The Self-Aware Zombie
Cinema Junkie / February 5, 2016
With "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" reanimating on screens this weekend, the time seems ripe to speak with Doctor of the Dead Arnold T. Blumberg about a recent strain of the undead — the self-aware zombie.
Beth Accomando: Welcome back to another edition of the KPBS Cinema Junkie Podcast. I am Beth Accomando.
Promo: “It began with the black plague. Within weeks the dead began to rise, hunting for human flesh. Now the few of us that are left, have only one way to survive… we must bring the fight to them.”
Beth Accomando: With “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” opening on Friday and trying yet again to reanimate the zombie genre with new life, I thought it would be fun to speak with Dr. Arnold T. Blumberg, known to his Twitter followers as “Doctor of the Dead” and specifically to talk to him about a very particular kind of zombie: the self aware one.
But first of all, Arnold, I want you to tell my listeners a little bit about yourself, because you have actually taught classes on zombies.
Arnold Blumberg: That’s right. In a way that kind of all started, I co-authored a book many years go with a good friend and co-author Andy Hershberger. We did a book called “Zombie Mania” and at that time, it was one of the first ever books that really tried to provide a comprehensive look at the zombie genre from its beginnings, the feature films entirely to the present, which at that time, we had a cut off at 2005 and the book came out around 2006.
And then shortly after that I pitched my local University on me teaching, I had already been teaching comic book literature for many years. I have taught a lot of median pop culture classes. I have recently done one now in the Marvel films. But at the time, I pitched them on an entire semester on the zombie genre and it didn’t take much to convince them. It was already pretty popular at the time. But interestingly enough, we launched that class the very same fall that “The Walking Dead” started airing on television.
So it was a perfect storm at that point. And then, since then I have done so much work in writing and lecturing on the genre and doing a podcast called “Doctor of the Dead” and, of course, being on Twitter and everywhere and it seems to have become kind of a cottage industry for me.
Beth Accomando: When you taught this first class on zombies, what did you actually tackle in the class? I mean were there some people rolling their eyes and saying like, “Oh my God! This is like the basketweaving one or one we cannot possible be about.” or…?
Arnold Blumberg: I know for a fact that that’s true. Sure. And whether that was some people outside of it or even some students in it, absolutely. But one of the nice things about [indiscernible] [00:02:42] book in the minds of everyone that I certainly got to sense the very first time that for the most part everybody was pretty engaged in it and I think what really happened was, a few weeks in, when they saw what we were really doing, everybody got into the groove and realized, oh, okay we are using this and this is the purpose of the class after all.
It is just using that or any other topic, genre, or selection of films. It is just using it as a way in as a lens through which you can then talk about everything, the way media, the way entertainment reflects our culture in terms of race, gender, class, politics, ethics, anything you want to think about, and you just pick a popular topic. It gets people engaged, it gets people excited. If their fans are ready, then it means they are predisposed to be happy, to be in class and talking. But then you start delving in trying to see what this really means is this and in the course of the semester, we went through a chronological selection of films, 15-16 movies from 1932 to the present, and then we also filtered in some examples of television, comics, prose, and literature as well.
But really, the main spine of the course was feature films. We did that and like I said, the first semester, it really clicked pretty early on. And if there were any people that still thought, Oh well, this is kind of silly, trying to find all those meanings in movies, then they did a very good job of covering it because everybody seemed to really be engaged in it.
Beth Accomando: Well that’s what seems appealing about it and it seems smart about using that as a topic, is that you hear a lot from teachers and people that sometimes college students seem a bit apathetic, they are not quite engaged in their class and it seems like taking something out of a pop culture like this or Marvel or movies, music, things like that, it seems like it’s a really nice hook to get them to, almost trick them into thinking.
Arnold Blumberg: Absolutely. And as I always say the whole point is that’s what these, these classes are entirely about critical thinking. It’s about giving students the tools they need to go out in the world and assess everything around them, all the messages they are inundated with everyday through media and we exist in a world obviously where we are virtually immersed in it and in ways we never were before. I often tell students the last few semesters the story of how you go to a gas station now and the TV screens are right there. It’s not just even radio playing, they are blaring the TV at you. You can’t get away from it.
And so you need to be conscious of these things. And picking popular topics is just a nice way of framing it, so that everybody, you are in the same page initially and then you started delving and you see what all this really means. And it’s not frivolous in terms of picking the topics because obviously these things are popular for reasons. People gravitate to these things, not just because it’s the latest thing, but because it speaks to them in some way. So we explore that. I still remember one of our favorite days was, we are talking about “The Walking Desert” so a couple of years in, but we were looking back at that season. One episode they had a very famous scene. Everybody remembers where they were doing laundry by the riverside and a conversation starts up between some of the characters about, wait a minute. Are we falling back into these really archaic gender roles? Because suddenly the women are doing the laundry and the men are out and that was an entire day’s conversation discussing how far we have really come in 20 whatever year it was at the time, 2013-2014. And using a zombie show as a way to then to discuss very real issues of gender and people’s roles in the culture. So that’s the whole point.
Beth Accomando: All right. Well kudos for using the brain dead to start critical thinking.
Arnold Blumberg: [Chuckle] Exactly. Well, thank you.
Beth Accomando: Do you happen to remember what was the first zombie film either you saw or that made its first impression on you?
Arnold Blumberg: I have been trying to figure this out because people always ask me that and one of the things I have actually been able to figure out pretty certainly is, at the very least I know when I think I first saw “Night Of The Living Dead” and that may have been one of the first zombie movies, if not the first I encountered. But the interesting thing is, I know now that I think I saw the first piece of that movie not itself, but as a clip in “Halloween II” and I was a big fan of Michael Myers in the Halloween movies. I mean “Halloween II” came out as well as the first video tapes we rented. Video stores were just starting in 1981.
We had a video tape recorder and early in that movie there was this whole thing where the first two movies that night, we had this car movie marathon in Haddonfield and you see the early moments of “The Night of the Living Dead” at the beginning of “Halloween II” I think that’s actually the first way I saw that film. And then I knew I wanted to know more about that and I don’t really remember how, but I eventually then went to actually seeing that in its entirety and from then on…
Beth Accomando: So what do you think it is about zombies that attracted you and really hooked you?
Arnold Blumberg: Well, I don’t think it’s really that complicated an answer, probably the same kind of thing that I wind up teaching and talking about elsewhere, which is that, I have always enjoyed a lot of genre entertainment. I am a big science fiction fan. I grew up with comics. And obviously horror was always a part of it too. Not quite as much as a child, I don't think as it's become later in my life and as I have delved into it more with the things I do.
But zombies are always particularly interesting to me and I enjoyed some of those movies and I think it really comes down to some of the basics which is, whether you realize it consciously or not when you are watching it, they have a lot of meaning. They carry a lot of meaning that feels more immediate and more directly connected to you as an individual, than say a story about a werewolf, vampire or something like that because the zombie is really a sort of this distorted kind of a mirror reflection of you.
