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“I have a gun in my hand but all I really want to do is talk.”

Sometime during this season (7) of AMC’s hit series, The Walking Dead the show toppled over its own hubris and died. “Jumped the Shark” as it’s often called in popular culture. Though leaping over an apex predator would be more exciting than the demise of this once wonderful show.

Before getting into it, allow me to qualify. I loved The Walking Dead before it even came out. Devouring the source material comics and any and all related content. Without sounding like a preening fan boy, I was a zombie freak before the genre became a genre. The nihilism and terror of reanimated corpses feasting on a terrified and dwindling population spoke to me like no other type of story could, ever since I saw George Romero’s iconic Night of the Living Dead at a drive in movie theater(!) I was gutted. Something about people “turning” into their own worst enemy resonated, igniting my deepest fears: “They are us.” More than just ghoulish, the undead delivered the perfect allegory for our overpopulated, corrupt and polluted world.

Now zombies, like vampires before them, have become a tired trope, instead of rampaging into our nightmares they are lumbering on pub crawls and into low budget, straight-to-video oblivion. The “Dawn” has become a great yawn.

But because of its superior characters and production, The Walking Dead had largely avoided that fate. Until now.

The show has become a sequence of two-shots and medium close-ups comprising lesser characters talking endlessly to other lesser characters. In other words a soap opera. Might as well be called, “The Talking Head.” No doubt the producers feel that people are what drive the show, not zombies, that it is the living who are the real enemy -an understandable evolution but one that has, this season, gone too far. Look, we all know that in the last (or second-to-last) episode there will be a big battle with evil Negan and his Saviors. But must every episode prior be so damn talky? When I find myself trolling the Internet during the show, I know the magic is gone. Sadly, I went from riveted to mostly bored.

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In the highly entertaining Tobe Hooper film, Life Force the human population are turned into ravenous creatures that must suck the essence of life out of other human beings every few minutes or die. Without going into plot (in this case alien invasion), the streets of London are quickly turned into a maelstrom of carnage. Half dead zombies grab onto the living, draining them. The drained then come back to “life” looking for new victims to drain. And so on.

Typically, zombies do not dwell on one meal for long. Unthinking creatures, they rip into one victim after another, leaving the dead and dying in their relentless search for fresher meat. Of course, the bitten quickly “turn” and well you know the rest.

It’s pretty scary…the stuff of nightmares. Many observers have likened the popularity of zombies in our culture to not-so-latent fears about the economy or terrorism; that these ghouls symbolize a loss of control. It also has been suggested that we see ourselves in these mindless creatures, an even scarier thought -for how quickly our appetites run amok. Neither view is wrong. As one of the remaining mortals exclaims during George Romero’s remake of his own classic film, Night of the Living Dead: “We are them.”

Perhaps sadly, it’s also a metaphor for the effect social media is having on more and more of us every day. Earlier, I wrote an essay calling us “content zombies.” No longer able to process information, we rip through new media biting and chewing and spitting out content, barely digesting any of it. Ravenously, we move on to the next. Indeed, barely chewed facts, items and stories pass through us onto the web like offal. Our constant tweets and updates are mere bits and pieces, carrying links like so many worms, each containing the shred of something devoured earlier. Or something like that.

I myself am turning. Last night I tried reading an article in a magazine. I found myself jumping over paragraphs, skipping entire chunks, gluttonous. Unsatisfied, I started another article. Then another. Within minutes I was in front of my laptop lapping up more, more and more!

Already an addictive personality, once I taste blood I cannot stop gorging. The more I feast the less I retain. A vicious cycle if ever there was one. God help me for I am a content zombie. I am legend.

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Buddy, can you spare a dime…or a limb?

Last Sunday, a substitute ministered to our church. The residing pastor was taking a requisite holiday after the travails of Easter. Anyway, the replacement pastor was a younger man, bearded and portly, with a wry grin. He reminded me of, of all people, the Comic Book Guy from the Simpson’s TV show. It turns out the comparison was valid in more ways than one. For the deacon’s sermon began with a most unexpected metaphor, one perhaps more suited to a comic book store than a Presbyterian church.

