Tag Archives: vampires

Are zombies the new vampires? Part 2

Someone rather foolishly once wrote on this blog that vampires and werewolves are easily cast as romantic heroes, while zombies languish as the unwanted and rejected lovers, unable to ever meet anyone because they always want to eat everyone.

Okay, that was me, and I was wrong. An astute reader of this blog (thanks Frank) pointed me towards a film called Warm Bodies (2013), a romantic zombie comedy film (rozomedy?) about a teenage girl’s romance with a “sensitive undead” after a zombie apocalypse.

Sensitive undead? Apocalypse?

Sign me up right now!

So it is time to admit my error – sorry, two readers of this blog – and update my previous musings on the topic of paranormal suitors.

Warm Bodies takes place in a post-apocalyptic North American setting, 8 years after the usual kind of vague apocalyptic plague thingy happened. We begin with R, a zombie suffering existential angst as he wanders around an abandoned airport now inhabited by fellow zombies. He wonders about the meaning of life now that he has none: he feels alone, longs to connect with other people, and wonders if his life would be better if he worked on his posture and had more respect.

Nearby, humans are living in a fortified urban enclosure, worrying about extinction, and occasionally venturing outside to find more resources and medical supplies. A human team sent outside encounters R and fellow zombies who are out for a stroll looking for food. They fight. Zombies eat the humans. Well, most of them.

The humans include a girl called Julie and her boyfriend, and R eats her boyfriend’s brains but saves Julie and takes her back to his crib (an abandoned plane). R is embarrassed about his love of eating brains but he also relishes it … bad pun, sorry … because when he eats someone’s brains he captures their memories and feelings.

So, when he kills Julie’s boyfriend, his initial interest in Julie takes on an added dimension because of those captured feelings. Cue unexpected romance between our leads R and Julie, Shakespearean connotations and all. He plays her bad music, occasionally summons up an actual word or two instead of his usual grunts, and struggles to understand her. In other words, your typical man and woman attempting to date.

warm_bodies_ver12

The movie gives us levels of zombie-ness: R is unusual for the fact that he has some thinking and caring abilities despite his love of eating brains and limited speech, and over the course of the film he and fellow zombies gradually become more human. The bad zombies are those who have lost all humanity and turn into skeletal CGI “bonies”.

It’s a funny movie in a low-key way. There’s plenty of self-referential humour about the zombie genre and wordplay on life and death. “Welcome to the dead zone,” graffiti announces to the human team exiting the compound, “Look alive out there!!!!” “This date is not going well,” R thinks as he struggles to communicate with Julie. “I’m going to die all over again.”

At one point Julie holds up to R the DVD cover of Zombie (1979), the very image I chose for my earlier blog post to illustrate how unromantic most zombies would be as heroes, which is a nice contrast for this current post.

So was I wrong about the romantic lead thing? Maybe. R is appealing in the way of all awkward, socially inept characters whose communication skills might be lacking but whose sincerity can’t be doubted. Which makes a nice change from those uber handsome, rich, smooth talking vamps that so many teenage girls love. And the film’s celebration of brainy girls is worth some props.

OK so it’s kind of completely undermined by the busty blonde pose, but hey, let’s give them points for trying to be funny anyway. And, like the similar meme running round social media that there’s nothing hotter than a man who reads, they are sentiments we can heartily subscribe to here. But such sentiments mean the typical non-Warm Bodies zombie still remains unattractive as the thinking woman’s romantic lead, since most of them can’t exactly think, let alone read.

If nothing else, though, R has nailed the zombie version of the intense leading man stare, so maybe there’s hope for lonely zombies yet.

 

 

 

 

 


Breaking Dawn Part 2: Movie review

The usual disclaimers apply, beware of spoilers in this review, though most people keen to see the final instalment of The Twilight Saga were lined up at the midnight screenings back in November when the film was released, unlike me, who waited a leisurely few weeks to see it and an even more leisurely couple of months to post a review.

Nonetheless: **Spoiler alert!**

I should preface this by explaining that I come to this series with mixed feelings, having enjoyed the first film and novel, but not so much the sequels. So I’m by no means a devoted fan, but neither am I a(n entirely) scornful critic.

The film is based on the last part of Book Four, with the powers that be having decided to split the final book into two movies for reasons of commercial gain artistic expression. Bella has married vampire Edward Cullen, their half-human half-vampire child Renesmee has just been born, and Bella has survived being turned into a vampire. The plot builds towards a confrontation between the good vampires (the Cullens and friends) and the bad vampires (the reigning Volturi and friends), and our vampire lovebirds are now in danger (again).