And I think that even if you are not aware of it, and even myself as a kid, I may not have realized that what I was going for, it was something that was speaking to me in some way. So I know that I always thought zombies were fun and so I liked those movies. But I only assume that ultimately they hooked me the way they hook a lot of people, because they have a lot to say about us. And so they feel attractive in that strange, twisted kind of way.
Beth Accomando: And do you think that’s what’s given them this long lasting appeal?
Arnold Blumberg: Absolutely, yes. And I think what really works and this is not to say it’s not a binary system either, I mean, like the thing that always amuses me and I always talk about is how the mainstream media, Time and Newsweek and the big papers and everything, they always run these articles every five years. Zombies are the new vampires or vampires are the new zombie. And this, neither can exist at the same time or as if we need to trade them off, everything exists at the same time.
And obviously, all these creatures have their role to play in culture and vampires mean a great deal too and all these other things. But I would definitely say that zombies, by virtue of the fact that they are such a basic human template and have evolved so much, decade by decade, mean so many different things, that you are right. That is the reason for their longevity and also I think that says a lot about why they have maintained such a level of popularity for so long in the 21st century. And that’s because they adapt to serve whatever meaning we might want to place upon them at any given point and they are just perfect for that.
Beth Accomando: Well, George Romero who may not have invented zombies, but I think certainly is kind of the godfather of the modern American zombie…
Arnold Blumberg: Sure, yeah.
Beth Accomando: ...I think he described them as being the perfect blank slate, the blank canvas that you can kind of write anything on to.
Arnold Blumberg: That’s absolutely right, yeah. And you are also right about the way you characterized him too. I mean obviously the concept goes back a lot farther, but he and his writing partner John Russo and all the people that worked on the “Night of the Living Dead”, they definitely started something that, for all practical purposes, now you grab a person on the street and you say, what’s a zombie? Most of the time, it will go back to that Romero concept.
Movie Audio Clip: This is the latest disclosure in a report from National Civil Defense Headquarters in Washington. It has been established that persons who have recently died have been returning to life and committing acts of murder. A widespread investigation of reports from funeral homes, morgues and hospitals has concluded that the unburied dead are coming back to life and seeking human victims.
Arnold Blumberg: And that’s still with us today.
Beth Accomando: It’s amazing how that has stuck.
Arnold Blumberg: Yeah, oh yeah. Yeah, I mean the first film, I mean it remains not only iconic, but effective. I just recently used it again in a class and I’ll be doing that again. And I used it in writing classes as well that have nothing to do with zombies. But it provides a lot of opportunities for writing about ethics and family and other things. And you find that if you showed it to a class’s students, particularly today who aren't necessarily that enamored with black and white movies or the pacing of a movie from then, they take some 5-10 minutes. They might laugh at a few things…
Movie Audio Clip: They are coming to get you Barbara. Stop it! You are ignorant! They are coming for you Barbara. Stop it! You are acting like a child. They are coming for you. Look! There comes one of them now.
Arnold Blumberg: And then a little ways into it, they are reacting to the film. But they are reacting in context that I now hope Ben makes it or I hope Harry doesn’t cut and there it, its involved them. And it just shows, it just speaks to the power of what those people made them, that that movie, once you get past the few little bits and pieces that a modern audience might reject, it still can involve people and speak to them. And it’s just really powerful. So everything that Romero started with is still with us.
Beth Accomando: So as somebody who has been interested in zombies for a long time, you are fully aware that there is a lot of heated debate in the zombie community about slow moving zombies versus fast moving zombies, dead zombies versus infected people, but you focused on a particular kind of undead and this is the Self Aware Zombie. So what differentiates this particular class of zombie from the others?
Arnold Blumberg: I say all zombies count, more zombies the merrier is what I always say. I am often having to explain to people why I definitely count 28 days later and why the living in fact are more akin to the voodoo zombies started it all and the reanimated corpses, so they all count. But you are right that, as a personal choice, I have become very fascinated with this particular strain that’s been going on now for the last few years, particularly its really picked up in popularity, which is the self aware group which a lot of classic zombie fans, and by classic, of course, we are talking more or less about Romero's style zombies, a lot of classic fans reject because they prefer to keep their zombies as that blank slate, you know, that sort of primal horde.
But what’s really interesting is that we have so many stories being told now with zombie-like creatures that might be a variation on the Romero mold or slightly different like the infected. But they are conscious. They are aware of themselves. They retain their human personality and that is some of the popular stuff out there right now. And of course as you and I have talked about it elsewhere, everything from like the movie Warm Bodies to TV shows like iZombie, it’s become a very popular trend and I think it's saying a lot about where we are as a culture right now.
Beth Accomando: Well let’s go back in time a little bit and look at, it seems like George Romero kind of set the tone for creating the strain of zombie with Bob in Day of the Dead. He’s not a zombie who is as fully self aware as say, the young woman in iZombie but Bob is definitely kind of the beginning of this evolution of the zombie who is kind of trying to question like, Where do I come from? Who am I? What’s my purpose? So do you see him as the root of this?
Arnold Blumberg: Well I certainly think that we can credit Romero and Day of the Dead and certainly stunning performance by well, depending on how he credits himself or how you look at Sherman Howard or Howard Sherman, he’s gone by both over the years. But absolutely amazing performance by him that really set a standard there. So I certainly think we can look back at Bob and say, Bob is very much an early example. There are certainly examples of self aware sentient zombies that go back throughout the entire history of the genre.
You can definitely find that in previous stories. It’s just that it was more sporadic. You might find an example of it here or there. I mean technically, even in Night of the Living Dead there are a lot of things people think they remember from the Night of the Living Dead as starting the rules that really aren’t there. And one thing that is interesting is the creatures in Night of the Living Dead are actually a little more aware than people tend to remember. They react violently to being hurt. They are like aware of them being hurt in a way that a lot of later versions of those creatures aren’t.
But Bob, I would say, we could certainly say that’s a good starting point for a zombie that’s the Romero re-animated corpse that’s starting to be aware of the fact that there is more, his reaction to music, the fact that he is replicating old behaviors, the fact that he creates an actual emotional bond with a father figure that actually builds a rage within him and some of the things he does at the end of the movie that are not at all zombie like, but rather very human. It’s a really extraordinary creation in that. So yeah, that’s a good place to start for taking a look at how this evolved.
Beth Accomando: We have been talking about Bob. So let’s hear a little bit of Dr. Logan talking about Bob, because he is presenting Bob as kind of this example of what he might be able to do with zombies in terms of working with him and possibly people, yeah.
Movie Audio Clip: I call him Bob as the [indiscernible] [00:16:29] used to call my father. Bob’s been responding so well lately I better live. [Loud Background Music] [00:16:34] Good to see him alive or dead. That’s the question these days. Well let’s say that I let him continue to exist. Nice things for you to play with. You remember them from before, from before. You have seen the other things before, but the book is new [Loud Background Music] [00:17:23] He remembers everything that he used to know. I am very pleased, very pleased.
Beth Accomando: I think Bob is the first zombie that I kind of fell in love with. He is so endearing.
