#4: Grain of Salt Vol. 2 – The Zombification of the Horror Genre

I wrote a five-part series of articles called “Grain of Salt” a few years ago on a website called NerdRepository.com. It used to be a mixed bag of gaming and film news and opinion editorials, but since then it’s made film news its primary focus and the gaming editorials have been removed. I want them to remain published somewhere on the internet, so I’m going to repost them here as blog entries for your reading pleasure. Originally published on September 5, 2011, this is Grain of Salt Volume 2: The Zombification of the Horror Genre.

[Note: since this was first written, zombie obsession has significantly dwindled. Thus, this doesn’t apply so much today as when it was first published, but at the time it was very relevant. That said, my thoughts here still do apply to the horror genre in general, and my challenge to people who make horror stories to be original in their monster designs still stands.]

 

Working on something scary, but it just lacks that “wow” factor? Making a video game or movie and it’s just not grabbing your testers by the testes? Put a zombie in it! Works every time, the masses eat it up like the walking dead on brains! It takes no thought and little effort! Originality is a thing of the past! Put zombies in it today! Sold all over the world in various media near you.

Zombies are everywhere. They’ve been a part of lore and pop culture for a long time, but they’re spreading. Like some kind of damned virus, they’re spreading across the world, infecting everything they come near with their rotten stench, dropping their decrepit body parts everywhere as their peeling skin wafts all over like a fine layer of dead snow. And I don’t take kindly to rotting flesh all up in my shit.

Zombies have permeated pop culture in nearly every facet. Within the last few years, video games, TV, movies, books, and comics have begun to cram zombies in everywhere they can, video games being the worst offenders. I feel hard pressed to name off 10 high end, big budget productions of games released within the last handful of years that haven’t incorporated zombies in some fashion. Zombie seems to have become the new mark of cool. If you don’t have zombies in your series/franchise, you’re square! At least, that’s the vibe I’m getting from current media.

Recent, major video games/series guilty of zombification I can name off the top of my head:

  • Red Dead Redemption
  • Call of Duty
  • Left 4 Dead
  • Dead Island
  • Dead Rising
  • Dead Space
  • Stupid Zombies
  • Plants vs Zombies
  • Scott Pilgrim vs The World
  • Postal 2 (the expansion pack centers on zombies)
  • Uncharted (technicality of them being “cursed but alive” notwithstanding, as they’re essentially zombies with quick feet)
  • Bioshock (again, though technically not “zombies,” they look just like zombies and they’re hardly human anymore).

Recent, major movies guilty of the same:

  • Zombieland
  • 28 Days/Weeks Later
  • Resident Evil (not counting the games because they’ve been around since the 90’s)
  • Pirates of the Caribbean
  • Quarantine
  • Shaun of the Dead
  • Planet Terror
  • Slither

Even TV, books, and comics are getting in on the hot zombie action with Walking Dead, World War Z, and The Zombie Survival Guide. I’m sure readers can name off a bunch more than what is named here.

I can’t be the only one noticing and growing annoyed with this trend. I may have a bias because I’ve never personally found zombies even remotely interesting, but even some people I’ve talked to who like zombies are growing tired of their overuse, most notoriously in major video games. I’ve talked to tattoo artists who are sick of so many people asking for zombie tattoos recently. My girlfriend met a couple who were seriously considering naming their soon-to-be-born daughter “Zombi”. People are falling over themselves for the zombie craze, and I simply don’t get it.

I understand the argument that there’s little to no moral questionability in killing zombies off by the numbers in media while killing just about anything else could have “foul” cried over it, but what’s ethical and what’s fun aren’t the same thing in my book. You can have ethical fun without stepping on anyone’s sensitive toes of course (Nintendo, I’m looking at you), but zombies can only be done so many ways before it all starts to look the same. There’s not much variety when you limit your ideas to things that can be zombified. It’s just the same as it was alive, but rotting instead. You might as well be killing regular people with a different skin texture in zombie games, it’s often purely aesthetic. Some accolades can be handed out for doing interesting and unique things with zombies, like some of the ideas implemented in the Left 4 Dead series, but for the most part, a zombie is a zombie. It’s a thing that’s dead and still walking. I’d rather be killing new and intriguing enemy types, original creations straight from the art team’s drawing table, than reaching into the old recyclable bin for more zombies to slaughter.

I’d personally like to see media get more creative with its shotgun fodder. Silent Hill is a series that takes this idea of original, monstrous creations to the extreme and produces fantastic results. The creatures are genuinely disturbing and frightening, not just gross, which seems to be the only uncomfortable feeling zombies can instill in an audience. I believe horror in general is more effective and more grabbing when it’s psychological and doesn’t resort to cheap shock value. I therefore challenge the horror genre to crank up the creativity in its monster department and quit zombifying old ideas; they’re dead, they don’t need to live again. I’m also not saying zombie stuff can’t be done well. For example, I really enjoyed Zombieland, but I’d rather see more originality not just in horror’s writing, but in its visual design.

And please don’t replace zombies with vampires for another route of quick cash-in, like so many people riding Twilight‘s coattails. Let dead ideas rest in peace.

If you don’t agree, if you like zombies, if you love the trend or even contribute to it by feeding the zombie fad yourself, I remind you…take this with a grain of salt.

1 thought on “#4: Grain of Salt Vol. 2 – The Zombification of the Horror Genre

  1. Pingback: #7: Grain of Salt Vol. 5 – The Faltering Handheld | Opinionerded

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