• Tag Archives zombies
  • Reinventing the Horde: Problems in Zombie Fiction

    zombiefightnightdrivethruAuthor’s note: This essay originally aired on this blog prior to the file purge of 2014. It is now being rerun for your reading pleasure. Please note Zomtropolis is no longer available as a free on-line serial and will be released in paperback and eBook in the near future.

    Zombies are monsters. At least, that’s the standard definition. Someone dies, rises, has a taste of human flesh and so hunts down the living and, once the prey is caught, chows down and eats their guts. Oh, and they’re ugly, too, slowly rotting away with each passing day.

    That’s the standard version of the zombie and the one most are familiar with.

    It’s the one I knew of when I first discovered them, but as for their main backstory, I didn’t know what that wasy.

    See, I grew up in a household where horror and monsters where off limits. This was a good thing, in that I didn’t have to view creepy faces, see blood and guts, watch people get killed, or be subject to dark forests like other kids I knew. I was probably saved hundreds of hours of nightmares as a result. This absence of horror made for a happier childhood, in that regard. My dad always said, “If you want to watch horror, watch the news.” And he was right, and still is. We live in a sad world with villains in it that outmatch most of what we create in books or on screen.

    At the same time, being so sheltered was a detriment to a well-rounded upbringing because later on, I was naïve about a lot of things, including the darker side of life, both in terms of what humans were capable of and scary images.

    My first exposure to monsters was seeing a ripped-from-a-magazine picture of Freddy Krueger lying in the playground in elementary. The image of a disfigured man with bubbles on his skin was so foreign to me that I had occasional nightmares from that single image for years. I never saw an actual Freddy movie until I was eighteen and living on my own, but I got to tell you: going to the video store to rent one sent up all sorts of red flags and I was scared to watch A Nightmare on Elm Street for the first time.

    But zombies, werewolves or vampires growing up?

    At most I saw the Halloween episode of Highway to Heaven where Michael Landon was a werewolf for part of it. Scared me to death. Same with that other episode with the devil.

    Highway to Heaven. Good show, from what I remember, and it was allowed in the Christian household I grew up in for its message. It was also this growing up in a Christian household and the zero tolerance policy for horror and monsters that shaped my life, not only in terms of what I couldn’t see, but how I reacted when faced with the horrors that pop up in life now and then.

    In fact, I only got into horror because of something painful that happened to me. It was in this place of darkness that I found comfort in other dark things for a long time.

    Later, when I incorporated writing about zombies into my writing career, my view of the undead and fandom of them wasn’t your typical horror fan’s. It wasn’t the blood and guts that excited me or their spooky nature, the whole things-that-go-bump-in-the-night thing.

    Instead, it was rooted in my first love: superheroes.

    And they still are.

    I’ve never viewed zombies as “horror monsters” in terms of how I create and write them. To me, they’ve always been supervillains, and I think it’s this definition of them that is more accurate: they are “super” because they can’t die via conventional means—only by the removal of the head—and are certainly not part of our everyday lives, and they are “villains” because of the evil act of eating others they commit.

    When I set out to write my first zombie book, Blood of the Dead (book one of the Undead World Trilogy,) I didn’t want to write a standard zombie novel about a virus, people dying, people coming back, people surviving. I’ve never been one for formulas in my fiction and have always tried to do something new with each tale. Once the story was done, it immediately birthed unusual plans for the sequel, Possession of the Dead: angels, demons, giant zombies some fifteen stories high, shamblers and sprinters, shape shifting zombies and the consequences of the time travel ending of the first book. The third, Redemption of the Dead, incorporated all these unusual elements, while neatly dealing with the time travel issue and ensuring it was paradox-free, which, as a major time travel fan, was something important to me. But all along, as these books were written, the zombies were supervillains to me, with my main cast—Joe, Billy, August, Des, Tracy—being superheroes in their own right, especially Joe and Tracy. While Joe was an excellent shot with the gun, tough as nails and grim, Tracy was a highly-skilled marksmen and fighter. Likewise, they had the tendency to rescue people versus just letting people die.

    The story certainly would not have been what it was without my love of the superhero genre and my sheltered upbringing. Doing zombie stories this way also enabled me to tackle Zombie Fight Night: Battles of the Dead, with a kind of comic book sensibility, that is, classic characters—ninjas, samurai, robots, Vikings, and more—and pit them up against the undead in Bloodsport-like battles, each fight with a purpose that served the overall story being told between each bout.

    The supervillain angle—I like it. I grew up with it, being a huge fan of Super Friends, the Christopher Reeve Superman flicks, the Tim Burton Batman movies, even the Spider-Man TV show. To be honest, I can’t imagine writing monsters any other way other than as supervillains because that’s what they are to me.

    Any monster is, actually, and I explored this idea in the series of anthologies I edit called Metahumans vs. The first two are Metahumans vs the Undead and Metahumans vs Werewolves. For the uninitiated, metahumans are superheroes are the same thing. The idea with this series was not only to showcase independent superheroes, but also put them up against a new kind of supervillain that isn’t used that often in comics or cartoons: monsters.

    Before you accuse me of this article being a giant commercial for my undead work—for free serial zombie fiction, see my on-line novel, Zomtropolis at www.canisterx.com, wink wink, nudge nudge—there’s a point to all these examples, and that is this: not to let stereotypes and archetypes be a guide for your fiction, in this, we’re talking about undead fiction.

    Why do zombies have to monsters via the standard definition? Why can’t there be something more to them?

    I fully realize we live in a very commercialistic society, where most of what’s produced is made because it’ll make the most money. For me, this is a shallow way of approaching storytelling. It’s selfish, it’s limiting, it’s, frankly, wrong. Art—which includes writing—should be about honest expression, about pushing boundaries and trying something new. Will this new thing always be popular? No, but the fact that it is new is important and shows the artist behind it has put thought into it and expressed something from within versus simply a formula of what would sell.

    Let’s look at the typical zombie formula.

    1) a virus sweeps the world, killing people

    2) these people rise from the dead as flesh-eating machines

    3) a group of people were somehow not infected—which may or may not be explained

    4) this group must survive in a half-destroyed world with limited resources—are our armies really that incompetent that the surviving military couldn’t defeat creatures who are stupid and slow?—and battle amongst themselves and against shambling zombies

    Did I miss anything?

    While this is fine for the skeleton of a story, it doesn’t make much for the meat of it. There needs to be more. Reasons for things need to be given. A new spin on these four main ideas needs to be taken otherwise it’s just the same story being told over and over again, the only difference being the people’s names and locales.

    “Well, that’s what the audience expects?” you say. They expect that because that’s what we’ve been giving them.

    Ever read a book or see a movie and go, “Now that’s a new way to do it?” I have. It’s an amazing realization and elevates the work in question to a whole new level upon seeing it.

    Some possible fixes to the aforementioned zombie formula, off the top of my head:

    1) Why is it always a virus? Why not something supernatural? Or something from space? Something from Earth? Something mechanical that gives the illusion of people back from the dead? I edited an anthology called Dead Science, which challenged the authors to create unique science-gone-wrong-based origins for the undead. The stories they came up with were fun and original.

    2) Shamblers and sprinters seem to be the order of the day. Some have ventured into smart zombie territory. What if they had super strength? What if to kill them it wasn’t cutting off their heads but it was their guts—source of hunger—that needed to be removed? What if they were giants? What if part of the cause of them dying also shrank them and you had zombies so small they were like bugs and could get all over you so quickly like ants that you had no hope of survival?

    3) Seldom is it explained why the group of survivors were immune to the zombie virus. An explanation for their survival needs to be included? Was a vicinity thing? Did the cause of the undead only affect people indoors? Outdoors? Is the whole world taken out or just a part of it?

    4) How come the world is always destroyed within a few weeks of the outbreak? Have you noticed this or is it just me? While I realize people act like animals under panic—we’ve all seen riots on the news—all these cities with broken everything, over-turned cars, bodies everywhere, graffiti, everyone suddenly in torn clothes, etc.—I just don’t get it. What about our military? Wouldn’t the countries’ forces combine to eradicate a common threat like a zombie outbreak? How could even a horde of zombies take out a guy with a machine gun unless they’re oh-so-slow moving bodies somehow got in a sneak attack? What about planes and bombs?