We discussed the Twilight novels (and briefly, the films) in our book, and specifically we looked at how the novels use some of the werewolf characters in regard to adolescence, gender, class and race (just a few minor things, then). I’ll talk about those aspects briefly and then move onto less serious things.

However, the werewolves were downgraded to bit players for this film; none of the formerly major wolves appeared in human form except Jacob and, briefly, Sam. There was an odd Christmas scene where the characters formerly known as Seth and Leah were positioned carefully so we never saw anything but the back of their heads. Perhaps the budget was a bit tight so they brought in some hair doubles? Very odd.

So it’s difficult to really add anything here about shapeshifting in the series because the wolves do not feature as much. Adolescence isn’t really approached here, since Jacob and his Quileute friends are fairly stable by now in their lupine identities and able to control their aggression.

Gender is interesting only insofar as the book and film both describe Bella’s increased physical strength, which for a time is greater than anyone else’s strength. Bella’s mental power is also an important factor in the book because of her ability to control her lust for human blood and her discovery that she has a supernatural ability to “shield” herself and others from supernatural harm, but this film struggles to bring in all the plot threads so this isn’t as big a theme as it might have been. So while it might be worthwhile exploring how the series constructs Bella at long last as “equal” to those around her (and most importantly, in her eyes, almost equal to Edward), by virtue of her change into a vampire, the film doesn’t really add anything different to what we already talked about.

Class again doesn’t come up sufficiently for discussion because we’re almost entirely in the lap of Cullen luxury in this film, with a notable exception of Bella’s father Charlie and his Quileute girlfriend, and I say notable because it is a striking visual contrast between the Cullen conspicuous displays of wealth and Charlie’s working class background with respect to their appearance/clothes/houses, which is the same with the class divisions between vampire/werewolf (or, white/ Indigenous) in the series.

Finally, race. In our book we talked about how the Quileute wolves learn in the climactic scene of Book 4 that they are not “real” werewolves but shapeshifters. How do these Indigenous people learn this crucial part of their history? The white ruling vampires tell them. We mentioned in the book that this is a little odd (if not suggestive of neo colonization) that white people need to explain to the Indigenous group their very existence and history, but there’s no need for concerns here when that entire subplot becomes just one line: “But those werewolves are our natural enemies!” protests one bad Volturi vampire as they leave peacefully instead of fighting it out as they wished.

Now that I’ve shown such fortitude in taking the film seriously, I have to talk about the superficial:  some of those aspects of this movie that were just a bit too silly and provoked laughter where it presumably wasn’t intended.

It might have been the opening scenes of Bella’s red eyes and flitting about the forests in a pristine blue evening dress while devouring beasts with her bare teeth.

Or was it seeing these characters run at superhuman speed through forests and over cliffs, which has just not gotten any less silly from the first movie.

Maybe it’s Jacob’s “imprinting” with Renesmee, which the film tried to gloss over as quickly as possible, and yet somehow nothing can take the ick factor out of pairing an adult male with a little girl no matter how much Jacob insists “it’s not like that!” (no, Jacob, it’s not like that. Yet).

Or perhaps the endless close ups of vampiric red eyes, which unfailingly displayed the faint circular rim of the coloured contacts the actors were wearing?

How about Jacob’s strip tease for poor old Bella’s dad? Words failed me. Stifled laughter did not.

Renesmee’s name? Renesmee’s nickname?

Or those CGI wolves, who just looked fake most of the time?

Carlisle’s very uncool haircut and colour that turned him from Forks’ nicest looking doctor to its frumpiest?

How about the motley cast of red-eyed International X-Men: Vampires and their assortment of odd super powers?

Or what about the characterisation of Bella? It’s business as usual here, displaying a range of emotions from frowning over a grim future, to frowning over Alice’s cryptic note, to frowning over Jacob and Renesmee’s romance (though I’m with you on that one, sister), to frowning over making her psychic powers work. But she does smile sometimes (see that earlier picture of her running super fast with Edward?).

Several things struck me as weird. These vampires are supposed to be dazzlingly beautiful, quite literally. So why were many of the actors in obvious, heavy make up? One wouldn’t think gorgeous young sparkly things should need so much eyeliner, lipstick, eyeshadow, foundation, false lashes, ad nauseum, but apparently so.

How are we supposed to reconcile the inconsistent ethics in the series, where the Cullens are constructed as “good” because they choose to abstain from human blood no matter how badly they want it, but where the same good characters will watch, without a qualm, another “less-good (but not entirely evil)” vampire kill a human?