God love him, he compared the resurrection of Christ with Zombies! Paraphrasing a story from Newsweek, the pastor claimed zombies to be the perfect creature for desperate times, “chewing away at our psyches as well as our 401k’s.” His words not mine. The undead, he said were the new vampires, replacing the gothic bloodsucker in popularity.

Amen. With so many of us suffering tremendous financial hardship, zombies are like the rapacious creditor, insatiable and evil. And, once ruined, we become desperate ghouls ourselves…

Or do we? Pulling a religious 360, the pastor reminded the congregation that Christ’s rising from the grave was as far from evil as an event could be and, obviously, that it symbolized new life, hope and good tidings for mankind. This, of course, is familiar post-Easter rhetoric and certainly welcome. Especially after the wonderfully gruesome reference to flesh eating monsters!

Some of you already know how much I love horror. I’ve written several posts on the matter. And in the genre, next to vampires, nothing turns me on like a good zombie story. The preacher was right. The undead are trendy as Hell right now, pun intended. Between the Swine Flu and our collapsing financial markets, the walking dead fit right in.

Fun zombie facts:

-Prior to making the beloved movie, Slum Dog Millionaire director Danny Boyle made both zombie-apocalypse thrillers 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later. Not to mention the equally gruesome (and wonderful) Trainspotting.

-Over 50 years before Will Smith’s tepid version, Richard Matheson wrote the genuinely terrifying I Am Legend. An equally scary film version (The Last Man on Earth) was made in 1968, starring a surprisingly stoic Vincent Price. Read the book. See that film.

-Rumor has it legendary commercial director Joe Pytka served as cameraman for the even more legendary George Romero during the filming of the greatest zombie movie (if not horror movie) of all time, Night of the Living Dead.

images-14images-23Ladies, Ladies…There’s plenty of blood for everyone!”

I’ve been a devoted horror aficionado since childhood, when I regularly snuck into the Parkway Theater in Chicago (now, I believe, a Lenscrafters) to watch wildly age-inappropriate triple features with my miscreant peers. Horror, Kung Fu, and Detective were the most popular genres, with Horror being the going away favorite. In many ways, my dark side was shaped in this grind house. Here, I became a lifelong devotee of Hammer Films, the UK production company best known for Christopher Lee’s canny and lurid Dracula. Being a 12 year-old boy, imagine my (psycho)sexual awakening leering at the scantily clad brides of Dracula as they emerged, always in sheer nightgowns, from their coffins in the cellar. I swooned every time one plunged her pointy fangs into each of the gentleman lured by wanton desires –hers, theirs and mine!

As I got older, my tastes in horror evolved to include the burgeoning Zombie genre. Danny Boyle’s “28 Days/Weeks” pictures are current standards, but, to this day, nothing compares to George Romero’s blunt and terrifying Night of the Living Dead. I defy you to watch it alone, in the dark, in a basement as I did some 30 years ago.

Much has been written about the Zombie/Apocalypse genre, especially given the spate of above-average movies in the last decade. Cormac McCarthy’s upcoming “The Road” should be a jewel in this gruesome crown. Critics rightly point to society’s collective fear of imminent apocalypse (global war and warming, overpopulation and pestilence) as reasons for the genre’s growing popularity. Undead people (often our loved ones!) relentlessly trying to eat us are at the heart of our deepest, darkest fears. Mine anyway. That and focus groups.

With this segue in mind I want to talk about a movie I saw at the Chicago Film Festival, now in limited release. “Let The Right One In” is about a bullied young boy and the special bond he forms with the little girl who moves in next door, who also happens to be a vampire. At times lurid and frightening, it is the intelligence and beauty of this Swedish film that make it stand out. Sweden is grim and cold and the two unlikely characters find certain warmth together, not to mention bloodshed. A lovely film. Go see it, regardless of your age, sex or temperament.

And for those who crave a far scarier ride, pick up a DVD of “The Signal.” Imagine an LSD trip with zombie-like psychopaths. And the psychopaths are…you! No mere shock fest, this 2007 low budget film imagines all of us as killers, our sanity undone by strange undulations emitting from our televisions, computers and cell phones. That conceit is not new, but everything else about this movie is. The acting and direction are first rate. I was blown away.

Trust me on both of these films. They are that good.