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Monday, September 26, 2011

ASSIGNMENT - "Page One" Movie Review for Journalism

On Friday, my fellow first year Cre Commers and I went to see a documentary called Page One at the Cinematheque.

Poster for Page One.

The film looks at the inner workings of the New York Times and poses the question: is the news paper dying?  It follows New York Times writers Brian Stelter, Tim Arango, and my favorite, David Carr.

I enjoyed the movie as a whole, but Carr really makes it worth watching all on his own.  His down to earth nature and wit are hilarious, and somewhat surprising for me to see at such a prestigious news paper.  Carr is completely blunt while conducting interviews, sometimes swearing like a sailor.  I would have thought that would get you fired from a company like the New York Times, but he creates great work with his style.

The documentary mainly focuses on the battle between online information and the newspaper, a battle the newspaper is apparently losing.  But that being said, the newspaper has been apparently losing since it was created.

In my opinion, the newspaper does provide something blogs and twitter don't, and that's a sense of verification.  I feel like newspapers can be trusted because they work very hard to keep that true.  Also, bloggers and people tweeting don't tend to actually go out and experience the things they write about, whereas newspapers have an entire team of people gathering information for their stories.  This leads me to believe that a lot of things on the internet are probably just rehashed from the paper.

That being said, there was a very good line in the movie that went something like "there is a difference between newspapers can't die, and newspapers shouldn't die".  While I agree newspapers have their purpose, I can't guarantee that will keep them around.

Overall I felt Page One did a good job shedding light on the situation and I'd recommend anyone to go see it.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Origin & Evolution

How did zombies grow into the unique subculture they are today? It all began with 'Voodoo Zombies'.

The original zombie is commonly thought to be born in a religion formed by African slaves brought over to Haiti called Haitian Vodou (commonly written as 'voodoo' in English). While zombies do seem to be a part of Haitian culture, they are not proven to be associated with Vodou.

Regardless, American culture has formed a strong association linking zombies to 'voodoo', hence the name voodoo zombie.

The belief is that an individual can bring a deceased body back to life. The reborn corpse would then be under the mind control of whoever preformed the ritual. They would not be contagious, nor would they have a taste for human flesh (unless their creator willed them too). The voodoo zombie is more like a marionette, easily and definitely controlled by a human.

But these aren't the zombies we see in our favorite movies terrorizing the planet. How did the lore change so much? The answer is George A. Romero.

They are sometimes called 'Romero Zombies' to distinguish from the voodoo zombie mythology.

Poster for Night of the Living Dead.
It wasn't until 1968 that these new zombies were born in Night of the Living Dead, although the word zombie is never actually used in the movie, it was used in the script.
This makes the modern Romero zombie an extremely young monster when put next to its rivals, the vampire and the werewolf.

Although, there are a few pieces of fiction that came before Night of the Living Dead that seem to piece the evolution from voodoo to Romero.

Poster for the film adaptation of Herbert West-Reanimator.

1) 1920s - Early 1930s: H.P. Lovecraft wrote several novelettes about the undead. In The Vault may contain the first recorded character bitten by a zombie. Herbert West-Reanimator involved corpses brought back to life who could not be controlled, were mostly mute, and were extremely violent.

2) 1936: H.G. Wells wrote the screenplay for Things to Come, based loosely on his own novel. The film was about a plague that caused infected people to wander aimlessly spreading the infection.

Cover of an EC Comics comic.

3) Early 1950's: A comic company called EC Comics made a series of comics about the undead. Some of the stories were adaptions of H.P. Lovecraft's novelettes. Romero states EC Comics as an influence of his.

Poster for the first film adaptation of I Am Legend.

4) 1954: Richard Matheson wrote the novel I Am Legend, which is about vampires, but they are closer to zombies than most vampires. Romero also states this book as an influence of his.

Then, in 1968 Romero "bred the zombie with the vampire, and what he got was the hybrid vigour of a goulish monster". And from there it was history. Everyone kept building on the foundation of Romero's new creature, until this neo-zombie could stand on it's own beside the werewolf and the vampire.

Today, the zombie is stronger than ever.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Contagion: The Could-of-been Zombie Flick Of The Year

For the first half of the trailer for the new movie Contagion, I found myself wishfully hoping it was going to be about zombies.  Matt Damon battling the living dead!  What more could I ask for?  (I should probably mention that I have a completely heterosexual thing for Matt Damon.)  Anyways, it turns out the movie is about a virus that kills people... and then they just stay dead.

But watch this trailer and think of how amazing it could have been if when the doctor tells Matt Damon "your wife is dead", Damon says "what?  She's right there..."  And the camera pans to a moaning, stumbling, zombified Matt Damon wife!
Contagion Trailer - Warner Bros.

I'll probably still see it though, it actually looks pretty good...

