If you are one of the millions of devoted viewers of AMCs’ The Walking Dead or any of its spin-offs/imitators, you can say a little thanks to George A Romero for creating the genre to which they belong.
I say “genre” and not “SUB-genre” because that is what the modern zombie narrative has become. Zombies are no longer confined to direct-to-vid horror flicks. The shambling, vacant, flesh-eating resurrected corpse which has come to define the word zombie now appears in comedies, cartoons, fantasies, action adventure films, music videos and even soap operas (looking at you, The Walking Dead) and that’s just film and television. Countless videogames, comics, and fiction works feature the same species of “walker” that first appeared in Romero’s Night of The Living Dead, way back in 1968.
When horror magazine Fangoria began bringing horror filmmakers to the fore in the 80s and turning them into recognizable superstars, the name George A Romero rose to the top of the heap based almost entirely on his original trilogy of zombie films known as the Dead series. These were all low budget affairs, crafted with love and passion by a man who found the perfect stand-in for the most basic, perhaps the worst, aspects of his fellow man.
In trying to reach the warm food bags holed up in that Pennsylvania farmhouse, the first wave of Dead clambered over each other, unconcerned with the unbreathing brethren trampled en route to achieving their singular selfish goal.
As their Dawn rose, they moved outward from their various necropoli, Romero’s legions finding their way to the shopping malls, where thoughtlessly they roamed, only occasionally finding the gristly goodies they sought behind store windows.
As living folk began to haltingly re-organize, in vast military bunkers for instance, and further, began trying to corral and control the Dead, they demonstrated that sheer numbers and mindless appetite will always win the Day; even over any concepts of hierarchy or supposed intellect.
George A Romero milked the zombie genre, perhaps not for all it was worth, but certainly, for its most meaningful elements. He did so almost entirely without the help of the Big Bully studio system, even while lampooning it in many ways.
Many images from his work stand stark in my brain forever. That first stumbling cadaver, zeroing in on Barbara, while her cruel brother mocks her in a Karloff voice.
The nightmare of a hundred hungry hands punching through a wall to claim Lori Cardille.
The agonizing wait for David Emgee to “turn.”
That effing nerve-shattering Thing In The Crate, with its bottomless stomach, swimming up even now from some less-bottomless gulch.
Milquetoast Jason Flemyng, waking to find himself beautifully faceless.
Psychotically jealous Capuchin Elle, screeching somewhere in the dark, wielding a straight razor.
He was by all accounts, good to his family, his friends, and his fans. He was never less than generous, not only in sharing his talents, but in sharing his time.
Cliche’d as it is, one truly wonders if there can ever be another horror auteur like him. Another cliche’: there simply isn’t enough of his work for us.
But when I watch The Walking Dead, or play Resident Evil, whatever the given origin story, I will always realize I’m in the universe he made.
“The Scares That Care Charity Weekend was originally a horror event designed to delight horror fans while benefiting those in need. Now, because of the increasing attendance from fan bases outside of horror, we are starting to transition to a genre event and will continue to morph as feedback points in the direction to continue positive growth.
“Scares That Care!” is an IRS approved, 501(c)(3) charitable organization, designed to bring together the fans of “all things spooky.” Whether it’s haunted houses, paranormal, horror films, or anything else in the “vein” of the horror genre, “Scares That Care!” brings together those individuals in order to give back to the families that need it most…and in turn, become “Good Ambassadors of Horror.”
The difference between our event and the other, fantastic shows that are out there, is simple. All of our proceeds will go to the families that need our assistance. We pride ourselves in being an organization that has no salaries, and no paychecks. We do this because it’s the right thing to do, and we want to represent the Horror community in the best light possible.”
Grave Robber: The Cellar Sessions
Having enjoyed horror punkers’ Grave Robber’s full length effort Be Afraid, I was surprised to find their lo-fi cover EP The Cellar Sessions to be so lifeless, if you’ll excuse the pun. I’m no music expert; my reactions are purely visceral with no understanding of technical aspects. That said, I’ve always found horror punk to be hit or miss; maybe 70 -30.
Covers are remarkably common in horror punk. It’s a crossbreed of genres after all, and not meant to be taken too seriously, so why not take a stab at someone else’s material?
Something I learned while researching the band is that they’re a Christian horror punk outfit, which is even more unusual than Christian metal. Interestingly, this 2014 release is not mentioned on their Wikipedia page, or any discography, and neither CD nor digital versions are available on Amazon. Also, their sound from Be Afraid to Sessions is markedly different. Are there TWO bands Christian horror punk bands called Grave Robber???
Onto the music: as mentioned all covers, some of which seem like either really poor or supremely smart ass choices. “Spirit in The Sky,” the seventies Jesus movement anthem, and “The Rose” both come off like a pissed off middle school band playing songs from the approved list for the school dance, but subverting them just to steam the principal.
David Bowie’s Space Oddity is next, but nothing particularly interesting or innovative is done with it. Cyindi Lauper’s Time After Time — same deal.