    I won’t admit to having read every zombie book or seen every zombie movie, but it seems to me the element of realism has been taken out. It’s always been my view that a book or comic or movie—whatever—needs to be grounded in reality somehow, the whole “what if this happened tomorrow for real” thing. To add such an element to a book—regardless of how out-of-this-world the circumstance is—suddenly brings that fantastic circumstance into our world and puts the reader right in the middle of the tale because he/she can completely understand why things happen a certain way. Life isn’t full of conveniences, tidy plotlines and clichéd ideas. It’s a mess with tons of twists and turns.

    Shouldn’t our stories reflect life?

    The argument is people want to escape. For me, that’s just an excuse to get out of a life that isn’t the one you wanted. How about turning that on its head and reading stories about lives like yours, that aren’t the way the characters wanted, and you draw strength and encouragement from that? There’s lots to be said about relatability and seeing people in the same boat as you, whether they’re real or not, whether the world they inhabit is yours or not.

    But I realize that trying new things and going against the grain is countercultural, especially in the West. I realize that to propose writing zombie fiction as something other than zombie fiction flies in the face of decades of tradition.

    It just seems, though, that these standard ideas have become so ingrained in us that we’re afraid to move or operate outside them. Afraid to grow. Afraid to step off the beaten path and blaze a new trail.

    Seems we all just go with the flow.

    Just like a pack of zombies.


  • Appearing at . . . Kids Fringe Festival

    kidsfringeThis will mark my third year in a row appearing at the Kids Fringe Festival here in Winnipeg.

    I’ll be there July 24 from 3-7pm and will be bringing books, with, I think, superheroes and zombies being the orders of the day.

    Come downtown to the Exchange and visit awhile. Bring your family.


  • Vicious Verses and Reanimated Rhymes: Zany Zombie Poetry for the Undead Head

    The dead rise. The world dies. Mankind falls and enters Death’s halls.

    Over 90 poems of carnage, hopelessness and despair mixed with oodles of the living dead await you. Featuring poems by W. Bill Czolgosz, Paul A. Freeman, Keith Gouveia, J.H. Hobson, Rich Ristow, Lester Smith, Steve Vernon, Zed Zefram, Zombie Zak and many others, Vicious Verses and Reanimated Rhymes will not only melt your brain . . . it’ll tear out your jugular!

    Available as a paperback at:

    Amazon.com
    Amazon.ca
    Amazon.co.uk
    Barnes and Noble

    Available as an eBook at:

    Amazon Kindle
    Drivethru Fiction
    Smashwords


  • Dead Science: A Zombie Anthology

    Science.
    Research.
    Knowledge.

    The human intellect knows no bounds because of them.

    We’ve built cities and nations upon them.

    We’ve stopped the spread of terrible diseases because of what we’ve learned from them.

    Lives have been saved . . . but lives also have been lost.

    Now those lives have returned from the grave, seeking revenge.

    Sometimes . . . science goes wrong.

    Death.
    Destruction.
    Zombies.

    Featuring the terrifying tales of 13 authors, Dead Science brings you stories of the undead unlike any you’ve ever read before. Prepare to go behind-the-scenes and learn about the causes of various zombie uprisings and the havoc these creatures wreak upon the living.

    Stories by:

    Gustavo Bondoni, Eric S. Brown, Michael Cieslak, Lorne Dixon, Anthony Giangregorio, Glen Held, Becca Morgan, Mark Onspaugh, Gina Ranalli, Vincent L. Scarsella, Jason V. Shayer, Ryan C. Thomas and Adam J. Whitlatch.

    Available as a paperback at:

    Amazon.com
    Amazon.ca
    Amazon.co.uk
    Barnes and Noble

    Available as an eBook at:

    Amazon Kindle
    Drivethru Fiction
    Smashwords


  • Canister X Movie Review #127: Flight of the Living Dead (2007)

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    Flight of the Living Dead (2007)
    Written by Sidney Iwanter, Mark Onspaugh and Scott Thomas
    Directed by Scott Thomas
    Runtime 94 min.
    4 out of 5

    A team of scientists creates a virus that kills the victim then regenerates the body. The idea: sell it as a biological weapon. The plan: one of the scientists is infected so is transported via plane in a special container under armed guard. Not that they think the scientist within is a threat, just that they don’t want anyone stealing the container.

