Obsessed. With. Zombies.

I love zombies.

As kids we got the wits scared out of us, in the most fun way, by the Night of the Living Dead. Even as a kid, it was shocking in a very primal way to see essentially “people as monsters”, because let’s face it the makeup in those first few Romero films were some eye-shadow and tatty clothes. Something was triggered deep in the recesses of our minds, a fascination with “surviving the night” as it were, and like many children do we started playing out our own scenarios. Seeing the dark 80’s comedy Return of the Living Dead set in concrete our love of zombies, and instead of playing GI Joe, Civil War, or Cowboys & Indians we started playing our own zombie survival games.

They are the perfect enemy. They look like people, so that plays into our natural fear of mobs. They are a somewhat unstoppable force of nature, so we get that natural disaster vibe going. They are (often) cannibals, and we really don’t like getting eaten. And their bites will turn victims into zombies, so there’s some epidemiology there too, with a smattering of disease/plague fear. Also its socially sanctioned murder, since zombies are basically just people. All great backdrops for exploring the human drama, which is at the core of all the “good” zombie movies and books.

Zombies really are the cheapest monsters to have in a film, other than extremely clever ways of portraying ghosts, so needless to say zombie films have been around for a long time, and they aren’t going to go away. Granted, while zombies are the cheapest monsters, and thus a metric ton of movies both at the low budget and hollywood level have been made, they are pretty tough to actually do “right”. I used to work at a low budget horror dvd distribution company, and trust me, everyone with a cheap camera and a few friends has made a trashy zombie movie, myself included. Most of them suck, especially because the zombies suck (it takes a real actor to portray a truly badass zombie, contrary to popular indie filmmaker belief), but even then I just can’t not watch them. Obsessed. With. Zombies. They may pass from the limelight from time to time, but like the relentless shambling hordes they portray, zombie films will just keep coming. Same for books and especially video games. I have certainly played my part in contributing to the ever-expanding glut of zombie media. To date I’ve made two of my own crappy zombie films (Johnny Sunshine: Maximum Violence and Voodoo Cowboys) and written three short zombie novels, two under my own name (Relentless and Gladiators vs Zombies) and one under my Edward Teach pseudonym (Zombie Jesus). I’ve got four more zombie writing projects in various stages of completion. Obviously I’m both a creator in the genre and also one of its most rabid fans.

The point of this post is that I am enjoying the zombie genre being a mainstream thing right now. Being a kid in the 80’s and 90’s meant that “being a nerd” was grounds for schoolyard fist fights and ostracism, but now we have hipsters and nerds-as-the-cool-kids in our mainstream culture & media. The same is happening with zombies, where manufacturers of hardware and ammo are slapping bio-hazard symbols on their products and Wal-Mart sells cheap “zombie hunter” t-shirts (I bought one, its cheap and awesome), zombies are now kitsch and I’m loving it. The Walking Dead is of course an incredible show, and it tickles me that its so wildly successful now, where in years past there was no way the networks would put something that violent or visceral on television. Not only is it approved for television, it is easily the most successful show in television history, you can have a multi-screen viewing experience, watch a fancy talk show after the episode, and then the whole series in black & white reruns. These days you’re weird if you aren’t into a television show about freaking zombies! Weirdos are the ones who don’t like zombie media! How’s that for a slice of fried gold? Video games like Dead Island and Left 4 Dead are high end and super fun, which is a long way from the old board game I have called “Maul of America”. Will this time pass? Of course. The Walking Dead will either end gloriously in the next season, or it will drag on for season after season (because it makes money) until it sucks and then doesn’t make money any more. Eventually zombies will fall away from the mainstream and go back to their sub-culture roots, where they will wait patiently for the next media cycle. Its good to be a zombie fan right now, to be one of the cool kids who knows which Walking Dead character I most resemble, to have a zombie outbreak escape plan, and to have my own creative projects be mainstream for once.

Aim for the head.

Sticks & Stones

I played with sticks when I was a kid, and I’ll even admit to playing with sticks when I was a teenager, and yes I’ll go you one further and say I still like to play with sticks. Growing up in rural Arkansas meant that I was surrounded by woods, and though my brother and I had plenty of the usual kinds of “boy’s toys” like GI Joe action figures, Star Wars, and those wooden musket cap guns, we loved to make our own toys with sticks. We’d head out into the forest and find a handful of awesome sticks of various sizes and weights, though we’d always be sure to get sturdy ones. Then we’d take them back home, get out the duct tape, and start crafting some seriously wicked stuff. When we’d visit New Mexico my grandfather would take us into the woodshop and help us build extra-sturdy wooden swords, axes, and whatever other bizzare weapons our imaginations could come up with.

As I got older this fascination with “sticks” was tempered by the desire to create things that had a more real-life functionality to them. This was right about the time I met Ryan Loyd, a fellow stick lover and maker-of-things. Nothing like a full workshop and the desire to create legitimate weapons to give rise to some of the more wicked ‘murder sticks’ that I think have ever been hefted by folks in the modern world.

This leads me to my current fascination with the video game “Dead Island”… now I know that its a game that has been around for awhile. I’m usually late to the party when it comes to video games, having grown up without them (beyond Aztec Challenge on the Commodore 64) and going straight into Playstation 3 ownership. I know its an older game, but I’m loving it. Not only is Dead Island a ‘zombie survival’ video game, which means is perfect for my tastes in media, but the use of firearms in the game is extremely limited.

The characters are on the island of Banoi in Papa New Guinea, so there just aren’t guns readily available for average people, so the game focuses on hand-to-hand and melee combat. Since we (sadly) do not live in a world where people carrying swords is a normal thing, the characters have to scrounge for whatever they can find and make their own weapons. Characters can find lead pipes, pool sticks, boat paddles, baseball bats, diving knives, hammers, wrenches, machetes, and yes (since its a video game) the occasional mace (but at least they make them look like the cheap versions you can buy at BudK). Then there are ‘workbenches’ where you can customize your weapons.

That’s my favorite part. You can start with a baseball bat, then drive nails through it, then wrap it in barbed wire, then dip it in gasoline… and now you’ve got a flaming bat of DOOM. Or you can take a machete, a large battery, some wires, and duct tape it all together to create a ‘shock machete’. Considering that I’ve been customizing ‘found weapons’ since I was a kid… this game is perfectly tailored to suit my particular tastes.

I am positive that both playing as a child, tinkering as a young man, and now gaming as an adult (all with this custom murder stick enjoyment) has something to do with a deeply buried instinct. When you look at ancient Polynesian cultures (I’m singling them out for having the most awesome customized murder sticks) they did pretty much the same thing that I’ve been doing in play (and in the game) by taking objects in their environment and working them into deadly combinations (turtle shell stabbing gauntlets? yep, they’ve got em). So maybe I’m just staying in touch with a more primitive side of my human self, nothing wrong with that.

Besides, its fun, and I’ll never get caught in the middle of a zombie apocalypse without some kind of way to defend myself.