Miss Zombie (Sabu, 2013)

untitled (5)Miss Zombie (Sabu, 2013) develops the zombie domestic narrative much more thoroughly than Fido. In this Japanese film, Dr. Teramoto (Toru Tezuka) receives a “thank you” present of Sara (Ayaka Komatsu), a tamed zombie. Sara comes with a set of instructions, including (most significantly) that the zombie should be kept fed on vegetables and fruit, and never given meat to prevent it from going “feral;” an echo of the Haitian prohibition from giving a zombie salt (or anything made with salt in it), as it will break the bokor’s spell (Vials 2011, 45). While the doctor’s wife, Shizuko (Makoto Togashi), sets Sara to the drudgery work around the house. Ownership of a zombie, as with any new luxury commodity, is at first a source of pride for Shizuko, something she can show off to her friends. But along with that pride comes guilt; guilt at not being a good homemaker and neglecting her family. More and more chores are given to Sara, including sexually satisfying Dr. Teramoto, who uses the zombie as his own personal sex slave. A strong ambivalence creeps into the film, again reflecting the pride/guilt dichotomy of the Teramoto family: is Teramoto raping Sara? The zombie is an “it,” an object, but can an object be sexually violated? Is not Sara his property to which he can, and does, what he likes with it? When two construction workers catch him with Sara, he allows the men to violate the zombie too, although allowing such evokes jealous and proprietorial emotions in him. What would it matter if these guys enjoyed Sara, isn’t she is just an object?

Teramoto’s young son, Kenichi (Riku Onishi), drowns and in desperation Shizuko begs Sara to feed him with her blood so he will return, albeit as a zombie. Once Kenichi is revived, he seems to have a stronger bond to Sara than to his own mother. In this element Miss Zombie offers a nice allegory of wealthy parents whose children become more attached to their nanny than to their mom or dad. The relinquishing of parental responsibility means that the love and attachment which should be theirs is bestowed upon another, another who is simply trying to do their job. Just as Teramoto bestows his physical attention on Sara, Kenichi now dotes on her emotionally. Teramoto and Shizuko are left empty and corrupted, while Sara and Kenichi are more family than the Teramotos ever were. There is a hint, at the end of the film, that Sara keeps feeding Kenichi on her blood to maintain that bond as revenge for her earlier treatment (including being raped). Miss Zombie recognizes the vestiges of humanity which may remain in the zombie, not as in, what Dereksen and Hick (2011, 20) refer to as a kind of “locked-in” psychology, that the former person is conscious within the zombie’s body, helpless to control the monster; but as a recognition that, despite the lowliness of someone’s role, of what they need to do to survive, that basic dignity should be shown to humans and zombies alike.

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Plan 9 from Outer Space (Ed Wood, Jr., 1958)

untitled (3)While Plan 9 from Outer Space (Ed Wood, Jr., 1958) has the dubious honour of being dubbed “the worst movie ever made” (Medved & Medved, 1980), it does use the zombie slave narrative, albeit not very well. Concerned that our use of nuclear weapons puts the entire universe in jeopardy, a craft of friendly aliens comes to earth to try and teach us peace. But, because humans are too primitive to understand this message, the aliens resort to “Plan 9” – the resurrection of the dead as a slave army to pave the way for invasion. If we humans cannot understand peace, then the aliens will invade and force us to be peaceful. Through the use of zombies. Not to read too much into Wood’s classic, but Plan 9 is a nice demonstration of colonial power: the aliens believe that human beings are too primitive and stupid, too aggressive and warlike, and that for our own good, they need to invade Earth to bring peace and prosperity. The alien plan is a colonial one: to save the newly discovered country from the indigenous savages, invasion and colonization are the only solutions. Effectively, the alien’s failure to invade successfully, to be pushed back by the plucky Earthlings, is a post-colonial narrative; we are rooting for the savages to destroy, or otherwise stymie, the colonial invaders.

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Voodoo Man (William Beaudine, 1944)

untitled (4)Voodoo Man (William Beaudine, 1944), from Monogram Pictures, Dr. Richard Marlow (Bela Lugosi) trying to revive his wife that’s been dead for twenty-two years through a combination of science and the strange “witchcraft” cult that he leads.

