Sunday, 30 October 2011

The Horror, The Horror

I’ve never really been a huge fan of Horror. I saw one of the Child’s Play movies when I was obviously too young, and I can’t really remember much of it, except Dad stopping it halfway through and taking it back to the video rental shop. I think I’d convinced him that it was a cartoon, based on the picture of Chucky on the box, and in his mind cartoons were inherently childish. An animatronic doll possessed by the soul of a dead serial-killer probably wasn’t what he was expecting for his Sunday evening family viewing. Narnia it was not.

While these days I’m certainly not adverse to a bit of terror or gore, it’s not the first thing I’ll seek out in Blockbuster or Softopia. What does pique my interest is how this cheapest and most exploitative of genres consistently taps into and reflects the prevailing zeitgeist. I guess that very cheapness makes it more reactive, more able to take risks with what is new and possible, as opposed to what is old and probable.

It’s not just movies, of course. Frankenstein is the Ur-Body Horror text and it’s themes of dislocation and arrogance stretch back to Icarus and Prometheus (obviously) and forward to The Fly, even The Human Centipede. Experimental as the Romantics were though, I suspect even Byron would have baulked at the thought of non-consensual coprophagia. Typhoid is just so much more dashing.

Dracula is obviously the other keystone of the Horror world. The horror of the other, the unknown. I read it for the first time as a 16-year-old on a summer holiday in Spain, and even in all that light and heat still couldn’t escape the claustrophobia. I’ve always been particularly impressed by I Am Legend (the book at least) in the way it manages to combine these two works, especially with its ‘Who is the real monster?’ denouement.

Zombies, though, zombies are what we’re going to talk about here. The original George Romero films were, eventually, recognized as pretty biting (if not especially subtle, much like that pun) satires on the mindless onward trudge of capitalism. I can’t help feeling that the recent resurgence of zombie horror is directly related to the current global economic clusterfuck we’re all experiencing. Sean of the Dead obviously predates this by a few years, but we can retcon that as a prescient foreshadowing of things to come. Likewise 28 Days Later. More recently TheWalking Dead, Dead Set, and other things with Dead in the title have used zombies as metaphors for the early 21st century capitalist worldview.

Interestingly, there was a bit of a (perfectly civilized, well mannered) bitch-fight a while back between Simon ‘Sean’ Pegg and Charlie ‘Set’ Brooker about whether zombies could run or not. And I have to confess I’m firmly sided with Team Pegg on this one. Zombies shuffle, stumble, and shamble. That’s the whole point.

The terror of zombies stems not from the crash-zoom shock of the masked killer in the bathroom mirror, but its exact opposite. Zombies are not individual, but faceless, anonymous, utterly interchangeable and replaceable. It’s not their sudden appearance which horrifies, but their constant, monotonous ever-presence. The slow, grinding certainty that every unthinking step they take is a step closer to your death. They do not strike, they overwhelm and smother like the constant suffocating tide of consumer culture they represent. Always there, always moving towards you and your mortal dissolution; not marching with purpose but ambling, incoherent yet implacable and always increasing, ever multiplying. It doesn’t matter how much you buy or how many you kill, there will always be another and another and more and more continually, constantly, relentlessly demanding you act, you buy, you run until there is only you facing the tidal masses of the unyielding undead your ammunition spent and facing your final inevitable demise not screaming but groaning crying sobbing with the barrel in your mouth imploring the non-existent god who would unleash this plague and scour the earth of all that is good and beautiful until nothing is left but your lone voice weeping in the maw of silence and an eternity of dust and ash and immutable invariant inhuman grey.

Much like AKB48, really.

1 comment:

  1. Nice work with the closing sentence :)

    I did watch a good BBC drama about zombies. I can't remember the name but it was post zombie plague when a cure had been discovered and zombies were being reintegrated into society. Again, not a subtle analogy but really well made.