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Today is your last chance to vote in our vampire vs. zombie poll, and so inspired by Deanna’s movie list (and in one final desperate attempt to save my sinking undead ass) here’s my 15 (count ’em!) reasons to vote zombie (BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!)…
- Zombie Walks: Healthy fun for all the family. Ever heard of “Vampire Walk”? No. Because vampires have no friends and it would be rubbish.
- Chainsaws: What kills zombies? POWER TOOLS. What kills vampires? Wooden stakes. WTF? Where’s the fun in that?
- Zombie Bikini Babes from Outer Space iPhone App: Zombies. Girls in bikinis. And throwing shit. What have you got Dracula? Oh, “a cape”. Nice.
- Marvel Zombies: Written by Robert Kirkman, author of The Walking Dead (another good reason to vote zombie), and with a plot more complicated that cannot possibly be explained in a sentence, all you really need to know is that in an alternate universe the Marvel heroes you know and love are flesh-hungry zombies (and they eat The Silver Surfer m’f@ckr!). ‘Nuff said.
- The “White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It)” scene in Shaun of the Dead: Old Skool 1980’s hip hop references AND zombies. What else do you want?
- The record throwing scene in Shaun of the Dead: ‘Purple Rain’? No. ‘Sign o’ the Times’? Definitely not. The ‘Batman’ soundtrack? Throw it. Genius. Name one even remotely funny vampire movie. JUST ONE. Vampires = not a good time.
- Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: ignore all those new literary bandwagon-jumping vampire mash-ups. P+P+Z was the original literary Jane Austen horror remix.
- George A. Romero‘s “Living Dead” films: Dude. They’ve defined horror movies for like 40 years (Night of the Living Dead was made in 1968. NINETEEN-SIXTY-EIGHT!). And apparently George A. Romero is writing two zombie novels for Grand Central Publishing. Oh yeah.
- Thriller: The 14 minute Michael Jackson music video directed by John Landis (director of the awesome An American Werewolf in London – see below) is proof that zombies CAN dance. Did I mention it also includes not a rap by Vincent Price? Vincent F@cking Price.
- Resident Evil: The video game even I’ve heard off. Capcom’s zombie-riffic survival horror game — arguably one the most influential games of all time — that has now spawned several sequels, not to mention movies, novels, comics and action figures. Any vampire video games done that? Uh-uh.
- Emperor Zombie: The scene-stealing evil genius in the awesome 2002 comic The Amazing Screw-On Head by Hellboy creator Mike Mignola (published by Dark Horse) and the v. cool TV pilot adaptation created for the Sci-Fi Channel in 2006. Emperor Zombie (voiced by Frasier’s David Hyde-Pierce in the TV pilot) has a “petty vengeance fetish” and plots to take over the world. With a turnip. Oh, and in a nice twist, Emperor Zombie has a vampire sidekick.
- Frankenstein’s Monster: Mary Shelley’s reanimated corpse has had more influence on modern horror than any other fictional character than Bram Stoker’s Dracula. But what makes Frankenstein’s monster more important than fang-face is that Shelley was actually making a point about modern science or something. Bram Stoker was just… I don’t know… writing some shit. Is Frankenstein’s monster actually a zombie? Well, you could say it’s debatable. I would say “hell yeah”.
- A Zombie Apocalypse Could Actually Happen!
- Nazi Zombies: What’s worse than the undead? NAZI undead. If I remember one thing about watching John Landis’ An American Wolf in London as a teenager (apart from Jenny Agutter), it is the trauma-inducing Nazi zombies, and – oh dear god – and they recently made a comeback in Swedish horror movie Dead Snow. Truly. F@cking. Terrifying.
- Zombies aren’t vampires
As UnDeath Match: Vampires Vs. Zombies enters its last week, it looks like that the zombies are done for. Despite my best efforts, vampires are leading our poll 59% to the zombies 41% at the time of writing.
WTF people? Really?