Other parts were much better than expected. For instance, I was, quite frankly, nervous about seeing Creepy Renesmee on screen, but the filmmakers did an okay job of turning the freakish vampire-human hybrid into an entirely unscary, cute little girl. Probably not showing her little girl teeth dripping with blood helped with that.

Several parts of the film were effective. The battle scene trick was quite convincing (I have heard others heap scorn on it, but it worked for me), I sat there thinking for a moment, Hey, this is a lot more gory than I remember in the books, and since when did Carlisle and Seth and Leah all die, did I somehow miss that in the books? When we were shown those deaths were not real but just one of Alice’s visions, I found it oddly comforting. And then I found it deeply disturbing that I found that comforting, but there you have it. Mind you, the fighting was still weird to see people flying and fake wolves jumping around and magical powers being used, and all so very gory, with the opposing forces finding a vast number of ways to detach heads from bodies.

The end was a nice strategy of paying tribute to the previous saga instalments, showing Bella finally learning to share her thoughts with Edward, which was a neat way not only of showing her increased power over her abilities but also of showing a montage of scenes from the earlier movies.

If anyone else has any thoughts on this film series – or the novels – please feel free to share, even if the film feels like a long time ago now!


Are zombies the new vampires? Werewolves and vampires and zombies, oh my!

So zombies seem to be making a comeback … from the dead. Cue canned laughter. With texts like TV’s The Walking Dead, films such as I Am Legend and 28 Days / 28 Days Later, and zombie takes on classic literature in recent years, the recurring question in various parts of the media seems to be: are zombies the new vampires? Have we moved on from those endless vampires in books and movies to something new(ish)?

According to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald last year on Alan Ball, zombies might just be the new vampires. Ball is quoted as saying ” ‘We have a line in the last episode of True Blood this season where it’s Halloween and they’re all dressed up, and somebody goes, ‘I’m a zombie. Don’t you know zombies are the new vampires?’ I’ve heard zombies, I’ve heard angels. I don’t know. That’s one of the great things about it all, nobody knows. It’s just going to be one person who does something from a place of pure passion and that’s going to catch attention.”

Time was also asking this question several years back, as was The Hollywood Reporter.

Perhaps the oddest zombie infiltrations in recent times have been into classic literature. Ie, Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance – Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem! It really wasn’t a truth universally acknowledged that an Austen novel in possession of Darcy and Elizabeth must be in want of zombies, however tempting it is to chalk up Lydia’s brainlessness to zombie influence.

But monsters spawn monsters, so to speak, and post PPZ, we have an enormous array of monster mashups that see zombies, vampires and other monsters join the cast of classic novels:

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters

 Jane Slayre

Jane Slayre

Android Karenina

Alice in Zombieland

Little Women and Werewolves

and … well, you get the picture.

Rachel Hyland and Kate Nagy have listed and rated 30 examples, which helps to sort out some of the hits from the misses.

But people have been posing this question in numerous ways for years. Are werewolves the new vampires? Are vampires the new zombies? Are angels the new werewolves? Are zombies the new … And so on.

It seems reasonably obvious that we’re just seeing cycles of fashion and trends. Vampires have been the focus lately what with Twilight and The Vampire Diaries, but then for a while it was all fallen angels on the covers of YA literature, witches were also popular, and of course, rather obviously, we here at this blog are interested in the werewolves who seem to be undergoing a renaissance of sorts.

But zombies are a bit different to the other monsters. They’re never going to be as mainstream as vamps or wolves simply because they don’t measure up to the romantic hero stereotype. To put it in more scholarly terms, they’re not hot enough. I don’t know how many girls would sigh over a zombie male lead like they would over an Edward Cullen or Jacob Black. Vampires provoke interest because of the themes of redemption and love; werewolves get attention because of their torment and dual identities; fallen angels draw out ideas about eternity and salvation.

Vampire hero

Werewolf heroes

Zombie hero?!

Zombies kind of don’t do much except, well, eat brains and stagger about like drunks. They’re not exactly the stuff of romance, unlike those current clichés of sparkly-beautiful-vampires or sexy-muscled-werewolves. Their eyes are bloodshot, their mouths are bloody (well, so are vampires), their bodies are damaged, and their brains are gone.

This is not to say we can’t have fun with zombies, as Shaun of the Dead proved.