Arnold Blumberg: He is. Well, he is like a child basically, isn’t he? I mean he is, in a way, also kind of like a pet. That’s the way he is depicted. He is on the leash and he treats him like that. And he has that kind of, he has got a puppy dog kind of quality, so…
Beth Accomando: And I think it plays up one of the things that I have always loved about zombie films, which is the sense that zombies are us or they were us, and that’s what makes them sort of scarier and sadder. And to me, I think that the line that is always summed up with especially a Romero zombie is like the one from the Shaun of the Dead where when they are trying to act like zombies, the actress Dianne who is saying, it’s trying to teach the others how to be a zombie says, they are vacant with a hint of sadness.
Arnold Blumberg: Yes, yeah.
Beth Accomando: And that’s totally Bob for me.
Arnold Blumberg: Yeah, no, absolutely. And there are hints there to follow, like for instance, when he responds at the salute.
Beth Accomando: Mm hmm
Arnold Blumberg: The first thing is, you know, Oh, no, there’s a good chance this guy is in military in some capacity when he was alive. So you are getting like this weird, these echoes of what this person might have been and he is not even aware of it. But it’s like coming back and again the music thing, it's child like, it also is a nice connection back to Frankenstein’s monster. There’s a lot of elements of that. And, of course, like I was mentioning, in choosing to do what he does by the end of the film, Bob makes a choice that is not only a conscious choice that is far more of a self possessed thing to do than any of his fellow reanimated corpses would do.
But he also chooses to do something that is not remotely zombie like, that is entirely human. And in making that choice, he is sort of reclaiming a bit of his humanity. And in a way it works. One of the characters that always have been fun to stop back in on again and see what happens to Bob. But I guess, you know, we’ll never know.
Beth Accomando: Well Romero revisited the self aware zombie in Land of the Dead with Big Daddy. And so do you see that self aware zombie change for Romero or did he bring any new elements to it at that point?
Arnold Blumberg: Well he brought some new elements in the sense that, yes, in a way Big Daddy is a next step from Bob. Not only is he also repeating old behaviors, he is pumping the gas and he evidently did that and he is aware of things. He behaves a lot like Bob, but there’s also the fact that he becomes an actual leader.
He rallies the others and there are few of the others like cheerleader and a couple of the other characters that are like distinctive. They are made visually distinctive, so you can follow them, that sort of become his inner circle. And it’s not just a horde, there is an organization and he is definitely the leader. And, of course, Romero’s gone on record as saying that was the whole point, he was exploring the idea that the longer these creatures would remain active, would they begin to develop further and further a connection back to what they were.
Interesting thing is, I did a lecture at the Walker Stalker Convention about a year ago and Eugene Clarke, who played Big Daddy was actually guest at the convention and oddly enough, someone just had Well, because he was there I guess and somebody asked a question about Land of the Dead and about Bob and about Big Daddy and what I thought about self aware zombies. And I was saying, when you watch Big Daddy in Land of the Dead he takes a leadership role and it seems like he’s actually remembering something but you aren’t sure whether he’s just going through the motions or he’s actually remembering.
And before the lecture is over, Eugene Clarke came across the aisles from his booth where he was sitting and came up to the microphone and said I just wanted to let you know that George had actually told me on the set, “Yes, you actually do remember what you were doing.” So we got confirmation from Big Daddy himself. So, yes, they are in fact beginning to reclaim some of their human memories. That was the point in the Land of the Dead.
So Romero was playing with this idea that the longer these creatures existed, they might slowly evolve into some kind of capable version of themselves again. And some fans have problems with it and I am not necessarily saying it’s the best movie in the world, but where Land of the Dead ends also is the statement or the idea that maybe these creatures are not going to stay the way they are. Maybe there is a future for them in some way.
Beth Accomando: Not only was he kind of revisiting his past behaviors, but he sort of thinks. Because when they get to the water…
Arnold Blumberg: Yeah.
Beth Accomando: He makes this choice of thinking, hmm, we should be able to walk over here, go onto the water.
Arnold Blumberg: That’s right. He also figures out strategy, if I remember right, when he puts the gas in the car in that one scene, it is like he is figuring things out. He knows what he is doing. And again, there are bits of that going a lot further back than people think. Because again, if you go back to the Night of the Living Dead, the cemetery ghouls at the beginning of the movie, stops, thinks and picks up a rock to get into the car of Barbara. So there are elements of that that Romero always kind of had in there.
And then as he moved forward with his films, it seems like he got more interested in the idea, Well let’s see what happens if they start to become a little more human. And like you pointed out before, there is an element of sadness and identification that comes into it, when the zombie creature we are watching is behaving more human. It breaks down the barriers more and makes it seem more depressing and sadder. But it is also more compelling because they are closer and closer to us.
Beth Accomando: Now in a film, in a more recent film such as Warm Bodies, you kind of get to go through a transformation with the character where you are from is kind of not a self aware zombie to that dawning awareness. So talk about how that impacted this notion of the self aware zombie. Was that kind of a landmark or…?
Arnold Blumberg: I think so. I mean obviously the book came out first, but for all intents and purposes, the movie was certainly seen by a huge audience and it hit pop culture in a way that the novel even couldn’t. I know for one thing that when both the book and the movie came along, it was like, people used to ask me things about the differences between vampires and zombies, like we are talking before this weird binary thing people get stuck in. And I was like, Well, one thing I used to say all the time, one thing you never see is, you’ll never really see a lot of zombie romance because that won’t be happening in the genre and then, oh well.
The whole world changed with things like Warm Bodies and that wasn’t the only one. There were a number of others. But it introduced a whole new way of looking at it, that I just would never have expected. And in addition to that, it brings in one of the oldest clichés in the world, “Love conquers all.” And it’s like, oh wait a minute. Love can also cure zombies. So we get that and it really in a way I think, that, and some of the other things that I would up talking about like iZombie, I think it speaks to one of the most important things about the self aware zombie trend, which is, we already always say that zombies are us and we are us and they are us and that’s one of the main sematic reasons why they are so compelling.
But I actually think what’s happening is, that the self aware zombie is a way for us to identify even more closely with them. And I think it's tending towards that idea that, as we as a culture, feel so alienated from one another, we are so troubled by so many things, we feel like zombies that are losing connection to other people. And I think the self aware zombie is becoming a trend that’s reflecting the fact that we are identifying with them and we want to be cured. Which is why we are getting so many variations on a cure. And that cure usually comes hand in hand with becoming self aware, getting, reclaiming humanity.
And while I have sometimes in the past disagreed that we always have this one-to-one identification with the zombies and the stories, certainly in the past versions of it, I think in this case, that’s what is happening.
Beth Accomando: Well Warm Bodies pairs up kind of nicely with Shaun of the Dead, and not in the sense that they both have self aware zombies, but it seems like Shaun of the Dead weaves perfectly into Warm Bodies.
Arnold Blumberg: Yeah. Yeah.
Beth Accomando: There is this sense of everybody is already a zombie before, in Shaun of the Dead before the zombie apocalypse hits, you know, everybody is kind of in these little bubbles, like going through the motions [Overlapping conversation] [00:25:48] and so, they seem like they are already zombies to begin with and that kind of seems to lead into Warm Bodies where you have got this zombie trying to come out of his zombie-ism.