Apparently there are a lot of shallow people who hate Canada and women, and secretly (or not so secretly) want to sleep with gay men (while sipping on your pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks).
I can’t say I’m not disappointed and I hope all that everyone who voted for kitten-eating vampires instead of the humble (dare I say cuddly?) zombie, is feeling quietly ashamed of themselves.
You all suck… (Did you see what I did there? Oh never mind…).
But don’t get me wrong, I’m not writing this off just yet. There are still a few days left and as we all know, our zombie friends are remarkably resilient even if they don’t have a leg to stand on… So come on then, we’ll bite your arm off…
Vote Zombie! Polls close Friday October 30th.
Seeing as Deanna (who was busy invading Vancouver at the weekend under the pretense of attending Book Camp) reviewed P+P+Z last week, I feel like I should get off my tardy British ass and write my long overdue review of The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan.
And it’s probably best to just put this out there: I am a big nerd and even though I am representing the Zombie Nation, I have a giant man-crush on the vampiro’s main guy Guillermo.
In my defence, my geek-love for Del Toro pre-dates his novel and his Oscar for Pan’s Labyrinth. It even pre-dates his movie adaptation of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy who we apparently share a minor obsession with.
Yes I saw Hellboy on opening weekend. But I’ve seen all Del Toro’s English language movies multiple times (yes, including Blade II), and I have even seen his 1993 Spanish language movie Cronos more than once (really!). In fact it was Chronos and 2001’s The Devil’s Backbone that got me hooked on Del Toro’s modern spins on magic and monsters in the first place. I’ve never looked back.
All of which is really just a long way of saying I was kind of excited about reading The Strain. Even though I knew it was a vampire novel…
The book was co-authored with thriller writer Chuck Hogan, and I read on io9 that it started life as a TV series pitch to FOX, which is not hard to believe – at times it feels like CSI meets The X-Files (or whatever that new show like The X-Files-but-not-The X-Files is) with vampires. You can almost feel 24’s digital countdown on every page of the book.
As it happens, I actually read it on a flight from Toronto to Vancouver and so I was not thrilled that the story begins with the discovery of that almost everyone including the crew from Flight 753 from Berlin is dead – apparently killed on, or shortly before, landing at JFK (cue nervous shuffling and sideways glances on AC103 to YVR…)
The emergency team despatched to the mysterious incident is lead by workaholic biohazard expert Ephraim Goodweather, who on finding four survivors swiftly despatches them to an isolation unit in downtown New York.
An unidentified virus looks the likely cause, and Goodweather tries to identify the source and contain the outbreak. But despite his best efforts, a dark conspiracy led by sickly billionaire Palmer Eldritch (basically Mr Burns from The Simpsons) ensures the survivors are released. More surprisingly the dead apparently rise from the morgue and go home. The plague is unleashed.
Fortunately help is at hand in the form of the Van Helsing-esque holocaust survivor Abraham Setrakian who, aside from running a pawnshop in Spanish Harlem, has a very tooled up basement and moonlights as a vampire hunter. It is Setrakian who explains the origin of the epidemic is Jusef Sardu, an ancient vampire.
Sardu, it turns out, is more like Blade II’s Jared Nomak than Count Dracula. An outcast even among vampires, he has broken all sorts of ancient laws and come to America, and the ‘virus’ he carries is in fact a blood parasite that quickly reshapes the internal organs of anyone unfortunate enough to be infected. Blood turns to white goo. The dead are reanimated. Their appetite is insatiable. And, needless to say Goodweather and Setrakian only have hours to save civilization (huzzah!).
So far, so fast paced. The clock ticks. Lives are endangered. Obstacles are thrown in the way (bwa-ha-ha!). Rulebooks are thrown out. Unexpected heroes arise. Swords are drawn. Nail guns are weaponised. And the vampires (in true Del Toro fashion*) head down to the subway. The villain is confronted in his lair…
But is it any good? Well, yes and no.