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The Mad Ghoul (James Hogan, 1943)

untitled (2)The Mad Ghoul (James Hogan, 1943) is a minor Universal horror film, from their second, 1940s cycle of classic monster movies. In this film, a mysterious Mayan gas operates like the Haitian zombie powder. Dr. Morris (George Zucco) is the film’s mad scientist who experiments with the gas on his luckless assistant, Ted (David Bruce), turning him into a zombie slave doing the mad doctor’s bidding. The melodramatic love-triangle narrative is still being used: Dr. Morris is in love with Ted’s girlfriend, Isabel (Evelyn Ankers), and convinces his zombie assistant that he has never been in love with Isabel, that she’s always loved Morris. This way, Morris can be the sympathetic ear that the heart-broken Isabel turns to. Speaking of hearts, well before zombies started eating brains, The Mad Ghoul features heart-eating, the only thing which seems to satiate these zombie/ghouls. Morris and Ted start grave-robbing the freshly interred to ensure a steady supply of the organ. It is curious that, rather than a Caribbean source, the drug/gas is Mayan, another civilization colonized and decimated by Europeans; and anticipating I Walked with a Zombie, science and mysticism combine with Dr. Morris becoming the film’s ersatz-bokor.

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Ouanga (aka The Love Wanga, George Terwilliger)

untitled1936 saw the release of Ouanga (aka The Love Wanga, George Terwilliger), a steamy melodrama set in Haiti with a “voodoo” backdrop. Kili Gordon (Fredi Washington) is a mulatto who has just inherited the family plantation. Kili falls in love with her neighbour Alan Maynard (Philip Brandon), but is thwarted in her passion by him marrying a white woman. Kili raises a zombie army to take revenge of the luckless Alan. Not to be confused with the little known African-American opera by White and Matthews, Ouanga!, noted previously, Terwilliger’s film puts the “tragic mulatto” figure centre stage (c.f. Bogle 2001): Kili desires her Caucasian neighbour and believes she is pale enough to pass (sufficiently) as white. Realizing she will never have Alan, that she’s not “good enough” for him because of her race, the film suggests her primitive (i.e. black) nature is manifested in her black magic vengeance. The mulatto is doubly corrupted in that, not only is she part black, but her whiteness carries with it the “shame” of miscegenation; implicit that either parent engaged in sexual activities “unbecoming a member of their race”. The film seems to be a prophylactic against miscegenation, warning that mulattos, while they might look white, have that “savage” anger in them; thereby furthering the colonial segregation of the races, insuring the bloods do not mix.

Interested readers may also find the Shadowplay blog worth reading; including this page on Ouanga! https://dcairns.wordpress.com/tag/the-love-wanga/

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Fido (Andrew Currie, 2006)

fidoposterbigFido (Andrew Currie, 2006) presents a different view of the zombie slave – the zombie domestic. This Canadian horror-comedy plays in an ersatz-1950s middle America, in the years after the zombie war. A short monochrome film, which begins the film, explains that a radiation cloud resurrected the dead into Romero-zombies – shuffling ghouls who eat the living and can only be killed by a headshot. Zom-Con, a multi-national conglomerate, emerges to save the day for the humans; Dr. Geiger (Andy Parkin) invents a “domestication collar” which neutralizes the zombie threat, transforming a monstrous enemy into a domesticated pet or slave. “A better life through containment”, is Zom-Con’s moto, and with the zombies contained by these collars, new industries open up, like a new slave-trade. The language used to describe the walking dead as sub-human, if human at all, and evokes the slavery rhetoric from the past; and in Fido’s focus on one particular family and their zombie’s residual memories and desires, is unequivocal in its recognition of the zombie’s humanity.

The town of Willard is a white suburban idyll for its residents, under the watchful protection of Zom-Con.  And Fido’s first target for satire are the social aspirations of the Robinson family within this sanitized 1950s America: Helen (Carrie-Anne Moss) is embarrassed that they do not have a zombie domestic, despite everyone else, apparently, having one.  But Bill (Dylan Baker) uses the excuse that they cannot afford one to distract from his palpable fear of them. The domestic tension, played as satire, evokes the very real aspirational middle class of post-World War 2 America, where having an African-American servant (a “coloured”) was the pinnacle of the status quo for the white American suburban. Into this world, Fido (Billy Connelly) is acquired. Bill and Helen’s ten year old son, Timmy (K’sun Ray), develops a special friendship with Fido, much like a faithful pet dog. Fido is therefore dehumanized into both domestic servant and family pet.  In renaming Fido, Timmy chooses a stereotypical dog name, but no attempt is made to confirm the zombie’s original identity. This act of renaming not only brands the Robinson’s ownership of the zombie, but effectively erases whoever he was. Slaves too were renamed and rebranded depending on ownership, and Fido’s role as object in the Robinson’s home is unequivocal. The containment collar evokes both the slave collars worn in the ante-bellum South as well as a dog collar. Timmy develops a strong attachment to Fido; his zombie protects him from bullies, and, like Lassie, runs to get help when Timmy is in trouble.

Fido also experiences residual human feelings of desire for Helen and protection for Timmy; even when Fido’s containment collar fails, his loyalty remains with the Robinsons. While, as I discuss in a later chapter, the residual memory in zombies is a problematic motif to play in these narratives, in Fido the motif is discursive; by recognizing the residual human nature in a zombie, and that ability to access those desires, demands that we look beyond the monstrosity to the potential human within.  Fido suggests that there is humanity in all “monsters”; and just as Zomcon’s “containment collars” neutralize the danger of zombies at the expense of their freedom, so too does the film play with other forms of containment: gendered, intellectual and social. Zomcon’s heavily fenced and defended communities deny the residents of Willard any opportunity to explore alternative gender roles, different ways of thinking or social mobility. Willard is frozen in time, until, beginning with Timmy Robinson and Fido, that status quo begins to be questioned. In this perfect(ly constructed) middle America, women are homemakers, no one questions the authority of Zomcon, and everyone is happy with their lot.  Even the lonely Mr.  Theopolis (Tim Blake Nelson) has his own sex zombie, Tammy (Sonja Bennett), but in this increasingly progressive town, Theopolis necrophilia is not only accepted, but Tammy seems to have developed feelings for her owner too. This is not to suggest that dehumanization, if handled gently, can result in mutual affection; by recognizing the problematic nature of Theopolis’s ownership of Tammy, we too are made uncomfortable with the repercussions of his actions. As with Fido, we see beneath the objectification and commodification of Tammy to the problematic nature of such dehumanization. Fido challenges the complacency of the status quo through its problematizing the relationship between consumer goods (the zombies) and the consumer (families like the Robinsons). As Lauro & Embry note

… the zombie now represents the new slave, the capitalist worker, but also the consumer, trapped within the ideological construct that assures the survival of the system. This ravenous somnambulist, blindly stumbling toward its next meal, is a machine that performs but two functions: it consumes, and it makes more consumers (2008, 99).

After Fido, zombies not only “consume and make more consumers”, but we can add to those functions: zombies are commodified, dehumanized to the point of complete objectification, and then sold to consumers to continually consume more. In between the zombie consuming and thereby making more consumers, that liminal stage of transformation, what is being consumed is denied any inherent humanity, and is parcelled out like entrails in a suburban shopping mall.

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Doghouse (Jake West, 2009)

In Doghouse (Jake West, 2009), five friends try to help Vince (Stephen Graham) get over his divorce by going into the woods near the tiny village of Moodley.   Some kind of witchcraft appears to be haunting the area as the town is almost deserted. All that remains are monstrous female zombies, the victims of a virus that, apparently, only women get, because it is transmitted via biological laundry detergent. If the “women as monsters” idea isn’t offensive enough, the film focuses the “monstrosity” on female sexual desire and power. (It gets worse) Apparently, this zombie-like mutation is phase 2 of “Project Cathouse,” wherein the mutated creatures are able to be tamed and controlled using soundwaves. The film ends “happily” for the boys, as now they can have remotely-controlled women who won’t bust their balls like their current partners do. I wish I was kidding.

doghouse-poster1

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