In the last decade, the zombie genre has shambled its way into pop culture like few genres ever even hope to! It could be said you can’t throw a zombie cat without hitting the living dead in pop media. My theory is part of the genre’s success has to do with adherence to the “core zombie rules”.
As I see them, these are the core zombie rules (in no particular order):
1. Zombies can only be “killed” by damaging their brain (typically via gun shot or blunt force trauma).
2. Zombies are slow, mindless*, eating machines.
3. The movie will always feature a “group of survivors” from various backgrounds that wouldn’t typically mingle. The more incompatible the group, the better!
4. A beloved member of the group (typically a loved one or family member) gets bit and the group must decide what to do with them.
5. The coward of the group always gets it the worst.
6. There’s always a plan.
7. They never definitively explain what caused the outbreak.
All seven of these rules are followed to this very day. The list above is basically a blueprint for The Walking Dead, one of the most successful shows in cable history. Those seven rules (put an asterisks on number two for now) were formulated in George A. Romero’s 1968 indie classic, Night of the Living Dead. That movie spawned an entire genre and literally wrote the rules … until 1985.
1985 saw the release of Dan O’Bannon’s Return of the Living Dead. A zombie movie that hacked to pieces the tried and true core zombie rules. Before 1985, undead zombies had only ever been mindless, slow moving corpses, shambling toward survivors to eat their flesh. Now they are fast! Now they can think and speak! Now they only want you for your “Braaaaiiiiinnnnsssss”! Dan O’Bannon tore the rules in half, crumpled up one of the pieces an threw it into a cremator. The results were horrific … and hilarious!
On a personal note, I first saw this movie as a little kid around midnight on Halloween, in 1986. I was at a friend’s house and three or four of us were staying up late watching horror movies on cable. I’m going to skip some details of what went on that night but long story short, I ended up having a freakout in the middle of the night because of Return of the Living Dead and my friend’s mom came out and yelled at him and the rest of the friends for scaring me. They were probably innocent … Regardless, from that night on, I was legitimately creeped out by zombies up until well into my mid twenties. I would still go see zombie movies in the theater but they gave me the heebiest of jeebies!
Back to Return of the Living Dead and the title of this post. While Dan O’Bannon was ripping up the zombie rule book, he decided to lay it all on the line, he wasn’t going to pussyfoot around the origins of the outbreak. The film boldly states at the beginning “these are the facts”. He detailed everything in vivid, gory, horrific detail. Giving the particulars of When, How, and Who caused the Zombie Apocalypse. It was a couple of goofball warehouse workers, in the basement, with the
candlestick corpse containing drum from the Army Core of Engineers, on [*wait for it*] on July 3rd!
So tomorrow when you’re celebrating your independence from paying full retail on that new queen sized mattress, why don’t you fire up the old dvd player, or better yet the old vcr, pop in Return of the Living Dead and savor that ooey gooey nihilism that only Reagan’s America can spew? Let’s hope that when the real zombie apocalypse happens, the brains taste half as sweet… Happy Zombie Apocalypse Day everyone! :)