Arnold Blumberg: Yeah, I think that’s an excellent way of putting it and also a great connection right there and you are right. I mean Shaun of the Dead in a way, like you said, without actually incorporating self aware zombies, is playing with a lot of the same themes. And I mean I love Shaun of the Dead. I think it’s one of the best zombie movies ever, but it certainly has, actually in a way, if you look at it, it has a really, really depressing ending. It seems like a happy ending at the end, but if you look at it from the perspective you just mentioned, it’s also worth noting that at the end, they are settling into this incredibly mundane, routine suburban existence, the very same one, by the way, at the beginning of the movie she said she was adamant, she didn’t want to get trapped in.
And at the end it's like, Oh this is what we are going to do with our day. Our whole day is already planned in advance. We know what it’s going to be. So really at the end, nothing has changed. And they are all still zombies. But we are happy about it because it’s all right.
Beth Accomando: Because it was their choice.
Arnold Blumberg: Yeah, that’s right.
Beth Accomando: Well, and also I think one of the things that did make Warm Bodies work is Nicholas Hoult is great as I forgot his name, R I think. He calls himself R because ultimately this is kind of a Romeo and Juliet…
Arnold Blumberg: It's Romeo and Juliet, yeah. It's, yeah, I wouldn’t exactly say subtle, but we have got R and Julie, so we got that. He’s also wearing the definitive American young teenager hero costume of cinema history, he is wearing James Dean’s outfit with the red jacket and the white T-shirt and the jeans. So he’s got red, white and blue on. He’s our generic identification saying you better twist the other thing too, this guy like Hoult comes in and makes that character what it is and creates an emotional connection with the audience. And of course, like you were just saying about Sherman Howard is Bob. The whole thing might not have worked if the casting hadn’t worked as well as it did. So that’s certainly a major part of it right there.
Movie Audio Clip: What am I doing with my life? I am so pale. I should get our more. I should eat better. My posture’s terrible. I should stand up straighter. People will respect me more if I stood up straighter. What’s wrong with me? I just want to connect. Why can’t I connect with people? Oh right, it’s because I am dead. I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. I mean we are all dead. This girl is dead. That guy is dead. That guy in the corner is definitely dead. These guys look awful. I wish I could introduce myself, but I don’t remember my name anymore. I mean I think it started with an ‘R’ but that’s all I have left. I can’t remember my name or my parents or my job although my hoodie would suggest I was unemployed.
Beth Accomando: More recently we have had some TV attempts at the self aware zombie. We have had a British one which was In the Flesh and iZombie. Let’s talk about In the Flesh first. I believe that one came first.
Arnold Blumberg: Yeah.
Beth Accomando: And let’s hear a little bit from the opening where it kind of sets up a little on what these particular zombies are like and what’s going on.
In the Flesh Clip: Another involuntary [indiscernible] [00:29:00] that’s a good sign. It means [indiscernible] [00:29:08] is connecting again like a computer rebooting and it is already, so it means the opposite, I'm not [indiscernible] [00:29:18] already. That’s exactly why you are ready, you are feeling. This is not in the flashbacks and the medication and all the side effects. And you are not responding. You are [indiscernible] [00:29:32] that’s a positive, kind of just how lucky, you don't think patient, it doesn't respond to [indiscernible] [00:29:35]. What do you think of, where did they go? Once the [indiscernible] [00:29:43] respond. We take care of them. Your parents are looking forward to seeing you again. Why wouldn’t they? Because I am a zombie and I kill people. No. Look at me. You. I am a [indiscernible] [00:30:07] and what I did in my untreated state was not my fault. Good.
Beth Accomando: This is an instance where they are trying to kind of bring the zombies back and reintegrate them into human society. So how is this tackling the self aware zombie in a new way and bringing some new meaning to it?
Arnold Blumberg: Well it was, I can’t say enough positives about In the Flesh. I think it was overlooked by a lot of people. It ran a very short time. They only had two series. And in the British way of saying it, two series. The first one was only three episodes. The second was six. And despite the fact that it had a following, it did not make it to a third series and to this day the creator, Dominic Mitchell's talked about the possibility of making a film or doing something.
It’s also one of the horrible situations where the series was going on a cliffhanger. So I do recommend it to everyone that might be interested. But you have to go into it knowing you are going to be very frustrated by it. But it did bring a lot of, first of all, it’s beautiful. It’s set in this fictional village of Roarton and it's in Yorkshire [sic, Lancashire][00:31:16] and it's very gray. The landscape itself says a lot about the tone of the show. It is just all this long expanse of gray farmland and stone and, but it’s beautiful.
And one of the main characters Kieren, who is one of the people that comes back during the rising, they come back and there are Romero style zombies. They are flesh eating, you know, mindless corpses. But the twist in this is that we find a chemical cure, an antidote that as long as they continue to take it, reverts them back to a fully conscious version of themselves with all of their personality and memories intact. However their skin remains gray, their eyes remain white and then, as we see, the culture sort of demands that for the comfort of the living, they wear make up and put contact lenses in and there’s a whole bunch of stuff involved they are cosmetically trying to fit in.
But they are human and they are themselves. But they can also fall off the medication and revert back to being the flesh-eating corpses. But the amazing thing about the show is, for one thing, it covered a lot of issues related to any minority that feels like an outcast, any group that feels like they are disenfranchised from their own culture, their own society. The main character as it turns out is gay. And one of the reasons is he was actually dead because he committed suicide. This is not a spoiler by the way. This is said up at the very beginning.
This is premise stuff. And so the show actually explored sexual orientation, gender issues, race issues, all through the lens of these creatures and a group of people trying to figure out, Are these really our family and friends? Or are they not, are they monsters and can we take them back into our homes? And the themes explored, it was just brilliant. And on top of it, it adds a whole new twist ethically to the idea; because in most zombie stories, when you got that flesh-eating corpse coming at you, you don’t think about it like, well, shoot it in the head. It’s a monster now. Ah but if there’s a cure out there or somewhere, and that thing could be your family member or friend again.
Is it right for you to kill that creature at that moment? Shouldn’t you want to do something else and try to save it? In the Flesh explored a lot of these kinds of ideas and it was a fantastic use of the self aware zombie idea.
Beth Accomando: I loved that show and it had, what I loved about it was, there was a lot of humor in that and yet, there were moments when they could turn and be really serious and have a lot of complex ideas in a very kind of casual way. I mean it never pumped itself up as, Oh, look at us. We are dealing with big issues. You just felt like these things were coming up naturally.
One of the things that I thought was quite endearing about Kieren was, when he comes back and tries to reintegrate with his family, one of the things that the zombies can’t do is eat.
Arnold Blumberg: Right. Right.
Beth Accomando: So he sits down for dinner and his mother says, “Can't you pretend?” He has to pretend to eat dinner every night and he’s like [Noise Mimicking Eating] [00:34:19], “Very good mom.”
