The Walking Dead is Not a Zombie Masterpiece.

Seems like everyone I know has gone all wackadoodledoo over “The Walking Dead” television show.

I occasionally watch it, I admit. Enough to keep up with most of the major plot points I suppose, but I can’t say I understand the people that are super-fans of the show.

Yes, as a lifelong horror movie fan it’s interesting and a little weird to see a normally hyper-violent subgenre of horror somehow translate into a huge hit with mainstream audiences.

There is part of me that is uncomfortable with such mainstream popularity. I can admit to myself that part of that may be snobbery, but part of it is the fear that zombie fiction will get messed up if it continues to cater to mainstream tastes. The last thing I want to see happen is zombies to become modernized like vampires have. Between Anne Rice and role playing gothtard nerds, vampire are hardly monsters anymore. Instead they’ve become vinyl clad bisexual superheroes that hang out at underground dance clubs. Shudder.

Vampires got screwed even worse when certain individuals decided that they are actual real life vampires. No, you’re not. You’re either delusional or play acting. Let’s get that straight. While the idea of some losers deciding that they’re “real” zombies and shambling around trying to eat other people is sort of a fun thought, I don’t think that’ll happen.

It seems unlikely that the rotting walking dead could get that kind of shitastic romanticization, but who knows? Anything’s possible when too many people get interested in a certain style of fiction.

I’ve been watching zombie movies of one kind or another since the late 70’s, when as a young child I was lucky enough to catch “The Night of the Living Dead” on TV one Halloween. It was a game changing moment for me. I had been watching horror films from about the time I could talk, but that movie seemed a lot more “real” than anything I’d been allowed to watch previously. Most horror movies that I’d seen featured patently unrealistic monsters or were kind of silly. Nothing wrong with that, but George Romero’s take on the reanimated dead just seemed much more grim and somehow possible than most horror made prior to the late 1960’s. I was probably only 10 when I saw the film the first time, but I could tell there was a lot more going on in NOTLD than in most monster movies I’d seen.

That experience ignited my love of horror movies even further, and to a certain extent it made me try to seek out the “harder stuff” – the films that were more intense and modern in their approach to scaring people. Fortunately for me, I was a kid during an era when horror films were going through a golden age. The late 70’s saw a lot of amazing movies that had a nihilistic realism at their core. That continued into the early 80’s, which welcomed the slasher film into the mix. Some of those being decidedly bad, but a lot were pretty intense for the time, and still are.

Somewhere during that time I was fortunate enough to see the uncut version of “Dawn of the Dead.” I knew that it was the best zombie film ever made, and one of the best horror films ever made. It still is, by the way.

While George Romero made intelligent films that used a background of a zombie apocalypse to tackle serious social issues, a lot of imitators (especially the Italians) just took this new monster and churned out film after film. Some, like Lucio Fulci’s “Zombi 2,” managed to be extremely entertaining and transgressive, even if the subject matter was mostly used to show nudity and extreme violence. I can honestly say that I still haven’t seen much that rivals the underwater scene where a guy in zombie makeup fights a huge and very alive tiger shark. It’s amazing.

So what am I getting at in regards to “The Walking Dead”?

I guess part of my problem is that I hear a lot of super-fans acting as if the series is wholly original and the quality is top notch. They’ll reference that it’s based on these really good comics (I admit, I haven’t read them), and that’s supposed to impress me as being revolutionary for some reason. It’s not. They may be well written, but they’re far from the first comics about zombies. In the late 80’s there was “Deadworld” and even earlier zombie action in comic magazines like “Creepy” and “Eerie” in the 70’s.

When I step away from the irritating fan people that try so hard to convince me that “The Walking Dead” is amazing, I have watched enough of the series to have mixed feelings about it. It IS entertaining from time to time, although I would say that like a lot of episodic television the quality varies greatly from episode to episode. I get that, it’s not rare or necessarily a bad thing.

The acting is mostly good, or at least as good as television acting gets. I can’t say anything bad about the actors involved.

The special effects are top notch. The people at KNB Effects are the best in the business, and that shows.

My main gripes are that the plots I’ve seen explored feel pretty uninspired and unoriginal. I feel like I’ve seen these stories, or ones very much like them before.

So fans? Say what you will about the show being entertaining, but please don’t tell me it’s got an original bone in it’s ravenous and decaying body, because it just doesn’t.

Then there’s the weird way violence is handled. I know it’s aimed for a mainstream audience, but there’s a LOT of graphic violence. I’m cool with that. I like it, actually. But I find it kind of lame that in a series that’s gone multiple seasons and that has lots of people coupling up, sex and nudity is absent entirely, but they will show a person getting their skin torn off by dead people.

It’s not a matter of wanting to see these actors naked exactly, it just strikes me as a very American and stupid take on this subject. Almost every episode features a level of violence that would’ve resulted in an X rating a couple of decades earlier, but no one ever walks around without their incredibly grimy looking clothes. If I were one of these folks, the first thing I’d do upon stumbling into one of the safe houses they always seem to find, is to strip down and hop in a tub, preferably burning my disgusting clothes and finding some new ones.

Anyway, the comic book hyper-violence seems weirdly out of place in a show where characters can’t even say “fuck,” much less show one of the couples engaging in that activity. It makes me think that the producers of the show have no problem with the graphic violence, but still think American audiences will prudishly freak out if a set of naked breasts were to end up on film.

The only other thing I can think of is that they’re trying to market the show to people of all ages, which makes me wonder why anyone would let a kid see a violent zombie show. I mean, I watched that stuff as a kid, but it wasn’t sanctioned by any responsible adults around. It wasn’t shown on television and relentlessly marketed either.

Mostly, the problem I see in a long running zombie series that’s trying to be gritty and realistic is that we’re going to see the same basic plot setups over and over.

Our band of survivors will stumble across some shelter, then internal conflicts and scumbag outsiders will screw up the sanctuary and they’ll have to flee, probably being scattered in the process. Then they have adventures apart until they eventually find one another again. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Occasionally some semi-beloved character will get killed, and that’s about the drama cycle that will be milked. In the context of a movie, this can work well. But seeing it played out over and over just doesn’t.

There’s also the problem with characters that make obviously stupid decisions. Trust “The Governor”? Sure, that seems reasonable. Go to some outpost called “Terminus”? Why not?

I’m surprised they haven’t milked “Dawn of the Dead” completely and just set up shop in a giant mall, although the boring prison season came close.

So that about covers my gripes. I support the idea of a hyper-violent TV show about the zombie apocalypse. I just don’t think “The Walking Dead” is the masterpiece that so many fans tell me it is.

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One comment

  1. G. B. Marian · January 11, 2016

    I agree completely. The zombie subgenre is not my favorite, personally, but I think the first three Romero films are fucking perfect. I have yet to see Walking Dead do anything substantial that those movies didn’t already.

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