It is a merciful relief that the book is more Nosferatu than Edward or Angel. The horror is definitely ramped up and for the most part we are in no doubt that the vampires are bad guys who eat people rather than preppy teenagers worried about their hair. And I would like to say (before I am kicked out of the zombie fraternity forever) that as a result, the leech-like vampires in The Strain – like the reapers in Blade II and the vamps in I Am Legend – have more than a passing resemblance to zombies. They are not romantic lost souls of Dracula, Interview with a Vampire, or Twilight. They are infected and possessed, congregating in hives and mindless (and unstoppable) in their pursuit of food.
The debt to Blade II is, in fact, apparent throughout The Strain, and Del Toro’s fingerprints are definitely all over the novel (even his role in its actual writing was limited). His obsession with folklore, monsters, epidemics and the darkness-that-lurks, is all there and the book is all the better for it (says the fan boy).
Hogan, for his part, keeps thing tight. Clearly revelling in procedural details and fast pacing, he draws heavily on the familiar keystones of modern cop dramas (hello courageous misunderstood mavericks, divorced-but-loving dads, workaholism, incompetent bureaucrats, evil lawyers, etc etc). He champions his honest, hardworking blue-collar heroes (like the nanny who steals away the children from her infected employer, and pest controller Vasily Fet), and takes great pleasure in the gradual infection and annihilation of a gated-community full of universally unpleasant, wealthy, golf-playing narcissists.
But, while The Strain demonstrates that a gritty police procedural vampire novel has great potential, I’m just not sure it quite seals the deal. Perhaps it’s a result of the dual authorship? Certainly the marriage between the book’s TV cop show tropes and Del Toro’s folkloric themes is, at times, an awkward one. Both strands feel underdeveloped, and ultimately the need to keep things moving overwhelms Del Toro’s vision (often reduced to clunky exposition).
The story is weighed down with a cast of thousands. Do we need to follow FOUR survivors through their infection? No, we really don’t (you’re turning into a vampire –it’s bad for you and us – we get it already). And although Hogan wants to keep the action rolling, he — or perhaps Del Toro — introduces too many incidental characters to care about. Like Blade II‘s all too expendable Bloodpace, they clutter the place up. I simply did not care whether most of the characters bought it or not. There are hints that some will become important later in the story – like the (unfortunately dull) teenage petty criminal Gus Elizade – and although this approach might have worked in a weekly TV series (where character development could happen over a number of episodes), too many characters seem like cardboard cut outs here.
And, without revealing too much, I’ve got to say that I felt cheated by the ending, which, in attempting to set up the sequel, is somewhat under-climatic.
Still, The Strain is an efficient, diverting horror thriller even if it doesn’t quite live up to its potential. I guess there’s always book two and three… (In which the vampires can be revealed to be Jane Austen appreciating zombies).
* Del Toro is obsessed with monsters in subways, which is not good for my early morning commute (or late nights home). Don’t believe me? Not only do the vampires in The Strain head for the NY Transit system, the giant bugs in Mimic hide in the subway. Where are the demons breeding in Hellboy? Wait for it… under the subway… And so it goes on.
There’s nothing like a list to spark some controversy, so tell us what you think of the Boston Globe‘s list of the 50 Scariest Horror Movies of All Time.
There’s some obvious choices including 28 Days Later (#18), which Deanna and I will be reviewing soon, and I’ve got to tell you Audition at #10 certainly gets my vote as flipping terrifying, but there’s some not so obvious choices as well — hello Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory at #47 and er… documentary Jesus Camp at #17.
Of course, it’s good to see the zombies (and pft… a few vampires) represented, but what would you choose?
A screenwriter and former US Army Ranger (!) Don seemed like an excellent person to chat to about this whole ker-razy zombie vs vampire thing we’ve got going on, and so I decide to email him a few questions about his new book and who would kick whose ass.
