Monday, November 22, 2010

Just Add Zombies

Nat Cassidy is the guest blogger over at NYITA this week and he's talking about horror in theater.
He asked for comments from the public, always a big mistake, so I chimed in with this overly-long response:

Drama is all about conflict. For instance: ghost shows up, tells you that your dad was murdered by your uncle. Instant conflict. (Hamlet).
Or: a bunch of witches tell you that you're going to become king, and all of a sudden you're killing people to become king. There's some conflict! (MacBeth.)
In a way, the horror genre is almost not a genre. What I mean by that is this: take a look at a random zombie movie/play.
When you go see a zombie picture you know that there will be some conflict -- the undead vs the living -- but what you don't know is what the movie will be about exactly.
Will it be about a man trying to connect with his family (The Walking Dead)? Will it be about rampant consumption and capitalism (Dawn of the Dead)? Will it be a comedy about a man who needs to grow up and have a mature relationship with a woman (Shaun of the Dead)?
In fact, almost all stories can be made better by the addition of zombies. Say you have a story about two brothers - one who became a doctor and the other who got busted in college for selling pot. The first brother is the star of the family, while the second brother is the black sheep.
Now they have to reconcile and the black sheep has to earn the respect of his dad.
That's OK, but I'm feeling that the story is a bit of a snooze as it is so far.
But add a zombie apocalypse where the "good" brother works night and day for a cure while the "bad" brother turns out to have a knack for killing scores of zombies and protecting everyone -- and you have a recipe for some strong drama.
With zombies, you have an instantly compelling story.
Sure, the personal relationships of the characters are important. But we're not going to be interested in those relationships until they're put to a stress test. Zombies are great for that. So is a murder mystery (who did it, who's next?) So are the addition of werewolves, ghosts, and vampires. Why? It gives the characters real stakes -- life-or-death stakes.
Can you trust the "bad" brother in the hypothetical play above? Did the "good" brother actually create the zombie virus for the military? Maybe there's a bigger secret -- like the "bad" brother wasn't selling dope out of his dorm room at all but it was the "good" brother who was and the "bad" brother just took the fall for him. Now the good brother lives with the guilt of destroying the other's career and making him look bad in his parents' eyes? And in the meantime they're holed up in an abandoned warehouse with food running low and ten thousand of the undead outside moaning and clawing at the steel doors lusting for their flesh.
THAT sounds like a story I want to hear.
If it were just two brothers talking about their problems in a room... well I just don't care as much.
So in a nutshell, if you have a play with dramatic issues: just add zombies.
This comic has more undead fun.

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