    The plane encounters a severe thunderstorm and is rocked all over the place. Sure enough, the container is no longer secure and the person within is brought back to life. First goes the guard . . . then goes everyone else.

    Also on board—in coach—is a cop named Truman Burrows (David Chisum) and a criminal, Frank (Kevin J. O’Connor), being transported for trial. Soon these two must set aside their differences if they are to survive this doomed flight.

    Outbreak on a plane? You bet.

    Big trouble? You better believe it.

    The premise for this movie is just plain cool: zombies on a plane (sounds familiar, don’t it?). Good stuff. My question going into this was: okay, you got a plane full of zombies, but only so much room. How can you fill a whole movie without people getting slaughtered inside of fifteen minutes? Sure enough, the writers thought of that and managed to at first slowly let the zombies rise then, due to the large plane and various compartments therein, give our main band of heroes some room to run around and not get eaten.

    The zombies were scary, especially their eyes. Really good makeup. There was plenty of action and enough blood and guts to make any horror fan happy.

    The only thing I thought was kind of weak was the pilot’s insistence on not setting the plane down once the undead outbreak occurred. Can’t you land on more than just a long stretch of road? How about a field? Even a water landing? Better to take a chance with those than watch your passengers get eaten.

    This is one of those B-movies that make you happy you love B-movies, you know? There’s a sense of B-horror pride with this one. Hard to place it, but it’s there. More than once I was going, “Oh man, this is so good!” Maybe it’s the acting. Maybe it’s the grade of the film. Maybe the effects. I don’t know . . . but it’s good.

    Fun flick. Check it out.

    I’m glad I added Flight of the Living Dead to my collection.

    And on a personal note, I had the privilege of publishing one of the co-writers of this movie, Mark Onspaugh, in my science-gone-wrong zombie anthology, Dead Science. His story is called “The Decay of Unknown Particles.” Cool.


  • Canister X Movie Review #124: Night of the Living Dead 3D (2006)

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    Night of the Living Dead 3D (2006)
    Written by Robert Valding
    Directed by Jeff Broadstreet
    Runtime 80 min.
    3 out of 5

    I found out about this flick via the movie-on-demand feature from my cable provider. I watched the trailer, loved the zombies, then vowed that one night soon after my wife and kids went to bed, I’d indulge in a world of darkness and gore while hiding out in an old farmhouse.

    The problem was: I got busy, so when I finally got around to my late-night television watching, I was too tired to watch a full movie and since the on-demand rental would only be for 24 hours, there wouldn’t be any other time to watch this flick other than, well, right when I rented it.

    So the suspense built. One day turned to two. Two to four. Four to eight, ’til eventually a few weeks passed, me all the while unable to stop thinking about this film. Then . . . finally—finally—I was able to watch this thing. The only problem was it was an over-the-cables rental so no 3D for me. Oh well.

    I loved how it started out like the original Night of the Living Dead (that was 1968, for those who don’t know). The opening scene in the cemetery immediately brought back memories of the original and the same kind of eeriness. Then the zombies showed up; I was all giggles and my inner undead fanboy was a happy camper.

    Right then I knew I was in for a good time. And I had a good time. The zombie scenes were great. The dead were just plain gross, each in various states of decay. The blood was plentiful and Sid Haig as Gerald Tovar Jr. did a great job of being that creepy, hick kind of guy that would bother anyone. And I gotta tell you, I didn’t see the twist in the storyline coming. I won’t spoil it, but those who’ve seen this movie know what I’m talking about.

    This movie is one of those great-yet-not flicks. You love it because it’s all blood and guts, zombies and definitely a B-movie. You have a problem with it because the story is kind of “meh” and the acting is all right. At the same time you can’t stop thinking about it afterward because—since it’s a remake—it brings back gushy memories of the original (and in this case the original and the 1990 remake), but at the same time you wonder how it got off the rails so badly.

