Suddenly, it all becomes clear. Zombie movies are Westerns. Zombies are politically corrrect Indians. George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead is The Great Train Robbery (or, to tighten the metaphor, 1903’s Kit Carson, the oldest “cowboys and Indians” picture I know of). Resident Evil is Fort Apache. Milla Jovovich is John Wayne (impossibly tall, slender, good-looking foreign-born female action hero—cool; impossibly tall, slender, good-looking native-born male action hero—un-cool). Sean of the Dead is The Paleface.
CGI is a stand-in for cinematography and Monument Valley.
The Walking Dead is Wagon Train.
Has it always been this obvious?
Where oh where are John Ford and Howard Hawks when you really need them?
I never thought about it, but this does explain why I’m bored by zombie movies.
Nah, that ain’t it. No one has any respect for the noble zombie. No one thinks they’re honorable. No one wants to smoke a peace pipe with a zombie. No one gets upset because some sleazy operator from back East is getting the zombies all liquored up and selling them guns. And that’s just talking about Fort Apache! Not going to find a Tonto or Little Big Man in zombie lore, either.
There’s very little in Western movies that concerns people worrying that they themselves will turn INTO an Indian if they get scalped.
Plus, and this is the big thing, the zombies are almost ALWAYS on the winning side in a zombie movie! I remember being particularly impressed with the “No one gets out of this alive” credits at the end of the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead.
No one is really concerned about the Indian Apocalypse destroying civilization as we know it. The worst you get is that some isolated outpost is going to get wiped out by some fading band of Injuns.
I can see why/how filmakers might borrow from the better Western films for these types of movies, but I have to agree with Icepick, you’ve reduced zombie films to merely their violent component, eliminating most of the horror, of which I can think of at least four components In the modern (Romero-inspired) zombie:
1. The gross-out fear of bodily decay and damage. I feel this is the weakest type of horror, but it clearly attracts the artistic interest of their fans. As I recall, many of these movies rely upon volunteers to dress-down for the mob scenes.
2. More importantly is the fear of contagion, the fear of the Plague. Not only might anybody become a zombie (you and your loved ones), but there is the social breakdown where even the survivors may be victimized by each other.
3. Related is the fear of science. The zombie infection is the result of a government or corporate experiment gone wrong. They reflect insecurities of unaccountable forces pressing into the unknown.
4. The existantial fear of life without free will. The modern zombie, like its precedessor, has no free will; it is life reduced to chemical response without that divine spark. The zombie acts and feeds and in some cases keeps shopping, while the survivors find themselves increasingly living a brual life of survival that might not be much different.
Okay, you’ve convinced me. Zombie movies aren’t merely redressed Westerns. However, let me rephrase and try to address some of your objections.
First, the horror motif is clear in Westerns like The Searchers, Two Rode Together, Trooper Hook, and any number of others. As Lovecraft pointed out the essence of horror is the fear of contamination, particularly sexual contamination, and that’s front and center in the miscegenation theme. It may be that you don’t see that due to your age. Our society really has changed over the last half century.
Yes, the view of Indians is more complicated. There are two major strains in their portrayal. There’s the Rousseauan Noble Savage school of thought and what we might term the “Phil Sheridan” school. Consider the diction: “bloodthirty heathen savages”. Zombie movies have gone full Phil Sheridan: the only good zombie is a really dead zombie.
However, I’d see that as a distillation rather than something completely different.
Finally, I think you’re understating the battle between settlers and Indians as an existential one. I think it’s clear that both sides perceived it that way and, honestly, seeing the similarity between Westerns and zombie movies causes me to see Westerns in a somewhat new light.
“There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
The thing about zombies is that they are us. The real fear is two parts – first is that you will become one and then kill and eat your loved ones. There is usually the guy-who-gets-bitten-and-nobly-commits-suicide in zombie movies, but there is also the guy-who-gets-bitten-and-tries-to-hide-it. The other side of that coin is the double-death of a loved-one – they die and you have to go through the emotional response to that death, but then you have to decide whether to “kill” them again. The difficulty of those situations isn’t something I really see in Westerns and they are a core part of zombie narratives.
That said, I agree there are a lot of similarities.
Okay, you’ve convinced me. Zombie movies aren’t merely redressed Westerns.
HOLEY RUSTED METAL! Someone has actually been convinced to change their mind! On the INTERNET! This is the first time that has EVER HAPPENED!
Ladies and gentlemen (and riff-raff), we have witnessed history here today.
However, let me rephrase and try to address some of your objections.
Aw crap, and there ya go spoilin’ things….
The gross-out fear of bodily decay and damage.
There was a great sequence in one of the season one episodes of The Walking Dead that delved into that. Several survivors get trapped in downtown Atlanta. They’re surrounded by hordes of the undead. Their method of escape is … grotesque … but effective.
That wasn’t enough to keep me watching, though. I enjoy zombie movies, but part of the fun(?!) is the apocalyptic finality of the movies. (No, I haven’t gotten into the Resident Evil movies.) The series keeps going, and let’s face it, if it ain’t Heinlein the post-apocalyptic survivors are usually miserable people doing anything to survive. Necessary in their circumstances (the tyranny of the genes dictates that), but unpleasant post-dinner companions.
There is usually the guy-who-gets-bitten-and-nobly-commits-suicide in zombie movies, but there is also the guy-who-gets-bitten-and-tries-to-hide-it.
Don’t forget the person who tries to hide the fact that a loved one got bitten. Dawn of the Dead took that to a disturbing conclusion.
Incidentally, one of the things I didn’t like about The Walking Dead is that they seem awfully casual about getting zombie gore and effluvia all over themselves.
The only way the zombie-Western thing works is if the survivors in the zombie movie represent Indians and the zombies represent white people. THEN you can draw your parallel.