In 2012 I was working in a high school, as an English and Media Studies learning advisor. The best two years in a job I’ve ever had. Also, by far – the most challenging, in great ways.
I taught a media studies senior paper on zombies – because, of COURSE I did! It was a great school. In the first five weeks, we talked film techniques, the purpose of them and how they suited the subgenre of horror (the zombie film) using George A Romero‘s films as our starting point.
In the second part of the course, the class worked in small groups to make their own short zombie films, and movie trailers. I honestly wasn’t prepared for the success. They brought in their own friends as make up artists in their free time to help with make up, and spent longer than just our four hours a week working on their projects.
When they asked me if I wanted to be in one of the films, obviously I said yes. Who hasn’t wanted to be a zombie? Of course, I forgot to take anything to remove the make up with, and it just so happened that this particular day, was also a staff meeting day. Good times. It actually was. I loved every second of it!
A good ten odd years ago, Ollie introduced me to the zombie film by way of 28 Days Later (contentious, I know – they’re not technically dead, so not technically zombies). I had no interest in watching it, at all. I had stopped watching horror a long time ago! Having kids made me super squeamish? I don’t know… long story short…I got hooked.
I think it’s because the zombie is still fully human. They don’t transform into anything like werewolves and vampires do. They’re just dead, but not dead, and that’s really fascinating to me. It’s not the killing and the violence – I know that sounds pretty contradictory, since the entire essence of the zombie comes about through death – it’s everything else. In Romero’s films, the zombies learn and grow, they take on personalities. They become the symbol of the masses. Hungry, braindead, crowds of people – intent on one thing, consumption.
Nothing symbolises the decline of human nature, and the destruction of resources better than the zombie apocalypse. Nothing shows humanity in quite the same way as watching a human being stripped of their consciousness, and their lives, only to be brought back as a cannibalistic, disease spreading, eating machine. Our not so distant dystopian future. It’s not the carnage and killing that appeals to me; it’s the fact that the zombie represents us. The base human need for survival at all costs.
Teaching that course gave me a huge insight into the workings of young people’s minds. Teaching them to analyse a film genre they were interested in for the cheese, and the uncanniness was awesome. Teaching them how film techniques were used to generate certain feels and to draw the audiences attention to particular things was hands down the most fun ever. Listening to them debate about what they’d do to survive. “What if something like this happened?” “What’s your zombie apocalypse plan?” “What would you do?” “Would YOU survive?” “How?” Their ability to creatively think and rationalise their own humanity, and how to live in a world like that made for some great class discussion. I learned as much from them, as they learned from me.
What is survival anyway? And who are the real survivors?