    That said, I’m giving it a split rating, the idea here being you can go either way on this, but at the very least be in for a good time, especially if you dig B-horror.


  • Canister X Movie Review #123: Land of the Dead (2005)

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    Land of the Dead (2005)
    Written by George A. Romero
    Directed by George A. Romero
    Runtime 93 min.
    3 out of 5

    One day, they rose.
    The next, the world fell.
    Now, humanity barely survives.
    And the undead have gotten smarter.

    Zombies abound in this recent blockbuster by George A. Romero and, as always, the man who invented the zombie genre shows us he still has what it takes to turn out a good flick.

    Simon Baker does a great job playing the hard-edged-yet-soft-hearted hero, while John Leguizamo steals the show as a kind of crooked hero-turned-bad guy.

    What I enjoyed about this flick was the idea of a walled-in society, a city-turned-world of its own, with its own hierarchy, running down from rich to poor. I suppose that even if the dead walked the earth, we’d still have the same problems we have today with the rich getting richer and the poor poorer.

    Blood and guts fill the screen of this feature: graphic, wet and sloppy. There’s no shortage of stomach-turning moments here.

    I liked the idea of some of the zombies getting smarter instead of just roaming around looking for folks to eat, and the idea of them trying to regain their former humanity was well done. However, the “human-hearted” zombies also made the creatures feel a bit too human, for my taste, and the undead lost their edge as a result.

    The story was simple, but fun.

    Not a bad effort, this one.


  • Canister X Movie Review #121: Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)

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    Resident Evil: Extinction (2007)
    Written by Paul W.S. Anderson
    Directed by Russell Mulcahy
    Runtime 94 min.
    5 out of 5

    Alice (Milla Jovovich) wanders the Nevada desert alone, flying under the radar of the Umbrella Corporation.

    It’s been five years since the deadly T-virus outbreak. The world is all but in shambles. Alice believes that only Alaska is the last safe place on Earth. An old journal she found with a six-month-old radio transcription told her so.

    On her journey, Alice comes across a small caravan of survivors headed up by Claire (Ali Larter) that also happens to be carrying along some old friends: Slater (Matthew Marsden) and L.J. (Mike Epps).

    She convinces them to head north to Alaska, and so they embark, fighting off the dead at every turn, even undead crows that have been transformed from feasting on zombie flesh.

    Dr. Isaacs (Iain Glen) wants Alice back under his control as he focuses on perfecting her as a weapon against the undead. Except, once Alice catches on, she manages to disable their system of control over her and escapes with Claire and the others.

    All hope lost, and having been bitten by one of the dead himself, Dr. Isaacs uses the antivirus on himself . . . but in a different way, creating a result neither he nor Alice expected.

    It’s ultra crazy good and suspenseful action horror in this third installment in the Resident Evil series.

    Wow. I mean, man oh man, I love this movie. So, so good. I’m a sucker for roadside horror and sleepy towns. This movie has both. The zombies? Pure gruesome since most of them have been rotting for five years as they wander around devouring the rest of the living.

    The zombie crows were a nice touch. So, so many of them. Swarms. That’s the thing I always tell people about zombies. One zombie’s not so bad. Get a whole mess of them together and they’re scary as all get out. Same for zombie crows. There was enough here to turn the sky black. Freaky.

    The development of Alice’s powers was cool and though her telekinesis might seem kind of outlandish to some, it’s portrayed well here and done with the utmost seriousness and not used as a cop-out to get her out of a jam.

    I felt bad for her as well when she saw all those clones of herself rotting out in the desert sun. That’d be heartbreaking, upsetting and angering for anyone. I’m glad she gave Dr. Isaacs his due.

    The ending raises a ton of questions for the forthcoming Resident Evil: Afterlife. I’m eager to see how they deal with that army of Alices without it coming off goofy or repetitive.

    This movie’s score was also spectacular, the hard beat of the drums and dark, raunchy guitar giving it a very awesome grittiness that adds to the whole post-apocalyptic feel.

    Check this flick out. It’s hardcore, loaded with gore and just down right fantastic.

    Recommended.