The album finishes with The Ramones’ I Just Wanna Have Something To Do, which projects none of the original’s nihilistic disaffectedness, but it’s possibility the heaviest track.
Can’t say much positive or negative about the musicianship. It’s very deft but seems intentionally under-produced to give a garage band effect. Might have worked with original material but falls flat with these covers.
Write it off as a bold experiment. I’m looking forward to sampling more of Grave Robber’s original work, but I hope they’ll steer clear of unimaginative covers henceforth.
In my short story Unto The Earth I attempted to integrate symbolism that served as both foreshadowing and “easter eggs” of a sort, in that they gave the story what I hoped is a connected sense of doom that cannot be forestalled; karma that must be satisfied.
In case you haven’t read the story and don’t want it spoiled, stop reading now and find it in Sekhmet Press’ Wrapped In Black anthology, or just skip this installment.
Our protagonist Lyle is a decent guy who suffered a severe, memory-robbing accident. Brought back to physical health by the patient love of a nurse named Agnes, he has fallen in love and married the Haitian beauty, only to find himself falling into uncontrollable fits of rage he takes out on her.
Lyle is something of a partial man; missing pieces of his psyche that might give his life, already ideal on the outside, the meaning that would fill a vast hole in his soul. The first easter egg is his dog ; another slice of normal pie that should fit easily into a very simple puzzle. But I chose for the dog to be black, and named him Shucky. If you’re familiar with supernatural lore you might know of the Anglo legend called the Black Shuck; a massive demonic dog, black of course. Encountering or even just seeing the beast is said to foretell of death, either to the seer or his/her immediate family.
So “Shucky,” even as a seemingly harmless family pet, is a portent of death to give the story an early sense of the supernatural mixed in with the commonality of Lyle’s everyman (apologies for this cliche’) life. In retrospect, it seems rather wedged in. Something closer to the story’s vodun (voodoo) connection would have been more appropriate. Still, Shucky plays his role and adds some spice.
Lyle also visits a therapist to discuss his growing outbursts of abusive rage. Absently, he handles a figurine replica of a Mesopotamian fertility goddess. Maternity -of a kind- is also a theme, and with the goddess now hovering in the reader’s subconscious, the finale will theoretically carry its weight and imbue a sense of connections, a thread that weaves in and out of the tale along with many others to make a whole cloth.
I was intrigued to see, some months later, a similar scene in the film “Hellions,” whose antagonist is a teen who fears she is pregnant. The girl visits a counselor. As the session winds down, she sees a decorative sculpture on the desk that begins to seep blood. There is no further discussion of this; the narrative simply moves on. While we watch the movie with most of our brain another part continues to ponder this image, becoming more and more uneasy.
A funny thing about symbolism is that once you’re aware of it, you start seeing it everywhere and pondering what a seemingly meaningless placement of an item or color or sound might actually mean. Symbols will seem to present themselves in your daily life. Make of that what you will, but this awareness can translate to your writing . Many authors (or screenwriters/directors) when learning of symbolic meaning that has been read into their work, will deny that it was ever their intent. However, if symbolism is deeply subconscious, would even they know?
More on the Black Shuck:
Call it simple instinct.
We see a snake or a spider and our initial reaction is revulsion — because we perceive it as a threat. Our ancestors learned the hard way, in countless separate tribes, that some creatures are dangerous, others are not. Few of us fear budgies or warblers for instance and might even find them cute or otherwise pleasant. Yet, most spiders are much smaller than these birds, not to mention completely harmless to us. Still, we have a natural revulsion to them.
There is more to our little eight legged boogieman than we see at first glance. Spiders have eight legs and eight eyes. The number eight has significance in many esoteric belief systems, and we are aware of this too, though at a deeper level. Numbers mean something to us beyond the amount of things they count. Some people even see numbers in terms of gender or even color or taste.
When you put a spider in your story, the reader’s natural fear or negative baggage will arise, and you must take advantage of this. Thus, a spider can represent something related to the number eight. Perhaps your protagonist is an outlaw in a western, riding across the desert to start a new life. He encounters a tarantula and gets a bad feelin’. Well, turns out there’s a posse on his trail; eight hard men, aimin’ to kill.
Let’s take it a step further; our hero brings down his knife, severing one of the spiders’ legs. But it gets away; he either chose not to kill it or simply wasn’t able. Of his pursuers, one is an adversary whom he wounded and should have killed.
This also falls into the realm of both foreshadowing and subtext. But the important thing is — you never spell it out. Some readers might catch it but most won’t — yet their subconscious will, and the reader will have a richer experience. It’s like the barest pinch of a spice in a stew that takes the whole meal from “delicious” and elevates it to “unforgettable!”
This is an entry level example of symbolism, which admittedly, is pretty much where I am. But it’s a start, and if you want your story to work beyond just the gut level -meaning a pure celebration of scares and gross outs and shock factor, which is just as legitimate a form of horror I might add, in the same way that slapstick is just as powerful a form of comedy as the most sophisticated Greek tragicomedy- then it’s not a bad idea to research symbolism.
NEXT TIME: Part 2. Duh.