Arnold Blumberg: And see? Again it’s like a hollow layer there which is like you know, you just think, any person, like say, like someone’s gay in the family and somebody doesn’t like that and says, Well can’t you pretend to be straight? Or someone with another culture, Can’t you just act like this? This is about accepting people for who they are. And In the Flesh uses zombies to do that. And on top of it, it created a very interesting twist on this whole self aware idea.
Like I said, I can't say enough good about it. I think it's very well done. I feel real ashamed that we lost it. And who knows? Maybe there is a future for it at some point. But I certainly think that they demonstrated they could really use this genre to make a lot of pointed comments about our culture.
Beth Accomando: And one of the interesting turns it takes too is, they have some characters who are part of a vigilante group, that is out to rid the town of the zombies that have been kind of re-humanized or how…
Arnold Blumberg: Right, they don’t see them as their family and friends, so they want to get rid of them, right.
Beth Accomando: And so they go on these vigilante sprees at night, pulling people out of, and that was, I have to say, that that scene was really, really creepy and scary when they started going through the town and pulling people out and asking them, Are you, you know, are you one of the zombies or not? And it brings them interesting issues home for that because I don’t think, I’ll try not to give something too big away, but there is a character who is part of this vigilante group, who has to confront the fact that one of his, that his son comes back and that was an amazing episode.
Arnold Blumberg: Right and how different is someone’s perception when it’s not someone else’s family member, but their family member.
Beth Accomando: Mm hmm.
Arnold Blumberg: Suddenly things are different. And besides from the vigilante group, not to find too much time on In the Flesh, I am happy to talk about it as much as you want to. But the other dynamic is interesting too was besides that and there’s like the internment when they go through the early stages of bringing them back in. And obviously, it’s not at all difficult to say there's parallels to things like referencing the Holocaust or any other issues as genocide or systematically dealing with another group, you know, ethnically and racially in a culture. You see a lot of echoes of that in this.
There is also that whole thread where there is a group within the reanimated, within the risen, who has decided to completely embrace their nature and say, they are actually from God. That was, by the way, I am glad I mentioned that because that was actually one of the things that I found most fascinating about In the Flesh. There are many zombie stories that don’t bother to deal with what is actually sort of the elephant in the room, which is reanimated corpses coming back or what does this mean in terms of a sense of faith or a religion or an existence of an afterlife or a deity.
And some stories explore that. And so I mean The Walking Dead explores it in a certain way through its human characters, whether they have faith or not. But with In the Flesh there is a fascinating idea where the zombies themselves believe themselves to be sort of the next stage of humanity, the anointed of God and that they were supposed to be here. And that therefore, they should embrace what they are and consider it beautiful.
And again, it’s all metaphor. It’s all about people exploring their identity. I guess what’s really coming out of our conversation is, everybody should go watch In the Flesh right now.
Beth Accomando: Yes. Exactly. Go out, watch it and demand either another series or some sort of follow up, so we can get some sort of resolution.
Arnold Blumberg: Yeah I think that’s necessary.
Beth Accomando: Now an American show, iZombie kind of deals with a little bit of some of those ideas but with a little more overt levity. So tell me what you think of iZombie.
Arnold Blumberg: Well, iZombie is just like The Walking Dead the show that came from the comic first, a comic book series. I like the fact that when the creator Mike [indiscernible] [00:38:11] his artwork appears on the show on the title sequence, and it’s a nice little nod that keeps the DNA of its origins alive. But the series is slightly different than the comic and we have Liv Moore, certainly one of the truly obvious metaphorical name choices for a character ever, Liv Moore.
She is someone who works as a medical examiner’s office. She died sort of kind of at a boat party where some people were exposed to zombies and there’s an ongoing mythological story in iZombie that's continuing to unfold in its second year right now, that involves a drug that may have been part of a drinks company that may have been developing a sort of power drink like a jolt kind of drink that may also have led to just this minor little problem of accidentally causing zombies.
And she’s been discovering what it means for her. Now she is completely aware. She’s still herself. She is trying to maintain relationships with family and friends. A lot of that gets sort of resolved or settled one way or another during the first season of the show. But they are exploring a lot of other issues in the second year. And the basic rules as far as zombies are concerned in this is that when you are a zombie you are still completely yourself and still completely human, except you are now virtually immortal really, if you look at it from that perspective.
You can be killed, but you are going to survive a lot of human things, your skin’s paler and you have to eat brains. You have to eat human brains. And the nice little hook they came up with for this, as far as American television which is of course dominated by police procedurals, is that every time she eats a brain, she gets some of the personality and the skills and memories and abilities of that person that’s enabling her to help solve the crime, of course. But then it also gives the [indiscernible] [00:39:56] and the guy a chance to play a lot of different things, because Live will then exhibit behavior that’s obviously different depending on whose brains she ate that week.
Like you said, its funny, it’s much more light. It definitely does explore a lot of the same ideas, but it’s really, it’s a super hero series really. It’s taken the zombie idea and molded it directly into the super hero genre and she is really a hero.
Beth Accomando: What’s your scene from this where she confronts her boss or co-worker and discovers that he’s discovered that she is a zombie?
iZombie Clip: I am sorry. I am confused. Am I fired or getting a physical? Fired. I”ve like a billion questions for you. I am going to have to ask you to move in. How long have you suspected? Since [indiscernible] [00:40:37] the young man [indiscernible][00:40:39] victim. You finish your autopsy for me but the detective when his [indiscernible] [00:40:44] back up, guess what he was missing? A strong male role model? And [indiscernible][00:40:47] a brain. See after I confirmed that you are a [indiscernible] [00:40:51] I started opening all the bodies you have finished off for me. Interesting heart rate. 12 beats per minute. How have you been so normal to me? Well, what am I supposed to be? Freaked out. Leading torch wielding villagers to my apartment. I have been terrified about somebody finding out about me for months and you are acting like it’s the measles I have contracted. So no one else knows? God, no! That must be hard dealing with this on your own. Just so you know, regarding my unique dietary needs, I do it as quickly as possible. If I don’t eat, I become dumber, meaner. I am afraid if I let it go for long enough, I’ll go out George Romero. The households? Pretty much the only way I can taste anything is if it has at least six chili peppers next to it on the menu.
Beth Accomando: I really do like this notion of eating the brains gives you something of the person whose brains you are eating. I thought that was a really nice development in the zombie folklore.
Arnold Blumberg: I like the idea also. Certainly as you said, it’s a light-hearted show. It's mainly driven to be sort of character-driven police procedural and it’s a romantic show at the same time too. She’s got an ongoing romantic relationship that either is working well or not working well, depending upon the circumstances. And the idea is you know, can she continue to live some sort of meaningful life, when technically she doesn’t have one?
But it’s really endearing. They have done a lot of interesting things with it already in just a year and a half or so. And the hook, the gimmick, gives them a lot of opportunities to do different inventive things. It’s also one of the rare occasions where a zombie show exists basically in our universe, in a universe where a zombie pop culture exists.
Beth Accomando: Yeah.
Arnold Blumberg: So the show regularly makes references to the first episode had a nice clip from The Living Dead and so the people in this world are aware of the idea of the zombie. And very often, that’s a frustrating thing for fans who watch a zombie move and nobody really ever seems to have any ideas. It’s like no zombie movies exist in the world, no zombie movie. But in iZombie they know.
