Why Don’t Undead Tales Die?
There were only ever a handful of monsters in movies and books. In the 1930s Universal Pictures cemented the main ones into place, although mummies and werewolves proved harder to make scary than vampires and hand-stitched creations. Zombies were left out on a limb after ‘White Zombie’ and ‘I Walked With A Zombie’, until George A Romero came along. Personally I never liked the original ‘Night of the Living Dead’ although I enjoyed its political sympathies.
As the horror well drained itself dry, the undead seemed to thrive. ‘The Walking Dead’ (or ‘Survivalists Arguing A Lot’ as I prefer to think of it) somehow limps on, and there seems to be no end to the changes you can ring on the formula. ‘The Santa Clarita Diet’ is the most outrageous yet, as Drew Barrymore cheerfully gorges on her suburban neighbours. But it took ‘Train to Busan’ to really deliver the zombie hordes in a visceral way that ‘World War Z’ failed to manage.
Problem is, once the seam is tapped out we’re really out of monsters. Sitting through the movie ‘Life’ the other night, I kept thinking the whole thing would work better if the creature that devours various astronauts didn’t look like an octopus crossed with Audrey II from ‘Little Shop of Horrors’. Giger’s ‘Alien’ designs were genuinely fresh and original.
I attempted to address this by coming up with a host of new monsters in ‘Hell Train’, hoping it might even be filmed (Sadly, not a bite). Shortly Universal will be doing a Disney and jump-starting its franchises all over again, although the next Mummy incarnation looks awful, since – in the trailer, at least – we appear to be in a major war with, er, Egypt, in order for a bomb to expose a gigantic mummy find (which Tom Cruise, virtually mummified himself, proceeds to cheerfully dynamite).
Perhaps it’s time for a few human monsters to return. We haven’t seen any original serial killers for a while. I just enjoyed Margaret Millar’s ‘The Fiend’, a perfect blend of psychological terror that has just been republished. Or how about a few reboots from the seventies style of spookiness, with Satanists and demons?
Because frankly, dead people are starting to get a little stale.