Monday, September 05, 2011


What is a zombie?  How does an outbreak start?  How do you kill one?  These are all debatable questions in the undead enthusiast culture.  Some zombie fans are devoted to the rules created by George A. Romero: The Grandfather of all Zombies; others believe in a new generation of faster, sometimes even smarter zombies.

I enjoy seeing how different systems of zombie rules in action will affect a story, which means I'm open to each writer's 'twist' on the living dead.  That being said, there's still a certain kind of ghoul that I love best; that I feel most comfortable with.  I feel like a good way to get to know me as I kick off this blog, is to get to know my zombie.

First I will go over some common rules, and then I will build my very own zombie from the lists:

Initial Creation
What caused the first zombie?

Radioactive Contamination
When will city planners learn to keep the nuclear power plant away from the cemetery?!  I suppose this could be called the classic answer, seeing as in Night of the Living Dead the only hint of a reason we get is an emergency broadcaster stating that one scientist believes radioactive contamination from an exploded space probe to be the cause.  The real life mutations caused by radiation have made this an easy answer for any bizarre concepts in science fiction.  This idea can also be done with biological warfare, which can create a scarily real vision while also commenting on the state of humanity.
This answer involves the development of a new virus spreading amongst humans, eventually leading to their death; and their rebirth.  Sometimes it begins with other animals like rats (people are always so quick to blame rats for infection) biting humans, and sometimes it just develops directly in humans; often an evolution of an already existent virus.  And then there's the more sinister manmade virus.  Whichever route chosen, the virus is another answer that can be done with startling realism.
A less common approach, magic generally involves a human summoning the first zombies from corpses.  This answer is more likely to be seen in a medieval fantasy world, where sorcerers and warlocks abound.  I would also put a voodoo curse by a witchdoctor in this category, as it is considered black magic.
Zombies could also be seen as a plague made by God, sent to punish humanity, or a Satanic occurrence, perhaps taking place on Hallowe'en.  This is a much deeper explanation.  The first three answers often have no real bearing on the story, they are simply just answers.  When religion is chosen as the answer, it is usually part of a stronger connection as the story will usually reflect religious concepts.
An extremely common route to choose is not choosing an answer at all.  Many works of zombie fiction never even hint at a possible reason why the outbreak started; and the mystery can work quite well.

How fast are they and how do they move?

If you can't outrun one of these zombies, well, maybe you should let Darwinism run its course.  These are your classic 'Romero Zombies'; shambling about at turtle like speeds.  You could quite literally walk away from confrontation with these guys.  The reason generally being their low brain functionality creating jerky movements.  The body awkwardly throws its parts around, creating a very slow trek forward.  Climbing would be nearly impossible for these zombies as it takes too much coordination, and jumping is completely out of the question.
Another idea is that zombies can move exactly as fast as their human counterpart; sometimes even being able to run if the writer gives them enough brain power.  So if a healthy human is bitten on the arm, the new zombie they become would have full use of the human’s healthy legs.  However, these zombies would get slower over time, as their bodies deteriorate.  One interesting aspect of this type of undead movement is that in some cases, the zombie would actually move more efficiently than a human in the same condition.  This would not be due to superhuman capabilities in their muscles, but rather due to their lack of pain.  If the rule is a zombie can't feel pain, then a horribly injured zombie should be able to move quicker than it's horribly injured human counterpart.  Again, these zombies could climb or jump as well as they could as a human.
This idea of the undead involves them sprinting, climbing up walls and sometimes even on ceilings like spiders, and jumping greater distances than they could have as a human.  These kinds of rules (or breaking of rules) are far less common.  Superhuman zombies generally live only in the realm of video games; where hordes of granny like ghouls can become boring.

Can they talk?

These would be undead who make no noise from their vocal chords.  This is a very practical approach to how zombies who only exist to eat human flesh would behave.  Since they have no pack mentality, and no brain capacity to understand the concept of intimidating their prey, they would have no reason to make any sort of noise.
This is the most common form of vocalization in zombie fiction.  The moaning of the walking dead is commonly explained as the little bit of brain functionality trying to create something like speech.  In the book The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks, he states that zombies moan louder when they find prey to signal other zombies.  This of course means that Max Brooks' zombies do have some kind of pack mentality.
Lately, zombies have been becoming more and more animalistic in their vocalizations.  New films have depicted zombies growling and screaming at their prey.  This also presents an interesting take on the moaning zombie.  Over time, the vocal chords of the undead would deteriorate, causing screaming to sound like nothing more than moaning.
These are zombies who moan the word 'brains' over and over again.  Introduced in the film 'The Return of the Living Dead', this type of speech obviously only applies to the zombie type that eats specifically brains, as opposed to human flesh in general.  This type of zombie may be the most parodied in pop culture due to its slight corniness.
Full out talking zombies are rarely ever used.  Generally, it defeats the main concepts of what a zombie is.  However, the comic series 'Marvel Zombies' in which a zombie outbreak spread across the Marvel Universe, focused it's point of view on the zombified super heroes.  The dialogue worked great in the series and proved how far you can take zombies in pop culture.