Beth Accomando: I think it was Shaun of the Dead where somebody mentions the word ‘zombie’ and Shaun’s like, no, no, no, no, no, don’t use the ‘z’ word.
Shaun of the Dead Movie Clip: Zombies out there. Don’t say that. What? That. What? That, the ‘z’ word. Don’t say it. Why not? Because it’s ridiculous. All right.
Arnold Blumberg: That’s right. We are not using the ‘z’ word. That’s silly. Yeah, so iZombie is very aware and of course the rules, they have to figure out what actually works within that universe, but it’s a universe where they've certainly seen some movies they could figure that out. One thing I have actually mentioned on the podcast I do is, the one thing that I can never figure out so far is, she eats a lot of different brains and sometimes develops extraordinary abilities that enable her to solve a particular crime or confront issues, some of which seem like they will be very useful over a long period of time.
And yet, she never seems to store samples of those in any way to go back to. So I have always wondered, if you find out that you ate the kung fu brain and it turned you into a ninja, wouldn't you want to keep a piece of that in the freezer somewhere just in case? But they haven’t done that.
Beth Accomando: Unless they mean you have to devour the entire brain in order to…
Arnold Blumberg: Yeah I don’t know. They…
Beth Accomando: They haven’t clarified that.
Arnold Blumberg: They are going to have to make that clear for us so we know what’s going on.
Beth Accomando: Or then you could have a whole franchise of, bottle all the different brain types from…
Arnold Blumberg: That’s right. Well we know Blaine's doing that with some of the stuff he’s delivering to people. So well the people who see the show will understand what I am talking about, so yeah.
Beth Accomando: Yeah.
Arnold Blumberg: There is an underworld that’s providing brains to the secret zombies of the world because it’s not an apocalypse in iZombie, it’s very much a functioning real world in which quite a number of people have crossed over, but are still trying to maintain law. It’s a very interesting dynamic there too. There’s like a secret keeping which in itself is a metaphor, you know, anybody having a secret in their life.
Beth Accomando: You mentioned that iZombie comes from a comic or graphic novel. Is this self aware zombie as prevalent or more prevalent in the literary world than in film?
Arnold Blumberg: I would say that probably used to be the case and I would think that now that things have shifted and we see so much of that going on in I guess what you could argue as the mainstream in the sense that the vast majority of people that are media consumers, we are talking about film and television, I would say that, that shifted. But I would think yes, that you probably found a lot more experimentation with that kind of storytelling and what can we do with these creatures that's a little different.
If you delved into some of the literature that was going on prior to this time and certainly some comics and just the fact that we are seeing so many of these, where the source material is from a novel like Warm Bodies or a comic like iZombie, it gives you some indication that the trend was actually happening earlier in those media and then it’s starting to cross over now and it's becoming popular now. So there is a whole audience of people that are very well aware of these things and enjoying them in that level.
But I think it’s really grown into the reason that we are talking about, of how much it has grown in popularity and it’s become a trend that I think I mentioned earlier, it's troubled some classic zombie fans. But it's undeniably very successful and I think we are going to see a lot more of it too.
Beth Accomando: I don’t know. I think that anything that appears within a George Romero film should not trouble a true zombie fan.
Arnold Blumberg: That’s right, yeah. we just have to say, look there is Bob, there is Big Daddy. It’s all okay.
Beth Accomando: Exactly, relax.
Arnold Blumberg: That’s right, just calm down. And well, you know, and like I always say, I incorporate, I have a very wide ranging interpretation of what qualifies as a zombie in the genre. I often find myself, let’s charitably call it debates with people about that. Because ultimately, the term ‘zombie’ has become this really fluid umbrella term for a wide range of stories we tell now. And the ultimate thing is you can choose whatever zombies you like.
I mean there might be a version of this creature that means more to you and entertains you more and if that’s the thing you enjoy, fine. And the nice thing now is, that it's proliferated into so many different permutations that there are lots of other possibilities. I guarantee you now there are people watching iZombie, that would never consider themselves a horror fan or would ever watch a classic zombie movie. It would be completely insane for them to think of it, but they are loving iZombie because it’s taken that and it's incorporated into something more familiar for them and it entertains them. That’s just fine with me.
Beth Accomando: I think Shaun of the Dead served that purpose too. I know a lot of people who weren’t horror fans could get into Shaun of the Dead a little more easily because there’s this nice comic element to it and romance that kind of lulled them before the gore came in.
Arnold Blumberg: Right and as I have often done, that’s one of the main films that you probably expect today I use in the class and one of the things about that is, one is I love the fact that it's humor, but it’s not a satire. It doesn't, it’s not making fun of the zombies. That’s deadly serious and that’s real in that universe. The humor is just coming organically from the characters. So it’s like the kind of humor you would derive from living in the real world with real people, not a parody.
And then the other thing of course is, how amazingly that film takes a left turn into absolute tragedy in phases and it’s like hooked you at that point. So by the time it gets to that, I have seen people look like they are hitting a brick wall. You probably know the part that I am talking about.
Beth Accomando: Yeah.
Arnold Blumberg: But, and because they, up to that point it’s like, oh this is going to be, it's always going to have this little comic element to lighten the mood and then suddenly they realize they are emotionally invested in all these characters and then something hits. It’s like, Oh my God! And I think that’s one of the reasons that movie is excellent, it's because it can do both and it balances them so well.
Beth Accomando: And what it does so well. So many horror films will have this padding at the front where they feel like, okay we need to let you get to know the characters and we’ll throw in 20 minutes of mindless stuff. But what Shaun of the Dead does so well, is that “padding” part of the film, they are really developing the characters so that you come to love them.
Arnold Blumberg: That’s true.
Beth Accomando: And so when it does take those turns, you are, exactly as you said, so emotionally invested in them that you are wrapped up in the film. And everything that they set up in the beginning pays off in some way at the end.
Arnold Blumberg: That’s one of the reasons why I love all those movies with that team.
Beth Accomando: Yes.
Arnold Blumberg: They are, Edgar Wright and that whole group and Simon [indiscernible] [00:49:37] and Nick Frost and all those they, the Hot Fuzz is another one. I mean of the three. There is Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World's End sort of the trinity, but in a way, in some ways I think Hot Fuzz is even superior. It’s just, it's some of the most impressive structuring of a story. And like you said, there is nothing more satisfying. It’s like every little element, dialogue echoes throughout, more like a phrase it feels like some thing thrown away at the beginning. As it turns out, that’s exactly what the rest of the plot is going to be. And you don’t know that until the end. And when you realize, this is just beautifully written.
Beth Accomando: Yeah.
Arnold Blumberg: So yeah, it really rewards multiple viewings too.
Beth Accomando: It sure does. I want to ask you about one film where I don’t really think these are self aware zombies, but Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive…
Arnold Blumberg: Oh yeah…
Beth Accomando: I am not sure you would call them self aware, but this was one of the few times that I can recall where you have actually had zombie sex. So they were obviously aware enough of each other…
Arnold Blumberg: Yeah, so at least that much.
