Wine From Outer Space

Wine From Outer Space is intoxicating, unearthly and surprising. It's also where I write about whatever I choose, and that's nice.

10 May 2009

Zombie Apocalypse

The scary dreams I have are usually not "traditionally" scary--that is, monsters rarely if ever make an appearance, and great calamities are few and far between. I suppose my most typical nightmare is of the classic “unprepared for university exams" variety.

I will dream I have just realized--on the day of the final exam--that I signed up for a foreign language course and have somehow forgotten all about it until that point. I never attended class, completed an assignment or opened--much less bought--the class text.

Early in the history of this recurring dream, the type of class varied. Over time, my brain eventually settled upon a foreign language, as this would present absolutely no room for bluffing. With a social science or some other liberal arts pursuit, constructing a rambling essay sprinkled with bullshit that ultimately evades the point of the question could likely be achieved with little to no studying and meet with some measure of success. This is, frankly, what liberal arts are all about.

Last night, though, I dreamed of the zombie apocalypse. Throngs of undead converged upon some large farmhouse out in the middle of nowhere, and although I was with a group of people (all of whom but a few were actual, real-life friends), there were far too many doors and windows to construct suitable defenses before the zombie horde was upon us.

Several doors and windows were without locks, and required us to move around many large and heavy pieces of furniture to block these entrances. Most of the doors that did have locks were of the hook-and-eye screw type that would prove terribly ineffective against the hundreds of shambling ghouls due to arrive.

The saving grace about this whole affair is that we were armed. We all had guns, and in some cases a few of us had several firearms. I was equipped with a .22 automatic rifle and, for some reason, a .50 Desert Eagle pistol. Overkill for a zombie I know, and certainly not worth the typical Freudian dream analyses.

As seems de rigueur with such impending doom scenarios, whether in dreams or movies, we lacked all the necessary components to make a proper go of things: we had a sizable group of people in a relatively secure and defensible position and we were armed. Now we just had to collect all of the ammunition, which had somehow been lost.

Clearly, all of these elements in the dream speak to a fear of a general lack of preparedness. The theme is even more obvious in my recurring college exam crash-and-burn. Unlike the failed exam dream, though, we overcame our zombie aggressors and won the day. We happened upon a wheelbarrow full of antique scimitars, just the sort of thing you'd expect to find in the basement of a farmhouse.

It seems my brain--even, if not especially, in sleep--has been so influenced by Hollywood plot schemes and story arcs that it will take away the obvious advantages (guns, but no ammo) to overcome the immediate situation in order to build tension and suspense. But I knew, even at that moment in my dream, that it must be this way: no zombie movie exists in which the human survivors eradicate the menace at long range, without even one flapping zombie arm breaking through a window, without one reanimated corpse drunkenly navigating itself around the living room couch.

The swords (a full wheelbarrow's worth!) afforded our group a path to victory, albeit an up-close and personal one. It is never the case that zombies are dispatched from afar. Their slow and menacing grappling and groping--their vile ichors--must be endured, toe-to-toe, if the heroes are to win.

Even as a child I never found the thought of zombies to be frightening. The terrors of my youth consisted of the wolf man, Jaws, and the Incredible Hulk. Later, thanks to the movie Poltergeist, clowns joined that list. But reflecting on it now, the zombie apocalypse is scary for two reasons.

First, and most clearly, it is unnatural. Life is life and death is death, there is no in-between or back-and-forth. There may have been just such a transient nature at one time, and we turned the subject of that story into a deity. We only need one, so any that follow in that tradition are hateful abominations that must be faced with guns, fire and swords.

Second, there is no seeming purpose to their attack. What do they want? Most zombie movies have imposed zombie dietary requirements as the motivating factor in their newly returned ability to stumble about and groan. Zombies must eat living human flesh. They must eat brains, and why not? The audience wouldn't be placed in the proper mindset If hundreds of moldering wretches rose from their graves to consume hot dogs, or book travel aboard Carnival Cruise Lines. The audience would laugh. Brain eating, however, is serious business.

George Romero's Night of the Living Dead is a classic film because, in the minds of some critics, the zombie apocalypse is (depending upon the critic) really a metaphor for racism, Viet Nam, or the Cold War. At the time of its release, other critics decried its extreme gore (shot in black and white, the "blood" was in fact chocolate syrup, and the "flesh" upon which the zombies feasted was ham).

Nowadays, this sort of thing could be considered children's programming.