(In retrospect I really, really should have asked him about efficacy of various firearms in close combat with zombies and other undead, but maybe next time?)
What’s the premise of Zombies: A Record of the Year of Infection?
The book is based on a manuscript discovered in rural Canada, following the 2012 zombie invasion called the “Year of the Dead” that wiped out over sixty percent of the earth’s population. The manuscript, authored by a Seattle-based blood scientist, Dr. Robert Twombly, has been organized carefully to serve as a treatise, survival guide, and the single most comprehensive study of the zombie species ever published.
What was the inspiration for the book?
Believe it or not, Gnomes by Wil Huygen and Rien Poortvliet was the original inspiration. And you can still see some of that if you compare the covers. The idea, which was born from Becker & Mayer in Bellevue, Washington, was to lampoon the popular, ubiquitous Gnomes book with zombies. Before I was brought on, there had been some concept sketches done for the book proposal. My friend and collaborator, Ryan Hobson, who works at B&M as an illustrator told me that there was “a zombie book in the works.” Immediately, I started emailing contacts at B&M to find out who the editor was on the project. Unfortunately, they already had a best-selling zombie writer considered for the project. But the editor, Amy Wideman, asked me if I wanted to help “flesh out” the book outline and write some copy for the already drawn-up illustrations. Naturally, I was stoked. It was work that I would have happily done for free.
If you’ve ever read Gnomes (and if you haven’t you should, it’s a charming book), it is an illustrated observation in the life of the little woodland creatures. They build houses, protect the forest, get married, and all that. The problem with zombies is that they do none of that. They just shuffle around, kill, eat, repeat. That’s it. This was supposed to be a 144-page book. So there didn’t seem like a way to have somebody just observe “zombie behaviour” without it getting, well, a little dead. So I had to create an entire story of a survivor and why he was documenting this information as he also tried to stay alive.
Since the word count of the book was 15,000 words tops (that’s about the word count to a 105-page screenplay) and I have the most experience writing screenplays, I first wrote up a story “beat sheet” of the narrative and then added observations that could be gleaned by the protagonist, Dr. Twombly. I wrote up a 1,700-word outline in about a week and turned it in. B&M was really happy with the outline and the text that I wrote for the sample illustrations. And lucky for me, the other author dropped out of the project. So I was brought on to complete what I started.
Was it a lot of fun to write?
Absolutely. I didn’t have as much time to write and develop it as I wanted (who ever does) but I’m happy how it turned out. Ultimately, the story had to be character-driven since we were following Dr. Twombly around. I believe that the main appeal for zombies is the What-Would-I-Do-In-This-Situation fantasy. People want to be put to the test to see how they’d perform, and end-of-civilization scenarios seem to be the most seductive. So I wanted to make the character the antithesis of somebody who would do well, like say, John Rambo from the films. Dr. Robert Twombly works in a blood lab and for fun is a birdwatcher. He really has to learn to survive along the way and with help from people he meets. I also wanted to throw a bit of narrative irony in there. He’s a guy, a lab nerd, who’s really experiencing life in the great outdoors for the first time, amidst all of this death. There was irony with him being a birdwatcher, but never really noticing things before. He just lived in his little humdrum, routine existence like most of us do. I hope that is what will make Twombly more relatable to readers. He goes to an office everyday, does his job, but then one day, the world comes apart around him and it’s he who has to deal with it.
Who did all the gory illustrations?
The magnificent illustrations were done by Chris Lane. I haven’t met him, but we’ve spoke via phone an email. When I first learned who the illustrator was on the project, I immediately Googled him to do some research. When I found his website, I knew that he was the right artist for the job. His stuff is gory and macabre, but oddly beautiful at the same time. When I first saw his pictures with my words, I got a chill. It’s as exciting as making a film. Maybe even more. He pulled this dark world from the text, which was darkened than I could even imagine, but it works. There’s an in-your-face, unrelenting quality to his images that’s important for this genre.