Beth Accomando: So I don’t know where you would qualify them, those zombies in Dead Alive?
Arnold Blumberg: Yeah, they are an interesting example, I guess. They sort of exist in a weird area. It’s one of those movies that actually is a good test so you can really get a sense of the kind of zombie fan you are talking to or what sort of awareness they have. A lot of the things that haven’t seen that movie and for those who don’t know, you might also see Brain Dead turn up as Dead Alive, which is the title it is released as here.
If you are a Lord of the Rings fan, you can watch it and actually see the same path to the dead in that movie where they get the creature at the beginning, what is it, the plague carrying…
Beth Accomando: The Sumatran monkey.
Arnold Blumberg: Sumatran monkey. Yeah, but it’s just insane. That movie is just one of those examples of pure insanity in a film and it’s an incredible piece of work. In many ways, I would say Brain Dead is one of those kinds of movies, it’s like a living cartoon.
Beth Accomando: Yes.
Arnold Blumberg: It’s like a cartoon come to life, all the gore, all the insanity, all the craziness and it's definitely one of the zombie movies that sort of stands alone as something really unique. I think the term that sometimes comes up when people describe it is slapstick.
Beth Accomando: Yes.
Arnold Blumberg: So a combination of slapstick and splatter and I think that sums it up pretty well.
Beth Accomando: I think the highest amount of blood possibly in any film I have seen.
Arnold Blumberg: Yeah.
Beth Accomando: Well, to go from something really extreme and outrageous like that, let me ask you about another film. And again, I am not sure these quite qualify as self aware, but they are definitely pushing the envelope in terms of our kind of traditional zombie is Pontypool which…
Arnold Blumberg: Oh, I haven’t seen that in a very long time. But obviously that one, it's one that often gets recommended too because it’s just one of the most original ideas that qualify for the zombie movie, but certainly is using the metaphor in a way that’s so unique where it's basing entirely on communication and language.
Beth Accomando: Yes.
Arnold Blumberg: Yeah, and the fact that…
Beth Accomando: Zombie-ism is spread through language, which I found so fascinating.
Pontypool Movie Audio Clip: It’s impossible. What’s impossible, doctor? It's viral. That much is clear. But not of the blood. Not of the blood, not of the air, not all of even in our bodies. It is here. It is in words. Not all words, not all speaking, but in some… some words are infected and it spreads out when the contaminated word is spoken. Oh… we are witnessing the emergence of a new arrangement for life and our language is its host.
Arnold Blumberg: In many ways I think it’s a movie where the idea is stronger than the thing itself. It’s like that idea’s the core. It’s just such a brilliant concept, the idea of just speaking and just passing along information, just words are the danger, and that carries an infection. And it’s certainly worth it for anybody to check it out. But I know for a fact, it’s one of the ones that certainly divides a lot of people.
Beth Accomando: Mm hmm.
Arnold Blumberg: Its certainly on the periphery in terms of what would be considered the traditional zombie genre, but I certainly would count it.
Beth Accomando: Yeah. I definitely think it’s a zombie film. But I tend to describe it to people that it’s a zombie movie without zombies.
Arnold Blumberg: Right. Yeah. It's, it definitely will not have the kind of payoff that people would normally expect. But it certainly, I would argue, is one of the most meaningful of recent movies because it came up with something which is kind of hard to do right now, especially with the genre which is to come up with sort of an original take on the idea and say, let’s use this metaphor in a different way. And unfortunately they can be good, they can be bad, but they tend to follow a certain pattern. And so when you see something original like this, coming up with something very different, it’s certainly worth taking a look at.
Beth Accomando: Well I think it taps into, that made it so appealing to me is that when the people change or turn, you really see humanity slipping away and that was really scary.
Pontypool Movie Audio Clip: [Loud Background Music] [00:55:09] Can you think. I can, I cannot think, yeah. That's a simple question, simple. Simple question, simple, simple, simple. So that’s it. He’s gone. This is what he is now. It’s just a crude radio signal he’s seeking. Simple, simple, simple, simple, simple, simple, simple.
Arnold Blumberg: It’s the idea of losing because then you are identifying that it’s like that’s what it would be like to lose yourself.
Beth Accomando: Mm hmm.
Arnold Blumberg: And to lose everything you are. And of course then there are other zombie movies where zombies are used as a metaphor for say like all timers or something like that. And then it could be terribly uncomfortable. Recently Maggie, we are not talking about self aware so much, but in a way she is a self aware character throughout that's she's becoming a zombie. Abigail Breslin plays the zombie and Arnold Schwarzenegger is her father and that one’s a really, really torturous, slow burn, depressing story that really is ultimately the story of losing a family member to a terminal disease.
And then and a lot of these movies do that too where it becomes, like you were just saying about Pontypool there’s a level where it can become so close and so intimate in the way it feels, that it’s too uncomfortable. That’s why a lot of people I know turn away from horror in general. Because the whole point is, it’s supposed to be…
Beth Accomando: Yes.
Arnold Blumberg: ...pushing buttons. It’s supposed to be making you feel uncomfortable. That’s the point of what it’s about.
Beth Accomando: You have to embrace the darkness.
Arnold Blumberg: Mm hmm, yeah. And when you understand that better, you understand yourself better. In fact while we are saying about what’s self aware and what’s not, it’s worth mentioning another class that’s also a mix of humor and horror which is The Return of the Living Dead.
Beth Accomando: Yes.
Arnold Blumberg: And those zombies are also pretty self aware. They speak. They are aware of what they want [Overlapping conversation] [00:56:50]…
Beth Accomando: [Overlapping conversation] [00:56:50]…
Arnold Blumberg: Yeah and they are not quite fully human in their behavior like iZombie or Warm Bodies, but they are definitely self aware.
Beth Accomando: Well let’s play a scene from that, which is when they are actually talking to not even a whole zombie, but a piece of a zombie and kind of asking them about what that condition feels like.
Return of the Living Dead Movie Clip: You can hear me? Yes. Why do you eat people? Not people. Brains. Are you a zombie? Yes. Why? Pains. What about pain? The pain of being dead. What’s it like to be dead? I can feel myself rot. Eating brains, how does that make you feel? It makes the pain go away.
Beth Accomando: I am glad you brought that film up because I have not thought about that. It had not come to my mind when I was thinking about self aware zombies, but it is completely within that realm. Because that character is so much aware of the condition that she is in and conveying that to the other characters.
Arnold Blumberg: Yeah and all the others are self aware to varying degrees. I mean then you get the characters doing the running joke about send more cops. And the thing is that they are talking because they are ordering us. And then the boyfriend character, he is speaking and having a full ongoing conversation when he’s definitely crossed over. So they are self aware. It’s interesting in a way. I mean I didn’t think about it myself until we were deeper in the conversation. But it’s a good one to bring up because it's one that’s very well respected by a lot of fans. It’s one if the truly great zombie films. And yet, I don’t think a lot of people would immediately put it in this category. But it definitely works.