Eating Habits
What do they eat?

These guys will eat any form of meat they can find, alive or dead... but not undead.  A common explanation as to why they won't eat each other is a natural instinct.
Living Flesh
These zombies are a little pickier, they'll eat anything from your neighbour to your dog; as long as it's warm live flesh.  When the meat goes dead and cold, these zombies will move on, which provides a better explanation as to why they won't eat each other.
Living Human Flesh
The zombie your dog is safe around (sadly there is no safe zombie for your neighbour; that is unless he is one of course).  These ghouls have acquired a taste for human flesh and human flesh only; to make them slightly more disturbing.
Human Brains
Finally we have the brain eating zombies created in 'Return of the Living Dead'.  The pickiest zombie of all, they only want to devour your brains.

How smart are they?

Outsmarting these zombies is like outsmarting a doorknob (of all inanimate objects, why do we always pick on the doorknob?).  They are capable of walking, looking for food, putting food in their mouths, and chewing and swallowing food.  That's all.  That's literally everything they are capable of.  These zombies are better defined by what they cannot do, then what they can.  They cannot think, they cannot react, they cannot learn.  They can't use tools… not even a rock… in any way.  They are oblivious to everything but you: their food.
Simple Task Performers
These zombies are a little smarter, but far from Nobel Prize winners.  They may be able to complete simple tasks such as opening doors, or moving objects out of their way.  They can even pick up weapons to swing at their adversaries or break open windows.  A common concept for this type of zombie is for them to have some semblance of a memory.  They will sometimes return to the home they lived in, or repeat tasks they performed in life such as pushing a shopping cart or mowing a lawn.
Far less common, these zombies can increase their knowledge to become better predators.  They can mimic humans to get the results they see, such as learning to fire a gun.  These zombies can sometimes even cooperate with each other.  In George A. Romero's film 'Land of the Dead', an intelligent zombie rises up to lead the rest of the undead horde.

How do you kill one?

Destroy the Brain
There are really only two principle ideas on the subject of killing a zombie.  The first is that the brain must be destroyed to destroy the zombie.  With this idea, even a zombie's decapitated head will live and continue to try to consume human flesh.
Destroy the Brain or Remove the Head
The second answer doesn't argue that destroying the brain won't work; it simply adds that removing the head will work just as well.

My Perfect Zombie
For any zombies who fall into the learner intelligence category and may have learnt to read, this is not a dating classified ad.  I have a completely living girlfriend, sorry.

Initial Creation
This one isn't too important to me.  I like the realism of a virus and the fact that it makes sense a virus would be spread through infectious zombie bites.
Nice and slow.  They are the walking dead, right?  While the running zombie is terrifying, I think it's sad that a walking corpse isn't a big enough deal anymore.  Yes you can outrun the subhuman speed zombie, but I like it when a zombie's strength is in numbers.  Your superior speed won't get you out of the middle of a zombie horde.
A moaning horde of zombies is a chilling sound for sure.  Although, with my preference for the simplest zombie possible, who does nothing that doesn't directly relate to eating flesh; it would make sense for zombies to make no sound at all.
Eating Habits
I'll go with living human flesh only on this one.  It makes it a more personal battle when you see a zombie shamble past your cat or dog with its eyes set on you.  I think it makes for an even more panic and terror inducing story.  Plus, it can create a nice subplot about the downfall of humanity for all our wrong doings.  The innocent bunnies and deer will live on.
To be blunt, I like them dumb as rocks (or doorknobs).  It annoys me a little when zombies use tools.  And I know, even in Night of the Living Dead they do.  But I think this is too much use of the brain, which leads to personality, which I don't think zombies are about.  Hell, I even found myself annoyed watching the remake of Dawn of the Dead when the second zombie you see violently throws a table out of his way to get to his wife. My preferred zombie would stumble over the table.
Destroy the brain.  It just doesn't make sense to me that cutting off the head would kill the zombie.  In most works of zombie fiction, a zombie's brain is reactivated, and begins sending its own signals to the body to make it move.  Without a connection to the head, the body would be lifeless, sure; but why would the head cease to function?  I think a zombie head should be just as bitey with or without the body.

As you can see, I have a fairly classic preference for zombies.  But I love the talking zombies of Marvel and even the living zombies of 28 Days Later.  This is just what I think the standard archetype for a zombie should be.

Feel free to let me know how you like your zombies!

Thursday, September 01, 2011

1st Post

My name is Owen Swinn and through this blog I am going to explore the world of zombie culture.  I hope to do some reviews on movies, comics and books, as well as just discussing what zombies are and what they mean to us fans.