between vampires and zombies, but both fall into the undead category.  The plot points of these movies demonstrate the basic pattern for most zombie apocalypses.

In all three movies, the heroes are scientists, wandering around looking for survivors, sending out distress signals, and also working on a cure.  They are all immune from the plague.  Dr. Morgan was bitten by a vampire bat.  Dr. Neville I injected himself with an experimental cure.  Dr. Neville II had good blood.

Interestingly, in Legend, the novel, Neville learns that the means of killing the undeceased lay in exposing them to sunlight or inflicting wounds on them, both of which result in a transformation of the intrinsic bacteria into aerobic parasites, consuming the hosts when exposed to the air.  The films do not focus much on the curative methods.   In Last Man the zombies are affected by tradition vampiric repellants, such as garlic.  Fire keeps the demons away in Omega.

Two of the heroes have canine companions that eventually turn and have to be killed.

In all three films the protagonists find survivors and come up with a cure, but end up dying.  Morgan is shot and killed by plague survivors Neville I is pierced by a spear hurled by a coven leader played by Anthony Zerbe,  Neville II detonates an M67 grenade, killing himself and mutants in pursuit.

28 Days had three endings, two of which involved Cillian Murphy’s death, though in the finished film he survives.

Film aficionados tend to believe that the love affair with zombies started with George Romero’s 1968 film Night of the Living Dead. But the monsters weren’t called zombiesThey got to be undead because of radioactive contamination.  Night may have popularized the zombiic fad of feasting on human flesh.  This practice is more graphically portrayed in the Resident Evil films, and also in the TV series The Walking Dead. (2010 –present).  In the series, a sheriff’s deputy,  Rick Grimes, is rendered unconscious in a shootout with criminals, and then wakes up into a post-apocalyptic, zombie-ridden world.

But the third part of the formula is resurrection.

 Zombiism has always been associated with resurrection.  Historically, in cultures such as Haitian Creole, a zombie is an animated corpse resurrected by mystical means, such as witchcraft (Wikipedia).  Zombie is derived from the word zonbi, which means “sprit of the dead.  Zombies were part of the voodoo religion, emerging from the melding of the West African vodun of the slaves with the Roman Catholicism of the masters in the 18th century.  While zombies roam freely in film, they are traditionally slaves to their creators. (“Origins of the Zombie Myth,” Frankenstein was a resurrection of human body parts into an amalgamated being.

We want to believe in resurrection even when the resurrected person is completely evil, such Michael Meyers in the Halloween movies and Jason Voorhees in the Friday the 13th series.  Zombiism is not a pleasant existence to enjoy after death, but we are addicted to the notion that death is not final.

So zombies, plague and resurrection will continue to be joined in books, films, video games, comics and paraphernalia.

By:  Tom Ukinski


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