Beth Accomando: And you also have the two characters who are transforming.
Arnold Blumberg: Right.
Beth Accomando: And again, their humanity is slipping away, but they are very much aware that they are going through this change and transition and pondering what it means.
Arnold Blumberg: Yes and it’s so painful to watch, almost literally, since they are going through rigor mortis while they are still aware of what’s going on. And I recently saw, this past Halloween, I went to an event at Senator Theater in Baltimore where they were debuting a local film maker Kevin Perkins who had just finished a movie about a warring zombie apocalypse.
Beth Accomando: Yes. And I got my brains blown out in that film.
Arnold Blumberg: And I appear for two seconds and I think we are all in it
Beth Accomando: We are all in it.
Arnold Blumberg: And then they also ran Return of the Living Dead and it was such a joy to see that in a theater with a group of people that largely already knew it very well. But there, you could definitely tell there are also quite a few of them who have never seen it before. And they were having a great time. And that’s another good example of one that is very 80s as that movie is, aspects of it still stand the test of time.
I mean it’s still a classic zombie movie. But yeah. it works perfectly with our category, because it definitely has creatures that are not the zombies you would expect.
Beth Accomando: Are there other self aware zombies that we haven’t touched on?
Arnold Blumberg: Oh I am sure there are probably at least a dozen other good examples that we are probably not thinking of at the moment. Like I said, there are examples of these kinds of creatures and more human zombie like characters throughout the whole history of the genre. But what’s happened lately, is a boom in popularity for that kind of story. So we are seeing a lot more of them. I am sure we could find many more examples if we had the time to look them up. But, yeah, these are certainly some of the most popular and most prevalent right now. I certainly expect that we will be seeing a lot more of it because I think it’s the version of the character of the creature that a lot of people are responding to now.
Beth Accomando: What do you see for its future? Do you think it’s going to morph or change in other ways or do you see anything in its evolution possibly?
Arnold Blumberg: Well, always a difficult question to answer. What I used to say was, like people would ask what do you think is the future of the zombie genre and I used to say, well you know, the question is what we are going to be afraid of in five or ten years and whatever that is, that will be what the zombies of that era will be representing and it will morph and evolve to fit that particular theme.
I think that’s still the case. I used to say also, that it seems inevitable there will be a peak and a valley and that we’ll reach a point where this surge will stop. However we are currently still experiencing the longest continued surge of popularity in zombies since they began. They used to be cyclical and it used to tend to go along like horror in general with any time this country was like in a war or had a major traumatic event, you would see it rise and fall like a roller coaster.
And yet after 9/11, we never stopped. The zombie came rushing back in 28 days later with the Dawn of the Dead remake and Walking Dead comic. And then by the time we got a few years in, the Walking Dead TV show came on and cemented them as a mainstream thing. So I don’t see them going away anytime soon. I don’t see them really waning much in popularity. I think the zombie is always going to be a regular part of our mainstream media experience now for the foreseeable future.
As for what they will be, I think self aware is definitely a major trend that I don’t think is going to go away anytime soon. I am not sure what other permutations there may be, but the question will always remain: What are we afraid of? What are we concerned about? What scares us individually? And that’s what the zombie is going to become.
Beth Accomando: Well I want to thank you very much for speaking with me. We have tried to talk for a podcast for quite a long time and it’s been a real pleasure because zombies are one of my favorite things.
Arnold Blumberg: Well obviously I am always happy to talk about zombies. But yeah, no, I am glad that we finally got the chance. It was a real joy to do.
Beth Accomando: So where can people find you?
Arnold Blumberg: Well I am on Twitter a lot. So if you go to @doctorofthedead, oddly enough that’s where you'll find me and together with my producer and co-host Scott Woodard, we do a podcast called Doctor of the Dead and you can find it on iTunes. You can find it at doctorofthedead.com, YouTube too. And every episode of Doctor of the Dead, when shows like Walking Dead are running, we try to do it weekly and cover every single individual episode.
This past fall, it was insane because we covered every Walking Dead, every Z Nation, Ash Vs Evil Dead, iZombie, they just got to stop for a while and give us a rest.
Beth Accomando: Give you some time to catch up.
Arnold Blumberg: Yeah but Walking Dead is almost back. So we’ll be doing that. And most recently we did an episode that the people had been asking for for a very long time and they asked us to do the classic Romero film. So we just recently did an episode number 68, appropriately enough, one Night of the Living Dead and we’ll cover the other Romero films as we move forward too. So I am looking forward to that.
Beth Accomando: Oh that sounds great! We brought up Ash Vs Evil Dead, that was such a peak of happiness for me to see that, to see Ash come back and in such prime form.
Arnold Blumberg: Oh and the moment the show began, both Scott and I were saying over and over again and then we were online and found everybody we knew saying the same thing, which is, we were calling that show a gift. It felt like a gift. It felt like we shouldn’t have this show, but we are getting it. And it was just, it was wonderful from start to finish. So...
Beth Accomando: Every week there was something to look forward to.
Arnold Blumberg: Yeah and so I'm so glad to know. Like right almost from the start, don’t worry, there is going to be a second season, so.
Beth Accomando: Well they were smart to bring it like that early on.
Arnold Blumberg: Oh, absolutely yeah.
Beth Accomando: I think I followed up with the show with the first trailer. The first trailer they had for us, I am like, oh yes. They get it. Sam Raimi is back and they give us what we want.
Arnold Blumberg: Yeah, there’s no question. With everybody involved, it was just a case of it feels exactly right. And on top of that, they added new people that felt right and the whole thing was just as, like I said, it was a gift. So yeah, we had a great time talking about that. Mainly our talking about that wasn’t all too sematic and academic. It was just laughing a lot so…
Beth Accomando: Just geek-gasm and stuff. That was weird. It was just like [Sound of Joy] [01:05:10] and I was thinking, I think by the third episode, we were going like, is there a decapitation quota? Do they have, are they upping it with each show? It’s just little things like that and obviously Wallace was in it, oh!
Arnold Blumberg: And we knew the cabin had to be back you know. That happened and it was like, oh this is wonderful.
Beth Accomando: Well it’s been a pleasure speaking with you and I can’t tell you how much fun it is to tell people at a public radio station, excuse me, I am going down to talk to the “Doctor of the Dead”.
Arnold Blumberg: I am glad it’s done that for you. That’s great!
Beth Accomando: All right. Well thank you very much for speaking with me.
Arnold Blumberg: Oh you're welcome, it was a pleasure.
Thanks for listening to another edition of the KPBS Cinema Junkie Podcast. Coming up later this month, we’ll have a discussion on blaxploitation films in honor of black history month and Horrible Imaginings Film Festival will be hosting a screening of Ganja and Hess as part of black history and women in horror month.
So until our next film fix, I am Beth Accomando, your resident cinema junkie.
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Satisfy your celluloid addiction with the Cinema Junkie podcast, where you can mainline film 24/7. This film and entertainment series is run by KPBS Film Critic Beth Accomando. So if you need a film fix, want to hear what filmmakers have to say about their work, or just want to know what's worth seeing this weekend, then you've come to the right place