  • Canister X Movie Review #120: Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)

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    Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)
    Written by Paul W.S. Anderson
    Directed by Alexander Witt
    Runtime 94 min.
    4.5 out of 5

    The Umbrella Corporation needs to know what happened at the Hive and why it was sealed up afterward, so a team is sent down there to open it. Unfortunately, when they do, they unleash an army of the undead and the T-virus is unleashed on the world.

    Alice (Milla Jovovich) wanders the streets of Raccoon City, now under quarantine, blasting the heads off of anything dead that moves. Soon she saves Valentine (Sienna Guillory) and crew and the group is quickly contacted by Dr. Ashford (Jared Harris) whose daughter, Angie (Sophie Vavasseur), is still in the city. Umbrella Corporation scanners show her at the school she attends. The deal: if they save his daughter, he’ll guide them out of the city and past the perimeter Umbrella has put up to keep the T-virus in. They have to do this before sunrise otherwise they won’t make it out before Umbrella nukes the entire city, erasing any trace that the T-virus existed and reanimated the dead.

    Oh, and the Nemesis Project is online, and it’s on the hunt.

    Usually sequels fail after the first, or if they succeed, it’s only by a small margin. Well, Resident Evil: Apocalypse is even better than its predecessor and brings another haul of thrills and chills along with it. In this one the post-apocalyptic feel hangs thick on the air. Raccoon City is in ruins. Cars are overturned and on fire. Bodies and blood litter the streets. Guns are going off in the distance.

    And zombies are everywhere. Good and gruesome zombies. (I particularly liked the ones featured in the cemetery; the level of rot and decay on those things was exquisite.)

    In Resident Evil style, dark things lurk in the shadows and the suspense and tension built in this movie is awesome. I jumped I don’t know how many times. Even the parts where you go, “Okay, something’s going to pop out . . . NOW!” make you jump. Very cool.

    The fight between Nemesis and Alice was cool along with her other wheelings and dealings with the undead. Her super solider-esque, Matrix-like fighting techniques was a treat to watch.

    That scene in the school with all those zombie kids? Truly creepy. Adult zombies got nothing on these little terrors.

    The movie serves as a nice in-betweener for the first and third. The epic scale of storytelling is terrific, and this is one zombie saga I’m eager to see go on, especially when part four (Resident Evil: Afterlife) comes out in 2011.

    Recommended.


  • Canister X Movie Review #119: Resident Evil (2002)

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    Resident Evil (2002)
    Written by Paul W.S. Anderson
    Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson
    Runtime 100 min.
    4.5 out of 5

    When Alice (Milla Jovovich) wakes up on a shower floor inside a mansion with no memory, she has little time to try and get herself together. Soon the place is infiltrated by commandos, who then take her down beneath the mansion to a secret train and into a place called the Hive, a hidden underground facility where the powerful Umbrella Corporation was conducting secret experiments.

    The problem is something had gone wrong before the team got there.

    And the dead are coming back to life.

    Alice and the commandos dodge zombies, the Hive’s super sophisticated security system—called the Red Queen—and teammates who have secrets of their own.

    It would be a miracle if anyone makes it out of the Hive . . . alive.

    This movie is pure suspense. Every little sound, thump and bump make you wonder when a zombie’s going to pop out of nowhere and devour one of the living. Keeping things even creepier is the Hive itself. It’s location: a half mile below Raccoon City. Space is limited. Time is running out. You feel the tension all the way through, right from when Alice wakes up ’til the blood-soaked climax.

    I loved this movie. The only reason I’m knocking off half a point is because the plot is super simple (though they make you feel otherwise). However, this flick serves as an awesome back story for what’s to come because there have been two sequels so far (Resident Evil: Apocalypse and Resident Evil: Extinction) and a fourth one to come in 2011, currently called Resident Evil: Afterlife.

    This movie definitely served its purpose of setting things up for the saga to come, and wasted no time going through zombie origin stuff before getting hardcore into the action, mystery and carnage. Director/writer Paul W.S. Anderson nailed it with this film. Though—according to my Mrs—this flick was different than the game, I enjoyed it big time and have been a fan of the franchise since. Guess I owe my wife one for introducing it to me back when this film came out.

    Zombie fans will love this movie and it’s easy to see why Resident Evil has the following it does.

    Recommended.