The “Doc Of The Dead” Is Not Very Good; Also, Go Upstairs Dammit


Sam Wilkinson

According to a faithful reader, I'm Ordinary Times's "least thoughtful writer." So I've got that going for me, which is nice.

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22 Responses

  1. Avatar Don Zeko says:

    At least the Zombie Survival Guide gets it right.Report

  2. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    The thing that is interesting about subcultures in general is how tropes that are endlessly amusing to insiders can easily bore those who don’t care as much after a while. Like the zombie apocalypse memeReport

  3. Avatar Wardsmith says:

    Let’s see if this fixes the italics problemReport

  4. Avatar Patrick says:

    Look, I get it: horror movies have to have the kids split up, have to have the one girl go for the skinny dip, have to have boy try to fight back, etc, etc, etc. The stories necessitate impossibly bad decision by virtue of having to have the action actually occur. Smart characters don’t get caught up in the action.

    I’d argue that they don’t, really… they don’t have to have bad decisions (in the sense of “stupid”) in order to have the action occur. Think about Aliens. There were stupid bad decisions, but they came after a series of ruthlessly sociopathic economic decisions went sour. If Paul Reiser’s character hadn’t been greedy, the whole thing wouldn’t have unraveled.

    I’d argue that the better horror movies rely more on bad decisions coming from a collusion of stress and previously made not-as-bad decisions with a dash of the sunk cost fallacy and the not as good horror movies rely on increasingly bad (as in stupid), or just vanishingly improbable bad decisions.

    Like, really, if you shoot the guy in the mask six times in the body and once right in the center of the mask, it’s not stupid to turn your back on them. Guy’s gonna be dead.

    But it’s so much easier to come up with a way to move the plot forward if you don’t bother to construct backstories that can explain why characters make decisions that *lead* to circumstances where they make bad decisions. You know, you have all that character development time, it cuts into the gore on screen and stuff.Report

    • Avatar greginak in reply to Patrick says:

      Or even better, have characters make smart decisions based on the info they have. The choices might not work out, but only because of other smart choices or because of info they didn’t’ have.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to greginak says:

        “Or even better, have characters make smart decisions based on the info they have. The choices might not work out, but only because of other smart choices or because of info they didn’t’ have.”

        Agreed, and as Pat notes above, Aliens (and Alien) are perfect examples of having smart and competent characters making choices that turn out to be bad ones only because of incomplete info, or earlier events unknown to them (or characters like Ash and Burke, working at cross-purposes to the heroes unbeknownst to them.). And they are great movies for it (Aliens in particular is good about, every time the characters seem to have made the right call to get the hell out, jerking the rug out from under them again, through no fault of their own. The mounting disasters in that movie have a symphonic build to them.)Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Patrick says:

      How did Paul Reiser go from making Aliens and Diner to making Mad About You and that really sappy and bad movie about divorced dads?Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        He didn’t have Barry Levinson to write Mad About You (which I liked the first few seasons of, and which, even when it lost its freshness, had the sense to hire guest stars like Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner and let them take over the show.)Report

  5. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    What really annoyed me about Shaun of the Dead was how oblivious so many characters remained for so long. That was supposed to be part of the humor and parody of it all but if I was Shaun, I’d want to give his best friend and mother a good shaking at times.

    Lots of zombie and horror movie fans seem to accept the fact that the main character aren’t thinking with full faculties pretty easily. Most of them are probably cheering on the zombies or the monster and hoping that as many humans get killed in spectacular ways as possible. Its kind of frustrating for me because I like it when characters act with common sense and a bit of strategy if not intelligence. I’d really like a zombie or horror movie where some decent self-survival common sense paranoia kicks in. Its what kept us alive for so long.Report

    • Avatar Damon in reply to LeeEsq says:

      “What really annoyed me about Shaun of the Dead was how oblivious so many characters remained for so long. That was supposed to be part of the humor and parody of it all but if I was Shaun, I’d want to give his best friend and mother a good shaking at times.”

