March 15, 2010

Zombie Cuisine Week: Let Them Eat Flesh!

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"Do you ever wonder about all the different ways of dying? You know, violently? . . . Well for me, the worst way would be for a bunch of old men to get around me and start biting and eating me alive." - Trash (Return of the Living Dead)

Welcome to the first day of ZOMBIE CUISINE WEEK here at the Zed Word zombie blog. This week's theme is the connection between zombie films and food.

Of all the important things George A. Romero did in Night of the Living Dead, turning zombies into flesh eaters most profoundly changed the zombie genre. Before Romero, zombies were essentially slaves. Like Frankenstein's Monster or the Mummy, zombies could be commanded to strangle or throttle their enemies, but such acts of violence were notably less shocking to audiences in the 1960s and 1970s who were sitting at home watching the violence of the Vietnam war broadcasts on the nightly news. Compared to the human meat grinder that was the war against "Charlie," a strangulation by the Mummy or the seductive exsanguination by the Vampire paled in comparison. In Romero's world of the zombies, much like the world of the 1960s, the familiar and reliable became predatory. The next time you saw the loving face of your blue-haired Grandma could be when she's a zombie shoveling your guts into her mouth.

By proclaiming, "Let them eat flesh," Romero not only imbued his monsters with a more shocking and modern form of visceral bodily horror; Romero also opened up a profound metaphor for inhumanity and human excess. Romero's zombies, whose flesh-hungry ways would be further championed in the exploitative gut-muncher films to follow, suggested that very little was keeping humanity from consuming itself. We consume our resources at an alarming rate, we consume each other with our eyes and our words when we objectify or alienate, and we consume ourselves with selfishness. It was a metaphor he'd explore time and again, most notably in his critique of consumerism in Dawn of the Dead. And this streak of "cannibalism" was not only disturbing to audiences of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. It proved to be disturbing to modern audiences as well. For example, Land of the Dead was banned in the Ukraine out of concerns that its graphic scenes of flesh-eating would recall memories of the 1933 Holodomor famine and cannibalism in that country.

And let's not forget the effect the flesh-eating zombie had on makeup special effects. With the popularity of zombies as meat-eaters, special effects artists had to devise new techniques and methods for depicting mutilation, bodily dismemberment, physical decay, and all sorts of bites and new flesh-eating sequences. Not only did special effects artists have to be concerned about creature effects, they had the convincingly show the body as zombie food.

Not all films and fiction take the zombie-as-consumer feature to its full extent, but I most enjoy the ones that do. For example, in David Wellington's Monster Island (REVIEW), the zombies eat more than human flesh: they eat everything that lives. Humans, animals, birds, grass -- they live off the life force by greedily consuming the world like a scourge of undead locusts. Max Brooks put it best in World War Z when he described the unstoppable nature of the zombie's hunger:
For the first time in history, we faced an enemy that was actively waging total war. They had no limits of endurance. They would never negotiate, never surrender. They would fight until the very end because, unlike us, every single one of them, every second of every day, was devoted to consuming all life on Earth
So, this week we explore society's hunger for zombies as well as the zombie's hunger for flesh. Put on your bib, grab your knife and fork, and prepare to dig in for food-centric titles such as Die-ner (Get It?), Gore-Met: Zombie Chef from Hell, and FleshEater; an interview with Tony Faville, author of Kings of the Dead; and more delectable surprises.

Don't forget to enter my contest to win a BBQ apron from the zombie comedy EAT ME!