So, contrary timestamps notwithstanding, I haven’t posted anything since Friday and it’s high time to correct that, especially with SPOOKTOBERFEST already half gone and done. I have been gorging myself on horror-tainment all along, of course, including finishing The Devil in the White City. I had wanted to blog about the book on Monday in honor of Columbus Day, because the 1893 World’s Fair for which the titular White City was constructed in Chicago was of course a celebration of Columbus’s voyage to the new world 400 years earlier. The book is excellent (between The Devil in the White City and Thunderstruck, which I read back in 2008, I’m slowly becoming a pretty big fan of Erik Larson) for being as immersive as it is educational as it is disturbing. I don’t know that talking about the events described in the book would constitute spoilers, since it’s all a matter of century-old public record at this point, but I’m still hesitant to go into it too much. I’d rather just recommend the book heartily, and get out of Larson’s way, because the real strength is in his particular telling (or re-telling) of the intertwined stories.
Additionally, while it may be argued that the Moment of the Zombie in the pop culture zeitgeist has already passed its prime, it’s still unholy ground worth returning to with Halloween fast approaching. So I read a comics collection entitled Infestation Volume 1, and I finally watched George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.
Whilst everyone recovers from the shock of learning that it took me until just last week to see one of the all-time classic modern horror flicks, I’ll explain a bit about what Infestation is. It is frigging insane, is what it is. It’s a comics crossover (meaning a vaguely unified story that runs through multiple titles) published by IDW back in early 2011. IDW is not one of the Big Two comics publishers who handle Captain America and Spider-Man or Batman and Green Lantern. Instead, IDW primarily puts out comics based on licensed properties, with some supplemental original material as well. So if you are looking for comics featuring the characters from CSI or Doctor Who, you might look to their publications.
More importantly, they publish a lot of nostalgic geek-kid properties, like G.I. Joe and Transformers and Star Trek and Ghostbusters comics. I love living in a world where franchise extensions like those exist, although I’m not usually one for following them myself. However, clue me in to the existence of a finite yet large-scale mega-story in which a zombie outbreak (or infestation, if you will) breaches the walls separating various fictional universes, meaning the Joes and the crew of the Enterprise and Doctors Venkman, Spengler and Stantz all have to battle with the ravenous undead (as do the Autobots and Decepticons, due to the zombies utilizing artillica - the combination of magic and technology - to infect robots as well) and I will probably make some time to sample such a saga for myself, eventually.
Honestly, though, what really pushed me over the edge was finding out that there was a sequel, Infestation 2 (appropriately enough) that not only raised the stakes by bringing in the malevolent cosmic intelligence responsible for creating the zombie plague but also roped in additional licensed properties I love such as Dungeons & Dragons and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (comeonpeopleI’mnotmadeofstone) and of course, completist geek that I am, I figured I’d better start at the beginning to appreciate the full sweep and scope of the whole thing. Maybe I will get around to Infestation 2 next SPOOKTOBERFEST. For now, though, I’m still at the beginning, and it’s pretty much all high-concept premise, which is certainly enough to engage me but not enough for me to really render judgment on.
Night of the Living Dead, on the other hand, is a touchstone unto itself. Like many, many other things I’ve blogged about before (too many to link back to) there’s a certain sense of already knowing most if not all there is to know about something that was the progenitor of a fairly ubiquitous concept. I knew there was a late 60’s, cheap-o black-and-white horror film that launched multiple sequels and innumerable rip-offs and homages, and that it’s been expanded upon and re-conceived and deconstructed and parodied to the point where no aspect of it has gone unexamined.
But still, as I’ve also often said before, there remains some value in going back to the source, the ur-text, and engaging with it on its own merits. To the extent that you can, at any rate; it’s harder than it sounds. I knew the vague outlines of Night of the Living Dead’s plot (which is excessively simplistic to begin with, and I suppose this is where I should insert the obligatory Spoliers!) and I knew there was a famous scene with a little girl zombie, so pretty much from the moment the existence of the Karen character was revealed I was just counting down for her to turn flesh-eater. And even if I hadn’t know about the existence of that famous scene, I still would have been waiting for Karen to turn, because when she’s introduced it’s with ominously vague references to being hurt and needing a doctor, which of course means it’s going to come up later that her injury is in fact a zombie bite and she’s doomed (as is anyone trapped in the basement with her). That’s just a fundamental undead story trick, and Night of the Living Dead is where it all began, so it should get full credit for inventing the tropes of the genre, rather than being penalized for being viewed out of order and seen as been there, done that.
There is a certain intensity to Night of the Living Dead that can’t possibly be diminished by knowing all the history and trivia about it or having seen the remakes and reimaginings beyond number it spawned. Funny enough, it’s not the ghouls themselves that make Night of the Living Dead truly scary, it’s the interactions between the terrified human beings huddled together in the farmhouse, depending on each other yet unable to let go of their pettiness and prejudices. It’s not that the audience fears a bunch of shuffle-stepping extras in gory makeup, it’s that the audience fears for the survivors, or more to point fears they won’t survive, fears that the story we’re watching is a tragedy. As, of course, it turns out to be.