Why Don’t Undead Tales Die?

The Arts


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.


6 comments on “Why Don’t Undead Tales Die?”

  1. Rachel Green says:

    I liked ‘Santa Clarita’ and ‘Z Nation’ has a lot more fun with the genre than ‘Walking Dead’ does.

  2. John says:

    I’m utterly bored of brain eating zombies. If zombies could be reinvigorated under the real metaphor of slavery (rather than cannibalism) then we would have some very interesting and very smart horror movies. Maybe Jordan Peele will write one. GET OUT was one of the best reimaginings of the plot motif of The Stepford Wives I’ve seen. Ever.

    I’m all for a revival of devil worship books/movies with Dennis Wheatley style demonology and evil rituals. Some clever writers could exploit the concept and write some trenchant political allegories. Over here devil worship seems to be something that occurs, metaphorically at least, on a daily basis.

    I thought Millar’s THE FIEND was about a child molester not a serial killer. My memory must be failing me again.

  3. Steveb says:

    Universal have recently released new bluray restorations of all those 30s/40s ‘classicmonster’ films and they look brilliant, pristine

    There was a movie written by Dan O’Bannon – wait I must google – Dead and Buried, which pretty much takes the idea as far as it can go

  4. Iain says:

    You buried the lede: THERE’S A MARGARET MILLAR RE-ISSUE!!!

  5. Peter Dixon says:

    I think Scooby-Doo pretty much covered all of this, or Count Duckula

  6. Jan says:

    I watched the last hour of Byzantium last night- well at about 4a.m. this morning. Really enjoyed it thought it was beautifully filmed and that it added a new spin on the vampire genre.

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