[What follows is a transcript of a recording found in the remains of the SBS broadcast facility in the quarantined zone once known as Sydney, Australia.]
Saturday, October 31 2009
It is now too late. There is no way to stop the marauding hordes of rotting corpses that have risen from their earthly tombs to feast upon we, the living. Our fate is inevitable; our demise, grotesque.
In these final hours, our knowledge of the zombie uprising is all we can offer to the miserable survivors who crawl, screaming, into the new future of mankind. I hope they find this recording...
It was the arrogance of the human race that doomed us all. At first, we gave scant regard to the zombie phenomenon, dismissing such eerily prescient warning signs as White Zombie (1932), featuring Bela Lugosi as a Haitian plantation owner and voodoo priest who conjures the corpses of the native population to work his sugar cane field. Director Victor Halperin's film, which carried the tagline “The Dead Walk Among Us!”, is a work of both visionary foreboding and skilful technique, ushering in the sound era. He would return to warn us again of the zombie menace in the 1936 Cambodian-set thriller Revolt Of The Zombie, starring Dean Jagger and stock footage of Lugosi's eyes.
To the human race's credit, we imbued the zombie with a social conscience that same year, when George Terwilliger's Ouanga portrayed a native Haitian woman summoning the dead to enact revenge upon her white lover's new bride. It was a racially volatile plot, though largely dismissed as a B-picture in its day. But these early films failed to recognise the inherent threat of the zombie's inner urgings– we were still the masters, the zombie an easily-controlled tool of our own evil intentions.
By the 1940s, we were mocking the zombie. In 1946, RKO fashioned a comedy vehicle Alan Carney and Wally Brown called Zombies on Broadway; Lugosi returned in Wallace Fox's Bowery at Midnight (1942), as a ruthless gangster who keeps undead henchmen in his soup-kitchen cellar; and Jean Yarbrough's King Of The Zombies (1941) featured the first dancing zombie (good Lord...). One truly frightening film of the period stood out – I Walked With A Zombie(1943), directed by French great Jacques Tourneur, speaks of the emotional consequences of a zombie-infused voodoo love triangle. Chilling to this day is the scene in which Frances Dee is led through a jungle of tall grasses by a man under the voodoo spell of the undead.
For the next 20 years, filmmakers used a mixed bag of tricks to alert us to the impending zombie apocalypse. For every serious examination of the undead phenomenon (Barry Mahon's The Dead One, 1961, or John Gilling's The Plague of the Zombies, 1966), there would be some crass insult to the decomposing memory of the once-living (Stephen Aspotolof's Orgy of the Dead, 1965, Jerry Warren's Teenage Zombies, 1957, or Del Tenney's The Horror of Party Beach, 1964); Herk Hervy's Carnival of Souls (1962) takes the zombie experience into the afterlife with creepy effect. However, this period of disregard for the zombie blight is typified by director/star Ray Dennis Steckler's utterly disrespectful The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1964).
The zombie menace, as if it was not sufficiently threatening, melded with the alien invasion menace, resulting in films such as Terrence Fisher's The Earth Dies Screaming (1964), Phil Tucker's The Cape Canaveral Monsters (1960) and Fred C. Bannon's Zombies of the Stratosphere (1958), which featured a young Leonard Nimoy as a heroic martian. Otherwise known as ACZ's (Alien-Controlled Zombies), they were immortalised in two films of vastly different pedigree – Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and Ed Wood's Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959).
[A muffled scream and broken glass is heard on the recording. There is a period of silence. The voice resumes as a whisper]
By the mid 1960s, the zombie had had enough. No longer content to be led but to lead, and no longer happy to exist on the fringe of society but to rule over it, the birth of a new breed of zombie was imminent. A filmmaker named George Romero released a film named Night of the Living Dead (1968) and finally the public was aware of the threat the recently-entombed posed to society. En masse, the shuffling, moaning walking dead declared war on the living and announced what it was they were craving all this time - our flesh.
Romero's film was heralded as modern art - a statement of politicised satire, of a population turning on itself in a time of conflict and social upheaval. The zombie suddenly had a raison d'etre, an inhuman desire that drew them from the dirt and set them on a direct course to us. Romero's zombies were the ultimate consumer – unrelentingly marching with a blind determination towards what they crave the most: brains. We all laughed when Romero expanded upon this in his epic celebration of zombie domination, Dawn Of The Dead (1978), which was set in a shopping mall (geddit?). But Romero's films were giving the undead strength and purpose....
The zombie plague was soon intriguing international movie makers, who took it upon themselves to graphically depict what could happen when the zombie population inevitably outnumbers our own. Spanish director Amando de Ossorio resurrected the real-life order known as The Knights Templar in his 1971 film La Noche del terror ciego (Tombs of the Blind Dead) and would strive to expose the threat of the walking corpse in his Blind Dead series (El ataque de los muertos sin ojos /Return of the Blind Dead, 1973; El buque maldito/ The Ghost Galleon, 1974; La noche de las gaviotas/Night of the Seagulls, 1975).
[There is a pause. A deep breathing is heard, followed by a long pause. A profanity is yelled in the distance, though closer; there is silence.]
Oh God...I have to move... [The recording is stopped]
[The recording restarts]
Umm...Canadian Bob Clark found dark humour in his look at the world of zombiedom in Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things (1973, co-starring a young Australian actor named Paul Cronin) and its far more noteworthy sequel, Deathdream (1974). Continuing the cementing of the dangerous zombie-as-a-metaphor movement, Deathdream focussed on a Vietnam War veteran returning home – despite news having been delivered to his family that he had been killed in battle. Another Spaniard, Jorge Grau, relocated to England to make the horrific masterpiece Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (aka The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, 1974), in which zombies are borne out of an environmental mishap; and unkillable Nazi's terrorise Peter Cushing and Brooke Adams on a deserted island in Ken Widerhorn's cult classic Shock Waves (1977).
Riding on the back of 1978's Dawn of the Dead release, an Italian schlockmeister named Lucio Fulci directed Zombie (1979), announcing it as an unofficial sequel to Romero's hit. Such brazenness fuelled the zombie zeal for domination and the film – a hardcore, grindhouse-style bloodbath with none of the redeeming social relevance of Romero's work – was a worldwide smash. It heralded a boom period for European zombie films, especially in Fulci's Italy, where the man had become an instantly-recognisable celebrity. Fulci's own Quella villa accanto al cimitero (The House by the Cemetary, 1981) and Paura nella citta dei morta viventi (City of the Living Dead, 1980), Ubaldo Ragoni's The Last Man on Earth (1964, and remade as Will Smith's I Am Legend) and the Rupert Everett oddity Dellamorte Dellamore (Cemetary Man, 1994) are some of Italy's nastiest, finest zombie films
With the home entertainment scene booming in the early '80's and the thirst for horror titles insatiable, the zombie was the go-to bad guy for cheap, gory thrills. Angering the undead even further were such titles as Curse of the Cannibal Confederates (1982), Gore-met Zombie Chef from Hell (1986), I Was a Zombie for the F.B.I. (1984) and Zombie vs. Ninja (1987).
The 1980's surge in zombie-horror acceptance did have its benefits. Several noteworthy zombie-themed titles came from the period, including Stuart Gordon's adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's Re-Animator (1985); Romero's adaptation of the Stephen King omnibus, Creepshow (1982); Sam Raimi's calling-card film, Evil Dead (1981) and William Lustig's Maniac Cop (1988). There was even a big-budget, studio-backed return to the days of the traditional Haitian zombie – Wes Craven's The Serpent and The Rainbow (1987), starring Bill Pullman.
It was a time of transformative growth for the zombie cause and unparalleled acceptance of zombie folklore among the general population (and that has lead us to the dire vileness of our current existence). The zombie had become a manipulative form of art, the legend of the undead now at the mercy of a generation of filmmakers keen to press home the horror of the atomic age – in Max Kalmanowicz's The Children (1980), the hug of a nuclear-infected child zombie melts the recipient of the loving embrace; in James Martin's Flesh Eating Mothers (1988), a venereal disease breakout turns the unfaithful wives of a small town into...well, you get the picture.
How much did we embrace the zombies in our midst? Scream-queen Linnea Quigley, co-star of Dan O'Bannon's The Return of the Living Dead (1985), made an aerobics workout video featuring her bikini-clad form and a surprisingly agile group of back-up zombie aerobicisers....
[A guttural moaning is heard close to the recorder. There is glass shattering and a non-human screech; the sound of breathing hard whilst running is heard]
This is Danny Boyle's fault!! Before 28 Days Later (2002) and its sequel, 28 Weeks Later (2007), zombies could at least be outrun. Boyle gave them the idea to run! Then Zack Snyder did it again in his remake of Dawn of the Dead (2004), and suddenly it is the law of the jungle, survival of the fittest. And then we give them reason to be mad at us by turning them into the butt of the joke! Peter Jackson made them seem cool and funny in Braindead (1990), then Wilson Yip's Hong Kong-set satire Bio Zombie (1998) turns us all into zombies thru Iraqi-chemicals in our soft drinks, and Edgar Wright's Shaun of the Dead (2004) makes them look like buffoons.
[A shrill scream is heard, turning the recorded content to static. There is a pause. Then a woman's scream is heard]
Oh my God....umm...now...the zombie swarm is truly global. The Spierig Brothers rained zombie-hell down upon a small Australian country town in Undead (2003); Yourgos Noussias directed the first Greek zombie film, To kako (Evil, 2005); the Irish are blaming mad cow disease for a nation of cannibals in Conor McMahon's Dead Meat (2004); Canadians are reaching out to zombies with Bruce McDonald's Pontypool (2009) and Andrew Currie's Fido (2006); the Norwegian's are resurrecting snowbound Nazi zombies in Dod Sno (Dead Snow, 2008); and the British are paint the truly terrifying notion that the last humans alive may be Big Brother contestants in the zombie saga Dead Set (2009).
And who do the Americans offer as our dying hope? Zombieland's Woody Harrelson??!! Oh...no....
[A muffled scream, briefly; deep breathing, moaning and loud chewing follows]
[End transmission; end transcript]
Find out more about SBS zombie season here