Monday, October 10, 2011

Pity the Poor Zombie Actor

Next week The Walking Dead will open its new season. Now, for sure, I really thought the first season was pretty silly, pithy, full of bad lines and off-the-shelf stereotypes (even real rednecks aren't as rednecky as portrayed in this movie), and failing to rise to the level of a good B flick.

Having said that, I'll prolly watch as much as I can stand, most likely while spinning my bike on the trainer. (Hey, when your heart rate is high your brain can't be too heavily engaged!)

Also, I'll try to see what lows the show can reach in a genre that is already intrinsically hampered by an acting arena that is much more closely fenced in than other horror film types.

So, let's compare zombie, vampire, and werewolf films. Certainly, the dream horror flicks (Nightmare on Elm Street), the mutant flicks (The Hills Have Eyes), the sci-fi flicks (Alien), and others all horror films, but the three involving human transformation stand in a class of their own, and within them vampire/werewolf (henceforth, VW) stand on one side of a divider from zombie films, and actors who take on the role of the transformed also fall into clear divides: those you know and those you don't.

VW actors? Bela Lugosi-"Dracula", Kate Beckinsale-"Underworld", Wesley Snipes-"Blade", Michael J. Fox-in the laughable "Teen Wolf", David Naughton-"American Werewolf in London", Tom Cruise-yes, the considered-to-be miscast blonde vampire in "Interview With the Vampire". Hell, even Slim Pickens played a memorable role in "The Howling".

Zombie actors? ................ Anybody? Anybody?

And little wonder why there are no zombie actors. (Well, one could say that there ARE "zombie" actors whose names we know, but they weren't playing zombie roles!) Well, go figure. What can they do?

First of all, once the transformation takes places, that's it. There's no going back, no reverting to human form only to transform again as werewolves and vampires do. Thus, there's no waxing and waning of desire and regret. There's no pleas to help find a cure for the insatiable craving for blood or to chain the beast up until the full moon has passed through its phase. There's only mindless, soulless, and guiltless pursuit of raw human flesh. (Speaking of which, I've never figured this out: How can there be more than one or two zombies? Think about it. First, a person become a zombie and wants to eat someone. OK, so he starts eating. Then, what, he quits eating so the victim can become a zombie too? And then they go off in search of more victims. And, they find one and bite her, start to eat her. So, then what? Again, they quit eating so she can become zombie #3? Apparently, the zombies reach a tipping point where even a bite or two from each consumes the victim so there are no more zombies? Yeah, right?)

Second, zombie actors never really get to try out their dialogue skills. VW can plead, rationalize, express guilt and remorse, or describe the exquisite taste of blood or the thrill of the hunt and kill. Zombie can say only, "Brains! Brains!"

Third, zombies aren't loved, poor things. Even vampires and werewolves find lovers.

Fourth, zombies can't have sex. (Let's leave out the comments by some people that there partner is about as good as a zombie!) Lugosi feigned sex, admittedly, but he sure got to bite on a lot of beautiful necks. In "The Howling" there was a hot hot hot scene by the fireside in which a man and woman began to transform during foreplay and totally morphed into biting, clawing, scratching, and, of course, HOWLING! But zombies? Nope. So, even the last trick of bad actors--that of having sex on the screen--is denied to zombie actors.

By now, you get the picture, zombie roles are relegated to the stand-ins, the wanna-bees, the won't make its.

Having said that, herein lies an opportunity for a truly gifted screenplay writer, a brilliant actor, a visionary director, and a producer with some cojones. Do a truly ground-breaking film for zombies that will pull off a trick of making the zombie somehow more human, sympathetic, and appealing to watch for more than a few seconds. Have the zombie become a creature who has a life beyond walking the streets and looking for brains, brains, brains.

Mike Sledge

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