      I agree. It was funny when Shaun walks past the zombie and blows him off as if he were a panhandler, but once the situation was know, there should have been a lot of face slapping to get people sane. However, I guess I has ignored this figuring that city dwellers would be so conditioned to “wait for the professionals” that they would effectively be rendered helpless and unable to save themselves.Report

    • Avatar El Muneco in reply to LeeEsq says:

      I think that, in some sense, Shaun of the Dead suffers from not being Hot Fuzz.
      By that, I mean that Pegg/Frost have serious geek credentials and love of the source material, and they are great at taking the mickey out of people. And when they made Shaun, it was a pure deconstruction of the whole idea, taking no prisoners at all. To the point where post-Shaun zombie films have to do something to distinguish themselves(*).
      Plus, while it’s uneven, and in some ways unsatisfying, there are pure gems embedded in it – I’m thinking in particular of the scene where Shaun stumbles out of his flat to the store and back in exactly the same way he’d done earlier in the film – and not noticing at all that the zombie apocalypse had happened.
      Pegg/Frost gained more experience, in no small part in making Shaun, so Fuzz is a much more nuanced(**) treatment of the genre… Deconstructing tropes in parallel to the main character’s slide to his personal heart of darkness – then gleefully reconstructing them stride by stride as the main character becomes a hero in his own way.
      What we want is for Shaun to be for zombie flicks what Fuzz was for buddy cop movies, but it unfortunately didn’t happen that way. If the order had been reversed, Shaun might well have nipped the current zombie fixation in the bud, and Fuzz would be a cute little movie that was about as good as Beverly Hills Cop II(***).

      (*) The TV Trope for this is “Our Zombies Are Different”.
      (**) Did I really just use “nuanced” in reference to a Pegg/Frost film?
      (***) I don’t make that comparison lightly, I think that Cop II is criminally underrated and might actually be a better movie than Cop I.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to El Muneco says:

        I’m just tired with the general cluelessness of many characters in horror movies. There are some good reasons for this. Many of the characters are going to die before the movie ends so you can’t have them be too intelligent or savvy or the survival rate is probably going to be higher but it just seems like lazy writing for the most part.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to El Muneco says:

        Dr. Who at least had reasons for people dying — “you, guard our flanks” — well, the monster is Down There, so UhOh.Report

  6. Avatar Michael M. says:

    I didn’t mind Doc of the Dead as much as you did, I found it diverting enough. I hadn’t known that Romero didn’t set out to make a zombie film and wasn’t trying to codify any particular rules that are supposed to apply to zombies. He called the reanimated creatures “ghouls” during the production of NOTLD. I thought the running debate about slow zombies vs. fast zombies was kind of amusing, and I liked that most of the interview subjects in the film didn’t take any of it too seriously.

    What’s much more interesting to me about these types of films-about-films (or films-about-genres/sub-genres) than discussions about what the ostensibly human characters do and how they behave are discussions about what these fantastical creatures represent, their appeal to audiences, how has that changed and what their appeal says about our culture. Doc of the Dead was decent on that score, again without taking itself too seriouslyReport

  7. Avatar Damon says:

    And why weren’t the Resident Evil movies included in this topic?Report

  8. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    I must be missing the same thing about zombies that I miss about comic book characters and old, bad, TV shows. I mean, WTF makes one movie about them every few decades insufficient?Report

    • Insufficient for what?

      Again, IMO the more interesting aspect of Doc of the Dead than what Sam focused on is why zombies?, and to a lesser extent, why now? In their contemporary form, they are almost wholly invented by writers and filmmakers. The documentary goes into a little of the history of zombies and roots in voodoo, African diaspora culture, their relationship to slavery, etc., but none of that informs much of what contemporary depictions of zombies represent to audiences. As I mentioned, Romero didn’t even conceive of his creatures as zombies while making NOTLD. He didn’t set out to write the rules for what zombies can or can’t do; unlike with vampires or werewolves or mummies or ghosts, there were no long-established rules to play around with, not many themes to come up with variations of.

      So relatively speaking, in the canon of western supernatural horror creatures, zombies are the newest addition, which means there is a lot of room for experimentation. They also provide an antidote to the glamorization of the resurrected, at least for now … until Stephanie Meyer gets her hands on them. Zombies don’t sparkle, they don’t look like Patrick Swayze, they aren’t romantic heroes. They are simple-minded, virtually brain-dead monomaniacal creatures of rotting flesh. For now, they’re primal, driven by instinct. They represent some aspects of humanity we’re not necessarily comfortable with.

      I suspect that 100 years ago or more, the contemporary conception of zombies would have held little interest for audiences because people were much more accustomed to dealing with the aftermath of death. We have sanitized the process to the extent that many people have probably never seen a dead human body, and many more have never smelled one that hasn’t been embalmed. The concept of Memorial Photography seems downright ghoulish to people today, yet was popular from the development of photography into the early 20th Century. Now imagine those beloved corpses posed so lovingly reanimated and out to eat you. That’s why there’s more than one movie every few decades.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Michael M. says:

        Much of our actual zombie culture dates back to the Black Death. We aren’t using zombies the way the Vodun do — it’s more seen like a plague, that spreads through biting.Report