How do you kill something that's already dead: The Zombie Situation
Frank West. Photographer. Zombie Killer.
Above: Lost in translation: If this was a movie, you would understand the fear
Above: This is Zombie Revenge. Revenge from what?
Ash (left), housewares; Sam (right), unknown
As above, so below: Dead Rising
Dead Block: A cop, a mechanic, and a boy scout
"When there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth. Would you like fries with that?"
Ah, poetry, from a George Romero movie no less, way back in 1978. Dawn of the Dead, from the series of movies that may just have been a bit too early to the game, in bringing zombies to the masses. Oh, sure, Legosi starred in White Zombie in 1932, a classic to be sure, but not particularly a movie that would resonate with today's fickle movie viewer, or gamer, for that matter. Plan 9 From Outer Space had zombies, but as many people think this is the worst movie ever made, and you have to watch it, let me save you the trouble: Plan 9 is worse than people play it down to be. It's a ridiculous movie, and I found no joy in watching this movie. I remember watching it with my roommate many years ago, getting annoyed with the movie, ejecting it from the VCR and throwing the tape out the window, next to the copy of Jack Frost that was sitting out their from a previous night of horrible movies. The movie Ed Wood sometimes makes me think Plan 9 would be a good movie because the actors in Wood ham it up so perfectly. Sorry, Johnny, as much as you bring Ed Wood to life, Plan 9 is awful.
The Living Dead have seen a resurrection if you allow me a silly pun. The Return of the Living Dead parts 1-3 brought us buckets of gore and blood, and unlikeable characters that you don't mind seeing die. Well, except for the Michael Jackson zombie in the power plant, he seemed cool. Parts 1 & 2 even have semi-recurring characters with the same actors, in different roles, so you can watch the poor saps turn into zombies twice. Even one of the two characters in Part 2 says "I feel like we've been here before. You... Me... Them!" There were a couple of other Return movies, Necropolis and Rave to the Grave, but they are horrible SciFi Channel movies or direct to DVD movie quality flicks.
The Serpent and the Rainbow, a Wes Craven horror flick from the 1980s, took a different look at the zombie: the "real" zombie? Black magic in Haiti that could turn people into zombies with a white powder, something that could be used for medical treatments in a weird anesthetic. Of course, this is a horror movie, there is no need for medicine, there is time for a zombie, or two. Plus some really, really bizarre dreams, and Bill Pullman. Bill Pullman, who I last saw falling out of a window in The Grudge.
The in the 1990s, something happened. In the days of the Genesis and SNES, there was a game that came out called Zombies Ate My Neighbors. This game tasked you with saving your town from a zombie infestation. It was a kid friendly game, and it played very well. It has lost a bit in the 15 years or so since its launch, but you could see it as the beginning of the zombie survival games. Nobody knew or expected what was to come in the years after Zombies Ate My Neighbors.
Capcom brought the idea of "survival horror" with Resident Evil (Biohazard in Japan). Forget about your neighbors, the zombies are eating the entire town. But what a ridiculous title! Just because there's some underground-ish NYC Hardcore band called Biohazard, or some other copyrighted use of the word, they have to call it Resident Evil? Oh well, we live with it. Many people missed it the first pressing, but the Director's Cut brought more people to the series, all experiencing flawed controls, frustrating inventory, insane puzzles, bad live acting and worse voice acting. But it brought atmosphere, and chills, something that had not really been done before in a game. The Umbrella Corporation is somehow linked to zombiefied inhabitants of Raccoon City, and it's apparently up to you to clean up and solve the problems. Oversimplified, sure, but who's counting? It was new and fresh, and you finally had an adversary that you enjoyed killing: a zombie. Nothing quite like a zombie in games, save for a Nazi.
Resident Evil 2 expanded the zombie story, and was also a success. Resident Evil 3: Nemesis turned more into an action game, the chills were there but they were lacking when compared to the first two games. The Dreamcast also saw a Resident Evil called Code: Veronica. I never played it, because I never found it anywhere, but those who have had nothing but good things to say about it. My Dreamcast still works, maybe I should search out Code: Veronica some day? This may be a good spot to bring up Konami's brilliant Silent Hill, but I'm not sure the little creepy babies were zombies, and the nurses remind me of a fetish model you might find in the movie Se7en. Wait, were there zombies in Silent Hill?