I’ll let someone else do an in-depth explanation of the zombie phenomenon (stay tuned), but suffice to say that explanations for their popularity usually centre around the idea that they are potent symbols of particular ills in society: capitalism or consumerism (sucking the life out of everything), terrorism, viruses, war, unemployment, and … you name it.

So what is the appeal of zombies? Can zombies mainstream it as heroes after all?  Or, as others argue, should we just forget about any kind of “meaning” and let zombies be zombies?


Underworld: Awakening

The fourth Underworld movie, Awakening, recently opened in cinemas. Once again, it focuses on vampires and werewolves, and develops the idea of hybridity. Warning: Spoilers ahead!

KMC: I horrified one of my younger students the other day by admitting that I hadn’t seen all of the Underworld movies. She, in turn, horrified me by admitting (in an English literature class, mind you), that she hates to read and would rather watch movies. So what are these movies doing that’s engaging the audiences, and what do they say about werewolves, vampires and other creatures that go bump in the night?

RW: To state the obvious, I think on one level it’s simply reflecting the surge in popularity of the paranormal genre and on another level it goes back to the old familiar themes of racial purity and fears about hybridity. The original Underworld movie came out in 2003 and created this kind of Gothic, Matrix-like world with an enduring feud between vampire and lycan (werewolf), and many of the vampire-themed texts since then – Twilight, True Blood, The Vampire Diaries TV show – have played on similar themes: ’forbidden love’ storylines between vampire/human or vampire/werewolf, the hybrid daughters of Selene/Michael and Bella/Edward, experiments to create super races (hybrid species), and so on. Certainly there seems to be a move towards celebrating hybrids as being superior, desirable beings rather than unnatural, grotesque creatures as was the norm previously.

Subject 1: Selene and Michael’s hybrid daughter, a little ray of sunshine

KMC: One thing I noticed is that the leaders who focus on purity, bloodlines and “protecting these species” in these movies are depicted as being old, out-of-touch and in the wrong (Viktor, Thomas). There’s a very clear commentary that the fear of miscegenation is outdated, as you suggest; the idea that hybridity represents harnessing two sources of power rather than a watering down of one.

RW: But we lost some of the more complex ideas around racial disputes from the first film/s, where initially the lycans were set up as the villains but we learned that they were enslaved by the vampire race and  have some reason for their conflict with the vampires. And for all this current movie was billed as a vampire v human conflict, the humans really had very little to do with it and it was essentially returning us to the vampire v werewolf war … but this time the werewolves had no depth and were just villains. And Scott Speedman was sadly lacking from this edition in the series. Other aspects were a little confusing: how exactly could Selene give birth to a daughter (unknowingly) while cryogenically frozen?

Kate Beckinsale in Underworld: Awakening

KMC: I wish my pregnancies had been that easy! ;)  I was confused about the focus on the eye of the mutant Lycan guy; was it just an allusion to Blade Runner, maybe? Or am I linking this film to Blade Runner because the body-in-a-state-of-stasis-supporting-pregnancy reminds me of the infamous why-do-replicants-have-belly-buttons argument?

RW: Indeed. Also amazing how that leather outfit never saw a crease, tear or dirt stain despite bombs, blades, and gunshots, if only all our laundering was so easy …

KMC: It was interesting to see some variations on the mythology; it seems as though every franchise has its own version of the canon now. The new hybrid is a hybrid-vampire hybrid, so she changes in a different way than we’ve previously seen; the mutant werewolf which is bigger, stronger and has the ability to control partial changes. That’s pretty rare: the only other example of a demiform I can think of would be the ones from Amelia Atwater-Rhodes’ Shapeshifters.

RW: Yes, the partial transformation was interesting (Jackson Pearce’s Sisters Red and Sweetly come to mind for partial shifts, too), and it seemed to position the lycans who can do that (and only one could do it – because he had hybrid blood) closer to the vampires in terms of being able to control their shifting, whereas most of the lycans in this film are reduced to beastly monsters who lose all control when shifting.

RW: The bigger mutant werewolf was new, althought it seemed to owe a bit to LOTR or HP troll filmic images as well! More familiar ideas regarding shapeshifting included the language around lycanthropy/vampirism as infectious diseases, questions of genetics and DNA (and the laboratory facility where Selene was held was called Antigen), and then more loaded terminology around the cleansing and purges of the vampires/lycans, which recalls Nazi rhetoric and the holocaust. So although we can take the film as just another horror monster movie, we can also see some recurring ideas in popular genres about how society has imagined race in the past.

KMC: Anyone else got any thoughts on this film?