Friday, October 19, 2007
DAED GNIVIL EHT FO KCATTA
Since we're still revving up for Halloween, allow me to turn my attention from the exploitation of vampires to another form of undead, the Zombie.
Prior to seeing George Romero's unintentional iconic rip off of "Last Man On Earth", starring Vincent Price, I associated the zombie with such films as Val Lewton's "I Walked With A Zombie", Hammers' "Plague of the Zombies" and "White Zombie" starring Bela Lugosi. In these films, the zombie is a product of a dark Voodoo rite. Magic.
In the late sixties, Romero added a new twist.
No Voodoo rites in "Night of the Living Dead", but rather some strange radiation animated corpses, turning them into unthinking flesh eating machines. So successful was this manifestation of the zombie that Romero's vision now permeates most fiction and film dealing with the undead.
I've been tackling the topic myself. It's difficult. In writing stories featuring the more modern version of the zombie, I am foreced to grapple with an apocalyptic image where the protagonist is doomed to failure; where the defeat of mankind at the hands of nature is inevitable. Such a restrictive and depressive setting isn't easy fodder. I mean, how many different ways can you set up a protagonist to deal with the zombie threat in a crumbling infrastructure that resembles Baghdad at high noon.
What complicates such a story for me is the inevitability of the protagonist's demise. Sure, they may defeat the immediate zombie threat, but ultimately the undead are going to get them.
Brian Keene (one of several authors who have tackled this sub genre approach) in "The Rising" and "City of the Dead" shows exactly what the problem is. He creates engaging drama and likeable characters, but they of course end up as most protagonists in these tales end up, serving as a main course for the undead. Still, Keene's books are worth reading. He is entertaining and his novels are page turners.
Personally, I hate writing a story where the protagonist dies. I want my characters to triumph, or at least not fall under the wheel of a steamroller. I believe readers deserve more than to be shot down after investing in a character's development. Readers want a catharsis. The reader, who has given emotional time to the writer, wants to experience some sense of purging.
When writing about things Lovecraftian, I take care to carry this belief forward. In the world of Lovecraft, it's easy to kill off protagonists as they are overwhelmed by a reality that is nihilistic and beyond any mortal understanding. I won't spill the beans about what happens to my characters in "The Others", my contribution to "High Seas Cthulhu", but I'll just say that my character lives through the end of the story. Maybe changed, but he lives. The reader is allowed a catharsis.
Poe wrote that without hope there cannot be terror. Without hope there is only a tale of the fatalistic. The doomed man who knows his fate with a certainty that does little to spark horror. The doomed man who thinks that perhaps there is a chance, even only a sliver, engages the reader and creates the dramatic tension and suspense.
I will finish my novel "Food For The Flies", which features good old-fashioned Voodoo zombism, but I'll also attempt to chew my way through a Romeroesque zombie story. I think maybe that I have something to offer readers.
And that's really the key to horror, isn't it? Hope.
Posted by Stewart Sternberg at 4:00 PM