Resident Evil has also attempted to jump the shark, with the PlayStation titles Resident Evil Survivor and Resident Evil Dead Aim, which were light gun games. Really, if you're going to compete with gun games, look at Namco's excellent Time Crisis series. If you want to add zombies, why not check out Sega's over-the-top light gun series, House of the Dead? The series was brought back from the depths of light guns with Resident Evil 4 (PS2/NGC) and, most recently, Resident Evil 5 (360/PS3), both critically acclaimed titles that gave gamers a reason to continue the zombie fight. The games became so popular that they saw fit to bring it to the silver screen, with 3 movies: Resident Evil, Apocalypse, and Extinction. Thankfully they were rated R, but they really weren't that great. But they made just enough money to justify three, and only three of them.
Resident Evil wasn't the only game on the block to feature zombies as the zombie started to pop up slowly but surely. Zombie Revenge was released on the Sega Dreamcast and was a spin-off of the House of the Dead games in the arcade. To me it plays like a zombified double dragon with heavy weaponry, or a lesser- Resident Evil with more control over movement, but still imperfect. It's a blast to play in all its cheesy goodness, and being based on an arcade series, you will die. Often.
The zombie even has infected music, witness the appearance of Alice Cooper. Not a zombie, but he looks like a zombie in some press clippings, and his over the top stage horror shows and strange persona add to the effect. Then you here him talk, and you find out Alice is an entertainer, and a Republican. Who would have thunk it? Rob Zombie took the horror look and influence and transformed it into a hard rock-heavy metal band named, unsurprisingly, White Zombie, and later took his schtick solo, and even made some movies. The first to were original movies, House of 1000 Corpses and Devils Rejects, while the other two were remakes of Halloween and Halloween 2, which were critical flops but made enough money to justify them being made. Who says horror isn't a business where you can make money?
The overflow of the zombie is hitting the big time, both in movies and videogames these days. Zombieland has just released in theaters, with Woody Harrelson starring as a zombie hunter, and while I haven't seen the movie yet, I hear nothing but good things about this over-the-top zombie fest. 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later were both hits in movie theaters, and scared people because these movies, along with the remake of Dawn of the Dead, it introduced people to what they believe are the first running zombies. This is untrue, as running zombies were seen in Return of the Living Dead, way back in the early 1980s. But they were also well made if not overly grotesque zombie movies, and 28 Weeks Later, like its predecessor, also has an open ending, leaving people to ponder the next movie, when and if it ever comes out.
Back into the gaming side, Capcom, the masters of zombie games, saw fit to bring us Dead Rising (XBox 360). This is an all-out anti-zombie simulator starring you, in the shoes of Frank West, a photographer, setting out into the Willamette Mall to see what the hell is going on in the town. You're hired helicopter pilot brings you into the town, and he brings you in low over the town towards the mall. On the approach to the mall, you see acts of violence, crowds of people you and the helicopter pilot assume are rioting. You know what's going on by looking, but Frank and the pilot have no idea what's going on.
The game tasks you with completing set missions to uncover the mystery of Willamette, but you can do pretty much whatever you want: you can run around killing zombies, save survivors, forget about survivors, hunt down psychopaths who wander around the malls, anything. You can also use tons of things you find in the mall as weapons: water guns, swords, golf balls, skateboards, baseball bats, frying pans, lawnmowers, cars, trucks, nail guns, propane tanks, bars, wood, rototillers... the list goes on and on. There is ample amounts of food to replenish your health, and you can even mix foods together to create super energy drinks.
As you progress through the game, you will unlock more health, more room to carry more weapons and health kits, but there is one thing you will not unlock, and that is the one big complaint about Dead Rising: load times. Whether you are going into a giant hall inside the mall, outside into the huge courtyard, or into a tiny little room, there is a load screen, and it gets tedious. It interrupts the gameplay and the flow of your progression, but this complaint should be remedied with the coming sequel, Dead Rising 2, hitting this September 2010, preceded by Dead Rising Zero, a sort of downloadable in-between of Dead Rising and Dead Rising 2. Should be interesting, as between the two games there is a 10 year gap that needs to get filled!
Where Dead Rising has action, the Left 4 Dead series brings you balls-out cooperative zombie slaying. I missed out on Left 4 Dead, but I am on the line of supporters of Left 4 Dead 2. Oh sure, there will be cooperative play, but there will also be deathmatches, which I will lose with alarming efficiency, but killing zombies with a buddy is something that intrigues me. I picked up the poor man's Left 4 Dead with Zombie Apocalypse on the XBox Live Arcade and, as it's a fun game, it's more an arcade game then anything else. I enjoy killing zombies, and I'm sure they deserve to die, but Left 4 Dead 2 will most likely trump the small title that Apocalypse is.
There are also some zombie games made by independent gamers on XBox Live. One title is called Dishwasher: Dead Samurai, where you are a reanimated dead dishwasher samurai- technically, you are a zombie! It's a fun game, if a bit on the "what?" side of a storyline. The game features 2D play, lots of blood, and a very strange mood. The other game you may want to check out, and considering it's only $1, is I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES!!!1. This title is so simple and basic, but for your dollar, you get to kill wave after wave of zombies, deadly squares, and other undead elements of destruction, as well as rocking out to the best of the worst music in a game I've heard in some time. The game looks simple, plays simple, is simple. But don't let that deter you from a great purchase! There is also a game on the XBox Live Arcade called Zombie Wranglers, but it's not that good. I was half expecting to see a zombie in a pair of jeans, and, considering the game, it may have been preferable to see a zombie wearing jeans. The XNA service, the Community Games service on XBox Live, also has too many more zombie games, and they are just as easily forgotten and just as easily deleted from your hard drive.
Not to be left out in the woods, the Halo Universe with Master Chief had zombies of some sort, called The Flood. The Flood were quite possibly the most annoying enemy I'd encountered in a videogame up to that point. Undead marines and walking piles of death that burst when they get shot, bringing death to you quickly if you don't run, jump, dodge, and have enough ammunition to survive the endless onslaught of Flood. There was also a Halo 2 multiplayer mode called Zombie, where there was one zombie player versus an entire team of Chiefs. Everytime the Zombie player killed a regular Chief, the dead player had to change color and turn to the Zombie team, and start killing chiefs. It was a good idea, not many of the matches I took part in saw people changing to Zombies after they died, so it really didn't seem to work until Halo 3 introduced zombie matches, making it an official mode of gameplay. The Halo game engine also powers the game Stubbs the Zombie, a quick 5 to 6 hour game with you in the starring role. This title came out towards the end of the original XBox cycle, and is now available as an XBox Original on the XBox 360.
Lastly, Crackdown 2 saw release a couple of weeks ago, and while the city is the same, the weapons the same, pretty much everything the same, there is one difference, and it's a big on: ZOMBIES. Yep, some form of mutated zombies are now roaming the streets, and you can dispose of them however you see fit with the tools given you: guns, cars, rockets, fists, barrels, fire, etc. Having played the demo, it was fun for an hour or so, which is about 2 plays total, but I don't think I want to wander around the same city, even if it does look pretty. So when the hell does Warner Bros. put out a Looney Zombies title, or Hanna-Barbera make a Smurf zombies game? As if we needed another reason to want to off those little annoying blue pains-in-the-ass.
As a whole, a zombie is probably a misunderstood character, maybe even like Bub the zombie from Day of the Dead. He knows somethings up, his mind still works, but he's still a zombie. Maybe they are even like the Phantom of the Opera, misunderstood, pining for love, and willing to kill to get what he wants. That's probably a stretch, because as we are taught, a zombie wants human flesh, or brains, or a snappy wardrobe. The fascination with zombies strikes at the core of our own mortality, laughing at the prospect of death because it makes us uncomfortable to think about actually dying, and the fact that we will all someday die. Hopefully not soon, and not at the same time, but there is no escape. And no continue.
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