Inspired by last night’s frequent zombie-related comments in this essay, combined with my lack of a literature diary for this week (I had a very good fill-in on dailykos), I decided to post an actual essay on zombies.
If that seems too fluffy a topic, it shouldn’t be: genre fiction is very serious stuff among academics, because it sometimes has greater insight about contemporary social and political issues than mainstream art (for a variety of reasons, but that’s a whole nother topic). Where genre fiction has its hardest time is with middlebrow critics: no horror films have won an Oscar for best picture, for example.
With that in mind, I want to turn back to what I’ll unapologetically call the greatest of all horror films – maybe not the scariest, maybe not the best-acted, but certainly the richest and most thought-provoking: a low-budget 1978 gorefest called Dawn of the Dead. If nothing else, the film is an excellent snapshot of mainstream American culture on the cusp of a particular type of collapse (the 1980s), and a brilliant combination of social critique, dire prediction, and philosophical density. It’s also funny as hell and set the high (low?) water mark on what was considered an acceptable display of violence and gore. But let’s start with some background: