_Night of the Living Dead_/_The Dead Next Door_ Double Take

Hello Dear Reader,

I’ve been busy these past few days, no, not busy doing the writing I’ve been trying to do all summer… I’ll get to that today… er… after I write this epistle to you.

Yesterday I spent most of the day trying to put together my reader materials for ENGL193: Detective Fiction, which I will begin teaching for Summer Session B in a few weeks here at UCSB.

After realizing a) that I was trying to do too much and b) completely revamping the course to be about gothic detection or outbreak narratives were out of the question at this point, I packed it up and came home to watch some good ol’ zombie movie-age and ease my troubled mind.

Having rewatched Night of the Living Dead two nights ago, last night I — and my girlfriend and frolleague co-spectators — settled on J.R. Bookwalter’s blood-fest, The Dead Next Door. I thought I’d take to the blog and give you some thoughts on them.

I won’t tell you too much about NOLD because I am planning on writing quite a bit about it, and I don’t want to tip my hand too much. That said, I was shocked and excited at how conscious the film was about the conflict between the logic of security and the ethical call to protect the lives of others. This plays out in an increasingly messy way, and bears some thinking about. Also, the fact that the film chronicles the power struggle between a white man (in a tie, he must be a jerk!) and a black man (… in a cardigan? he must be… classy?) in a farmhouse in Pennsylvania gives some food for thought.

The racial politics of the film are complicated and fraught, but the real horror just might be the portrayal of women. My GOODNESS. I mean, we all know Barbra’s weak, semi-catatonic state going back to a rewatch of the film, but holy crap, do the women ever cause the deaths in this movie!

Let’s tally:

Barbra: responsible for Johnny’s death at the beginning of the film.

Helen: somewhat responsible for Barbra’s death at the climax (Barbra is pulled into a zombie mob trying to save her, but the somewhat symbolic encounter with her brother, and her relatively weak resistance leave some of this on … well the writers?)

Judy: her jacket getting snagged in a burning truck kills both her and Tom (annnnd Tom is already out of the truck when this happens)

Karen: we see her eating pieces of her (possibly already dead) father, and she famously slays her mother with a trowel.

So, who does that leave, not being killed by the negligence of/trying to save a woman? Ben and Harry, our ‘leaders.’ Oh, and Ben shoots Harry for nearly getting him killed — so yeah, the one black guy in literally the whole movie shoots the white a-hole. Oh yeah, but after surviving all night, Ben’s pretty much lynched behind the credits, after getting shot in the head just before they roll.

Sooooo, raises interesting questions about security and ethics, is a great film, but should — like many “great” or “canonical” things — have that rather big, heavy asterisk next to it, noting that its politics are effed up.

Now, let’s change gears and talk about the always awful, but to some awesomely awful, The Dead Next Door.

This movie clocks in at just under an hour and a half and squirts more blood than anything else I can think of — note, I specifically say squirts. This cheesy gore-fest follows the Zombie Squad on a semi-coherent romp that, surprisingly leads to the death of WAY more people than it does zombies.

There are a fair amount of things for B-horror and zombie fans to like about this movie: it’s super self-conscious and genre-conscious, it features ridiculous kills, buckets on buckets full of blood… and off the top of my head that’s pretty much it.

For people who can’t stomach B-movies, it’s an absolute nightmare.

That said, I kind of love this one. I love it because almost every single character eaten by a zombie, dies through SHEER negligence. It’s as if there is no hope for mankind, solely because we’re so careless. Like when one guy accidentally puts his fingers in the mouth of a severed zombie head, or when one leans against a gurney with a zombie on it and loses a chunk of forearm… I can go on, but you get the point.

The film ends — yes, this is a spoiler — with the Zombie Squad being turned into the Human Squad, with the — assumed — purpose of exterminating humans? Which I guess makes sense, assuming they don’t actually need to eat, even though several zombies express hunger… but whatever.

What makes this movie critically interesting is the fact that it is really all about the failure of mechanisms of security. The Zombie Squad is an inept failure, and it is only created after the zombie outbreak in Akron, Ohio spreads, despite a newscaster telling us the military is being deployed. Oh, yeah, and the president becomes a zombie, early on. The utter annihilation of the humans in this film, makes it a surprising one. There is no offer of hope, no secret immunity, no stalwart survivor, no well-organized posse. The fact that infrastructure is maintained and zombie’s drive cars at the end of the film gestures toward an allegorical explanation. I cannot offer one to you today, but can you offer one to me?

Happy Thursday,

S

OH, and PS: I challenge you to find people of color in this film, with the plausible exception of Reverend Jones (played by Robert Kokai), I got nothing!

OH, and PPS: I’ll post some things that are not ruminations/reviews soon.

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