You also have a book called Vampire Tales coming out this fall with Scholastic. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Love to. I’ve been writing books for Scholastic Book Clubs for about three years now. It first started with Scary Stories, then when that sold well, I was brought back to write Tales of Terror, Dragon Adventures, True Scary Stories, Creepy Stories, and now Vampire Tales. Obviously, there are kids reading them, which is great. I received my first fan letter from a eight-year-old reader and I about cried. I was so happy that my words moved someone enough to compel them to write a letter to me.
Like the other books, Vampire Tales contains five original short stories, these, as you may have figured out, revolved around vampires. Having a lifelong love of vampires (Dracula has been my hero since age 6) I had many stories to share on the subject. Of all the Scholastic books, this is probably my best. One, because I’m getting better at writing shorter fiction, and two, I was passionate about the subject. Vampire Tales and the rest, unfortunately, are only available through Scholastic Book Clubs. But I’ve seen some of the books turn up on Amazon used or people have even told me that they’ve picked up copies at yard sales, which, I guess, is cool.
Each vampire story ends on a cliffhanger which prompts the reader to be satisfied with the ending as is, add to it, or even write their own original story. Their ideas are protected by a vampire-claw lock and key. The books, in a way, are story journals. My name doesn’t appear on the covers of the books for that reason.
You’re a screenwriter as well as an author, so did you watch a lot of horror movies for ‘research’?
I didn’t do much research for the project. Mostly I read the Gnomes book, since it was the book we were supposed to be lampooning, for ideas, but there weren’t that many usable ones since gnomes and zombies are such different creatures. I have had a lifelong love with zombies and have seen nearly all the films, so I wanted to filter those memories through the book without any direct reference. Edgar Allan Poe and the US Army Ranger handbook were just as much help as any zombie film that I could recall. Chronicle Books was also great in that they let me move around the genre in anyway that I saw fit. I had tremendous creative leeway. I wanted to stay with some of the preconceived zombie “rules,” but wanted to experiment with a few new ones. I also think that any self-respecting zombie film, or horror film, or science fiction film or book, should be a reflection of the time that it was written in. Especially with more sophisticated audiences where straight horror just doesn’t do it anymore. I personally like a little thought behind the horror films that I love—Psycho, Dawn of the Dead (original), The Exorcist, Jaws, Night of the Living Dead, (original).
OK, so you’re something of an expert here. Who do you think wins in a fight, vampire or zombie?
My original answer, after considering the question for only a few minutes is that the fight would be a stalemate. Vampires move faster, and are stronger and swifter than zombies. But what zombies lack in strength and speed they make up in volume. There are just too many of them. Three vampires could probably rip the heads of an army of 100 zombies, but it wouldn’t matter. The zombies, like the inevitable Death itself, would keep marching on unhindered. Now, thinking about it, I would have to give the fight to the zombies. Here’s why—vampires are a predatory creature. They NEED to feed in order to survive, zombies do not. Vampires cannot feed on the dead. Without humans, vampires would have to resort to animals to survive. Vampires would eventually eat their way to extinction. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
Just to reinforce the point that brainy women should be voting zombie, Suite 101 reminds us all of the appeal of P+P+Z:
Perhaps what is so fascinating about this new version is the light of strength and independance it paints the women in. While Elizabeth was often the more “mature” of her sisters in the original, in this she is even more clearly so, as the protector of not only the family but of the village.
Her relationship with Mr. Darcy hinges not only on their mutual attraction and developing friendship, but also on the fact that they are equals in the killing of zombies. Elizabeth’s personality quirks are certainly brought to the forefront when she exalts in the killing of “satan’s spawn”, going so far as to paint the blood of a vanquished zombie on her face as she chops off its head.
So to recap ladies: You could be swooning over vampires OR you could be chopping the heads off zombies and smearing blood on your face. Your call.
Is there such a thing as zombie discrimination? You bet…
Nazi zombies. Coming to a Canadian cinema near you: