Archive for the ‘Zombies’ Category

Living Dead Tree
October 31, 2012

No one sets out to grow a Living Dead tree. At least I didn’t.

I’d just meant to go to Evans City.


It wasn’t until college that I found George Romero movies.

It’s weird when you find things buried right underneath your feet.

You see, I’d heard of Night of the Living Dead, because everyone had. I guess I knew it was black and white and who has time for that.

But one afternoon, in October I’m sure, I was looking through Comcast on-demand, in the free offerings of course, because I was in college at the time. And there was the colorful Tom Savini remake, with Candyman star and legend Tony Todd filling the shoes that the immortal Duane Jones left for the role of Ben.

Ben was nearly a survivor. He fought the dead through the night, only to be shot down by the careless living, and I hope I’m not spoiling anything here.

And maybe it was because I had seen Candyman first. Candyman was a tortured slave that will come for revenge if you say his name a
trinity of times. He was a killer with a pretty heavy motive.

But like Candyman’s jagged arm implant, I was hooked.

I tracked down the rest of the Dead movies. Probably first the most recent Dawn of the Dead remake, and honestly I’m not proud of details like that. But then I went for the originals. And learned, like I said, Night of the Living Dead, was waiting buried right under my feet. George Romero was a fellow grad of Carnegie Mellon.

And then I found he shot half the films in Evans City, which was just of Interstate 79, halfway between Pittsburgh and home.

Everything was lining up, I guess I’d say for this narrative at least.

Although it wouldn’t be for seven years after that I would actually go
to Evans City. I had thought about it a couple times. I had considered
going to the Halloween screening of Night of the Living Dead in the
graveyard there. But never did.


Knowing that there will be people at my destination somehow always makes it less appealing to me.

So in the nights prior I watched the Crazies and Night of the Living
Dead to note the landmarks, and that Saturday, just after the leaves
had turned, we went.

Only to find strange omens along the way.

On Route 58, just miles from home, we were behind the  Monstemasher, a monster truck from Fredonia, Pa., a coincidence that Anna found much less ominous than I.

And as we got closer, we passed Cheeseman’s Fright Farm, and we pressed through the boroughs of Harmony and Zelienople, which seemed jammed together like siamese twins beyond the point of being able to tell one from the other. But I chose that path because the internet had told me that a portion of the Crazies had been filmed in Harmony. And we passed anti-Obama signs that littered the countryside to a degree as though they thought they might actually count as votes. The signs read No Hope with the Obama Os for their Os.

I don’t know, I thought it was ominous.

I always feel a low-grade anxiety seep in when we get close to a destination. I always assume we’re lost.

We passed the Evans City High School and I thought we had missed the turn. I didn’t think we were supposed to go into town.

But then Anna saw it. Pioneer Road.

We climbed up to Franklin Road and climbed until we saw the Evan City Cemetery sign.

It’s a steep path to the top. I couldn’t imagine driving it in winter.

The slope was familiar from the film. It was the same that Barbara and Johnny had driven up in the opening. But it had grown up so much. You could see for miles when it was filmed in 1967, but in 2012 it was crowded with trees.

Its weird the nostalgia that kicks in at a place like this. I’d seen
the movie dozens of times now, to the point that it seemed like
somewhere I had been before. Like an alma mater.

And at the top of the hill, was the chapel, the most recognizable
element from the film.


There were already a couple other people there, circling the
dilapidated and boarded over structure. So we drove around the
grounds.

I could have done more research and picked out some grave stones, but I was drawn to the chapel. I’d read about it. How they’re trying to
save it. Romero even pitching in his own cash.

When we came around the other people were still checking it out, but I wanted to too. So we parked and walked up to its side.

It seemed everything that was falling off it, any conceivable hole was boarded over.


We circled to the front of it, and in one place where its pieces were
crumbling, you could see brick beneath.

We of course needed photos with it and took turns standing at the
boarded over front door as the other clicked with the camera.

In trips before, I’m thinking of Centralia specifically, the photos
and the memories of the place were enough. We found enough mystery and graffiti and eery abandonment to satisfy me. But this time, as I was shooting pictures of Anna, I felt like it wasn’t enough.

I was standing below an oak, which was just tiny in the film, and
under my feet and beside them, were its acorns.

I figured they, the nuts, might help, so I slipped a couple in my pocket.

We traveled the hill back into town, to Main Street Evans City where
the government declared Marshall Law in the Crazies. We went to the
Evans City post office and to the volunteer fire department and saw the rouge over everything that has become familiar of the Rust belt

Then we headed home.

I’ts hard to say when you know that the events of a day will set in as memories.

The drive was only about an hour or so home, but in thinking about the day and how it was a good day, I wished I’d be able to point to that day from time to time and remind myself, maybe even others, about it.

And then I thought about the acorns in my pocket.

And how permanent they could be.

For some reason I thought it would be easy to grow them. But I looked it up. It’s a bit complicated. But I did it anyway. I soaked them for a bit in water, then dried them, wrapped them up and threw them in the fridge so they can have their own winter.

Some time in December I’ll take them out and plant them in a pot.

I wander if I could trim the tree like bonsai and keep it a manageable size for its life; or if it needs to go in the ground. I don’t know if I have enough yard. Or if I should.

I don’t know if it’d be right to bring a Living Dead tree here.

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Netflix horror worth your time #5: Yellowbrickroad
October 30, 2012

We all escape one way or another.

Through books, soap operas, other daydream fantasies, booze.

Or movies, like The Wizard of Oz, which is one big escape. From a black and white struggling farm to a vivid world filled with charming little people, flying monkeys and a wizard. (Synch up Dark Side of the Moon and you’ll really have something.)

All you gotta do is follow the yellow brick road.

In the movie Yellowbrickroad, things have always been hard in the town of Friar, N.H. Apparently especially in 1940, a year after Oz’s release, when all the town’s people, for no known reason, head out to the wilderness and try to follow what will ironically be called their town’s invisible Yellow Brick Road.

They all died somehow and somewhere out in the woods. Frozen to death. Murdered. Some just missing.

And nearly 70 years later, Teddy Barnes, a researcher and an expeditionist, decides to find out where they went.

He tracks down all the government files on the issue, gets a crew together, and heads out. But his info is bad, or his instruments are, because the coordinates for the trailhead puts them at the town’s theater, Rialto.

“Are you like retarded hikers of something?” asks the ticket taker, when Teddy and his band walk through.

Teddy had been tracking down the info for awhile and this setback has him discouraged, but in the theater he finds a townie, who knows where the trailhead can be found.

“We drink there sometimes to get scared,” she says.

Of course they’re marching off to their doom.

The first evidence is a stray 40s fedora they find in the woods. Probably evidence of the first lost expedition. Daryl, one of their map specialists picks it up and dons.

“Seems the best way to keep a hat safe,” he explains to his fellow mapmaker. She’s of course afraid they’ll catch whatever killed or drove crazy the original band of crazies.

There’s more signs, of course, for example, their GPS says they’re in Guam, and then comes the signature, unsettling ominous detail.

The music. From somewhere out in the distance. Something from the 1940s of course and from a record player. You can hear it scratch from time to time.

Like The Signal, in which this constant evil tone drives people into a homicidal rage, the music of Yellowbrickroad plays day and night. Most members of the expedition figure that if they follow it, that it is playing from the center of something, where the answers are, where the wizard lives.

Walter, their behavioral psychologist, who is tasked with making sure no one goes off the deep end, though, is a bit concerned.

“We don’t know what’s going on here and I think we should leave,” he says, throwing in a classic Jaws allusion, “I think we need a bigger boat.”

But they push forward, walking for days and days, miles into the wilderness.

Until one day, Daryl and his fellow mapmaker get into a scrap. They push each other and take each other down until Daryl pickups a large rock, holds it above his head and hammers it against her leg until he can remove her leg from her body.

He of course kills her and then of course runs off, loose in the trees waiting to kill more.

But they keep walking.

“I think we should go home with answers,” Teddy explains.

His base question in all of this is why did they walk originally, the townspeople of 1940. Where were they going and why.

“If you live in town long enough,” the townie says, “you know why they walked. You always know the trail is there. You feel like the trail will understand. Now I think that’s the worst part. That it does.”

And that’s what I enjoy most about the movie. We all want to find the trail, find where it goes. We want to discover something.

Some people do GPS tagging, geocaching. They hide a prize at specific coordinates and you go find it.

I like to go to weird spots like Centralia or the graveyard from the Night of the Living Dead.

Hoping there might be some residue or something leftover from the weirdness that once was.

But for the most part we stay put. Stay in the daily ruts we carve from home to work and back. Afraid of what danger might await on the yellow brick road.

And apparently there is danger there.

Netflix horror worth your time #4: Blood River
October 27, 2012

There are really only so many reasons that one person will kill another.

It can happen in a fit of passion, for revenge, to protect loved ones, or even for fun and money

All are compelling motives, but they’re still all very pedestrian, very human, comparatively.

Being raised Protestant or even more specifically Presbyterian isn’t very unique, but something about my interpretation of it all has left me very susceptible to be intrigued by movies like The
Prophesy and the Omen that take angels and demons, characters that have a weight built into them by the Bible, and flush them and their motives out to characters and plots that straddle the genres of epics and horrors (although aren’t all epics horror? All contain superhuman, homicidal foes. Homer, for example. Everyone was trying to kill him)

We’re supposed to fear Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees for their superhuman strength and near immortality, but compare that to the angels of the Prophesy; their strength is godlike and they have a motive more complex than we could possibly comprehend. They’re jealous of us, of men, because God loved us more, and because of it, they want to take us out.

That’s a lot deeper than seeking revenge because some camp counselors let you drown. I’m looking at you Jason.

There of course a couple risks in taking on biblical characters, though. That is that they’re too big. Zeus, for example, can lose, but if you follow biblical rules, God cannot. And the characters, nearly exactly by definition, are melodramatic. Half are pure good, the other half are pure bad.

The other risk is ending up writing something with a moral. We, as consumers, have very quickly grown out of and lost patience for stories that try to teach us something. We don’t want to hear it from our mothers and we surely don’t want to pay 8 bucks to get it delivered through celluloid.

And that’s why these examples work. They’re not didactic. You don’t leave the Prophecy feeling like you’ve been coerced into repenting or abstaining from anything.

But of course, when the risks are high, so are the rewards. Take Damien from the Omen, for example. His mother was a jackal. He is the antichrist. He’s just a boy, but he’s destroying the world directly around him on the way to destroying the entire world. The stakes literally can’t be higher.

But this is all just really a lengthy introduction to Blood River and why I find it so haunting.

You see the bad guy here is Joseph. He’s an angel. And he’s going to kill everyone in the movie.

And maybe at first you think he’s just a metaphoric angel.

Clark and Summer fill out the film’s trinity. They are a young couple crossing the desert. They blow a tire in the middle of nowhere and because their spare was stolen or is just otherwise gone, they’re left to bake and die in the sun. That is until Joseph, the angel, crosses their path.

He may be an angel, but he looks more like a cowboy. Cowboy hat. Leather jacket. Cigarette between his teeth.

And although we’ve never seen him in a car, he says he’s out of gas.

Clark and Summer actually crossed paths with Joseph at the beginning of the story. He’s hitching his way down a two-lane highway and they drive around him. When they get to their motel, of course he’s already there, at the bar, and when they leave, we find Joseph is in his room with the motel’s hostess. She’s in her bathtub with a cross carved into her forehead and the last we see of her is her dragging a razor down her wrist. Pretty blatant and ominous foreshadowing for what’s to come.

Because he says his car is out of gas and Clark and Summer’s has gas but is wrecked, Joseph devises a plan for Clark and him to walk to Clark’s car, siphon out the gas then walk to Joseph’s and fill it up. The first problem is that the vehicles are in opposite directions and they’re in the sweltering desert. The second problem is the incredible amount of tension between Joseph and Clark.

Joseph is weird to begin with. He’s played by Andrew Howard whose eyes are a blue so light they look faded out and he talks like his voice is used up. When Clark asks him if he has a problem with a authority, Joseph responds, “Only two authorities I’m aware of, myself and God and I don’t have a problem either.” When Summer calls Joseph a revolutionary, he shrugs it off by saying that what revolutionaries do has cycles. “What I do has a very definite start and a very definite end.” He tells Clark, who works in an office, up in his ivory tower, as Joseph puts it, that he’s not truly aware of what’s going on in the world.

The true tension comes when Joseph touches Summer. He puts his hands on her stomach to feel her baby kick, although they hadn’t told him she was pregnant. That night, drunk and around a fire, Clark tells Joseph that if he touches Summer again, he’ll kill him. And of course Joseph touches her again. When they start their trek for fuel, they leave Summer behind because she’s pregnant. But for safety, they leave her with Joseph’s gun. And he of course has to teach her how to use it and at one point he even pivots her so the gun is pointing at Clark.

 

So Joseph and Clark aren’t friends when they set out. They’re just stuck in the same situation. But of course being alone on the road together doesn’t help their situation.

Joseph begins to say things to Clark about how he knows him. He says he can see inside men. “Inside your soul,” he said. “The truth will come out in the end.”

“You’re making me uncomfortable with this shit,” Clark says.

“Probably the guilt. You’ve got a road back, just gotta know when to take it.”

They make it to the car. Then Joseph disappears and we find him again back at the ghost town where they left Summer.

We’ll cut back to the car, to Clark, who after hearing something in the trunk opens it, and finds the corpse of his dead stepson, Summer’s son.

“The man you love is much more dangerous than you or I,” Joseph says to Summer back at the ghost town, Blood River. “ He has sinned. Everything he has cared about will be crushed. Everyone he loves will be punished.”

Clark, worried for Summer, starts running back. He’ll find Joseph and Summer, and Joseph will let him tie him up. Clark tortures him and asks him, “Who are you?”

“I’m an angel. Sent down to earth from a righteous god. To punish the weak. Today is your day.”

“Punished for what?”

“Do you really want me to say?”

We never learn exactly what Clark did. It seems to have something to do with his stepson, Benny.

For the story to work, though, we don’t need to know. It’s enough to see Clark admit it with his eyes and silently concede.

Netflix horror worth your time #3: Head Trauma
October 25, 2012

Fear isn’t just about being scared. It’s not just about death, murder, knives or permanent disfigurement. Fear, too, a portion of it at least, is about discomfort – the disorienting and the disgusting.

Think of Toby Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The slashed off fingers, the segments of broken jaws and snapped off fingernails.

What Hooper and the likes of Eli Roth do is remind us of something we don’t like to think about – We’re not just a neat and complete package; we’re composed of loosely connected parts that can be separated and sorted in a very messy way. They take the chases and the scares and add a little something to bring it over the top – The kind of discomfort that comes from dirt and cold and exposure, that makes you ring your hands, hold your arms tightly into yourself and breathe shallowly to keep the smell out.

Who probably executes it best is A&E’s “Hoarders,” but that’s too much for me.

Head Trauma, on the other hand, hits the discomfort sweet-spot, marrying a measured amount of gore with the messy reality of things.

On the jarring-displays-of-phsyical-violence side of things, over the course of the movie our protagonist George finds a woman hanged in a tree by her pink scarf and a tooth wrapped in hair embedded in hardwood floors. Head Trauma though, is less about the physical effects of killing, and instead, the psychological, the mess it leaves behind in the psyche.

George has killed. He didn’t mean to. He got drunk with a girl and they went up to a tree house. Through a series of unfortunate events, she falls. He catches her, by her scarf. He tries to save her, he tries to pull her up. But that’s how she dies. Hanged by her own pink scarf.

He panics, puts her in a sleeping bag and tries to sink her into a river. And when he has, still hyperventilating, he speeds off in his car and wrecks it. He rolls it and suffers the titular Head Trauma.

We don’t know at the beginning that George is the killer. His Head Trauma, has made him forget. He has flashbacks, though. He was wearing a parka that night and instead of seeing himself kill the girl, he sees a man in his parka with the hood pulled up. Where his face would be, there’s just blackness, rimmed by the white lip of the parka’s white fur lining.

And that’s why we can categorize Head Trauma as Horror. Even though George is the killer, he’s
running from the man in his nightmares. The Man with Darkness for a Face. In his nightmare, George sees him kill. George sees him in the world around him, closing in on him like any good motivated killer.

All the answers are there, though. His grandmother, when she died, left him her house, and in the house she left him a box. In the box, are the parka, his head x-ray, the newspaper stories about the
accident. But the basement floods.

As the murky liquid rises to waist-deep, we see it swallow up the box, and the box belches out bubbles and sinks below.

The house is disgusting. It’s a mess and it’s condemned. And that disgusting house with a flooded-out basement is a metaphor for George.

In addition to swallowing up the box – the evidence and manifestations of what really happened – the basement flood is a weird brown stew of baby doll parts, old clothes, hair. And that’s just the basement, the id of it. The house’s upper floors are strewn with garbage. And drug addict squatters have painted over the windows. You can almost smell the mess through the screen and it almost feels like you might get some of it on your hands.

What’s scary about the movie is the faceless killer stalking George, of course. But you know you’re supposed to be afraid of that apparition.

After you learn the truth, though, things change. For the entirety of the movie we’ve followed George. He’s trying to fix up and clean up the condemned house. It’s the only thing he has and it’s the only thing he has to work for. We’ve been rooting for him, and when we find out that he’s the killer, that can be scary, too.

But what’s really scary is what the act of killing has done to him. There are physical manifestations of this. He’s balding. He’s got a scraggly beard. He chronically nips from a flask.

The trauma makes him forget, but what’s worse, just like how the basement flood swallowed up that box of answers, so did his trauma. And in the process it’s left his mind a place like that house. Like that brown-water basement. A place that leaves you wishing you could wash your hands.

Netflix horror worth your time #2: ‘The Caller’
October 18, 2012

“Pontypool,” as you’ve surely already found out for yourself, is not only available on Netflix, but probably one of the horror movies most worth your time this Halloween.

“Pontypool,” is probably the best, but don’t count out “The Caller.”

The thing we take for granted most about the past is that it’s written in ink. By its very definition, there’s nothing undecided about it. It doesn’t have any moving pieces; they’re very much permanently cemented down. To take the metaphor further, the past is like the earth underneath our feet. We take for granted it will stay firm and constant below us.

In “The Caller,” though, our protagonist, Mary, is going through an earthquake. The past, specifically one deranged woman in it, is wiping out the people in her life; erasing them and any trace of them.

 

And Mary hasn’t had it easy. She’s just divorced her abusive husband, gotten a restraining order, and is finally beginning to relax as she moves into her own apartment.

That is of course, until the phone rings. It is, “The Caller.” Her name is Rose and she is calling from 1979.

(As a side note, the title of the movie, “The Caller” is too passive. The movie’s creators probably thought it would come off as understated, but it’s so understated that even having watched it and become a fan, I’ve still flipped past it. The concept is too complex for a traditional title, say, ‘Dialing Up Murder’ or ‘Broken Connection.’ Maybe it should have been something like ‘Those Who Don’t Learn …’ playing on the old adage about how dangerous unheeded history can be, or maybe ‘Premeditated,’ or ‘Killing Time.’ But that’s still pretty bad.)

Considering the concept of “The Caller,” its closest kin is “Back to the Future.” In “Back to the Future,” though, Marty McFly tries to prevent himself from gently fading away from a photograph; Mary is trying to prevent Rose from completely erasing the lives of the people around her. Not that it’s that fully altruistic. Rose has designs on maiming and murdering Mary too.

It turns out that Rose is unhappy. Her husband is cheating on her in 1979 and she wants to kill herself. The first time history plays itself out, Rose hangs herself. This time through, she somehow dials into the future and makes a friend, Mary. (Of course this is where you’ll need to employ your suspension of disbelief. The film doesn’t try to explain this unique phenomenon, i.e. calling into the future, so it’s easy to just let it go. But if we had phone numbers to the future, I think the Browns would have held off on Colt McCoy and Brandon Weeden and American mortgage lending practices would have been a bit more restrictive before 2008.)

The conversations are friendly at first. Mary suggests Rose stand up for herself. How Rose does this, though, is by killing her husband. It’s not what Mary had in mind. She’s uncomfortable and she tells Rose to stop calling. Unbalanced Rose though wants to keep their new friendship going and threatens Mary if she doesn’t keep answering.

In another stroke of coincidence, Mary lives in the same apartment Rose had, and to prove that Rose is in the past and that what she does can affect the future, she says she’ll make a mark in the pantry. Mary goes and looks and finds a rose painted there.

A painted rose isn’t too threatening though, or convincing, but soon Rose makes things very real.

 

Mary tries to take hold of the situation by telling Rose that she went to visit her in a nursing home. But, Rose asks her on a subsequent day if Mary visited again, and if she did if Mary noticed anything different.

Mary gets caught in a lie and Rose proves it. Rose tells Mary to dig in the yard. What Mary finds is a jar with a cloth inside. When she unwraps the cloth, she finds a finger.
Rose’s finger.

It feels like teleportation in a way. Rose sends her severed finger through time to Mary.

This doesn’t help their relationship of course, and as things complicate and Rose aims to show off her power, Rose kills the apartment building’s gardener and soon after she kills Mary’s boyfriend while he’s just a boy.

But the true weight of the whole thing comes when Rose calls and with her she has a little girl. It’s Mary.

And faintly in the background, you can hear boiling oil. Rose says she’s making fried chicken for young Mary. But Rose is getting angry and young Mary is close to the oil. Current Mary is yelling into the phone for the girl to run, but then we hear the pot overturn, the sizzle and burn, and then the crying.

Mary drops the phone and screams. She pulls back the shoulder of her sweater and watches as the oil-burns etch deep scars into her.

In horror movies the killer always has an advantage. They’re usually significantly stronger and aparently impervious. For Rose, her advantage is that she attacks from a place of safety, from the buffer that all those decades provide.

Mary will try to outsmart Rose. She’ll do her research. She’ll try to draw her to a bowling alley that catches fire. But Rose misses the bus.

It doesn’t end until they meet face to face. Rose has been waiting. And she comes for Mary.

Netflix horror worth your time
October 7, 2012

This is a public service, or at least aims to be.

If you have Netflix, you know the lost and desperate feeling that comes when flipping through the hundreds of offerings, hoping to find the perfect movie, or at least one that won’t make you feel like you’ve wasted 90 minutes.

I’ve lost hours that way. Even days.

And if you’re one of those people who ignores anything Horror until October, this is for you, too.

The goal here this Halloween season is to give you the top 5 best horror movies currently on Netflix that you probably haven’t heard of. (Because I could tell you, hey, go watch “The Omen” of  “Candyman.”  But if you haven’t already watched them, here’s hoping you’ve at least heard of them. And in that case, what kind of public service would that be? Sure, more lists may follow, but now’s not the time for promises.)

So without further ado, let’s begin with the best, because if the others wanted to be mentioned first, they should have made better movies.


1. Pontypool

We know to be afraid of coughing strangers; door knobs, railings, and public restrooms; the saliva and bites of men, animals and the undead.

But what about words? Language. Can you get the bug from a friendly conversation?

In Pontypool you can.

Pontypool, Ontario, where former shock jock Grant Mazzy has been marooned to the world of school closings, missing cats and weather reports, which come from Ken in the Sunshine Chopper, who is actually Ken in a Dodge Dart with a helicopter soundtrack playing into a cell phone.

It’s a little low-key for Mazzy, that is until a code 48 comes over the police scanner. A hostage situation. Two men holding a van at gunpoint, the van towing an ice house. And soon after, Ken – talking over the whop, whop, whop of his imaginary chopper – describes the crowd that has gathered around Dr. Mendez’s office, the explosion of people that follows, the people that are trampled.

We don’t see that scene. What the camera shows is us is claustrophobic. Outside there is a blizzard raging in the dark and what the camera shows us is the studio, which is in a basement. Everything coming in over cell phones, over radio signals.  It’s like shooting footage of the studio as Orson Welles delivered War of the Worlds. If the world really was ending.

A constable calls in. 75 dead so far. No one knows what’s going on.

Mazzy’s producer patches in the BBC trying to confirm reports that French Canadian troops are setting up road blocks and that the insanity outside is being perpetrated by separatist terrorists.

Then the BBC is gone and Ken, once in the Sunshine Chopper, now grounded and watching and hiding from the sick, whimpers: “I have just seen things that are going to ruin the rest of my natural life.”

An official French radio channel breaks in through Ken’s call: “For your safety please avoid contact with close family members … For greater safety please avoid the English language,” in the odd babble that is the French language of course.

And then Ken is back. He’s with a local teenager, whose, “body has been broken to pieces,” Ken explains.

Over the cell connection we hear the babbling but it’s not of the voice of a boy. As Ken describes it, the teenager “sounds like there’s a child screaming inside his breath.”

And at that point our hero Mazzy leans into the microphone, his eyes wide with panic, and he yells, “is this actually happening, Ken?”

In Mazzy’s eyes, you can see it. He’s got the bug.

Director Bruce McDonald asks us not to call them zombies. But like with anything else, we’re limited by language. When we see the film’s sick, they’re moving like they haven’t consulted their brains, there’s blood around their mouths, and they’re killing and eating their once fellow men.

And Mazzy is about to join them. But how’d he get the bug? How, locked in the sound proof booth, safe from saliva, bites and coughs, did he catch the bug?

As the conversation continues, Dr. Mendez, who has survived the people explosion at his office, slips through a window, like Doctors are want to do. And the good doctor is there to listen to Ken, who, after describing mass acts of cannibalism, dissolves into madness.

“This is what he is now,” Dr. Mendez says pointing to the microphone as Ken repeats the words ‘simple’ and ‘sample’ over and over. “Just a crude radio signal.

“It’s viral but that much is clear,” he explains. “It’s not of the blood … it is here, it is in words. Not all words. Not all speaking. But some. Some words are infected and it spreads out when the contaminated word is spoken. … a new form of life. It enters us when we hear the word and understand.”

And why is “Pontypool” number one?

Although the true originator and standard-bearer of the zombies we know and love, George Romero, never spends much time talking about what created the zombies in his universe and, for all intents and purposes, “Pontypool” is a 90 minute-origin story of a new kind of madness, “Pontypool” elevates the sub-genre.

Romero will always be first in my heart, but of the thousands of moviemakers that have followed him, many are lazy and uninspired. The zombie is merely cannon fodder for them. Romero uses his films to discuss social issues, consumerism, distrust of government. You can have a discussion after a Romero film, whereas other undead filmmakers present a product that oftentimes reduces the brain activity levels of its viewers to that of the film’s creatures.

To be sure, “Pontypool,” is not “Citizen Kane” or “Synecdoche, New York,” but after watching it there are obvious discussions to be had about language.

Being thought provoking is all well and good, but that in and of itself doesn’t make anything a good movie, let alone a good horror movie. But this is number one because above all else it’s just a good horror movie. Although we see very few of them, there is a high body count; we hold our breath as our protagonists get surrounded and have to think their way out; and it all happens in Canada, which is inherently just scarier. “Pontypool” has it all.

Gabbie Zombie: Failing in Fiction Where Romero and Garcia Marquez Never Dared
October 26, 2011

He was introduced to the neighbor girl, her hands still pink from birth, as Gabriella; read “Gabrielle” from later grandparent birthday cards delivered, accidentally to him by the post, and “Yo Gabba Gabba” from the sign in her yard, just now, for the same occasion; but he didn’t call her those. He didn’t call her anything. He just shook his head.

He watched from the attic, on his belly, looking out the tiny window out over his roof, through the thick green limbs between, and shook his head, as they inflated the rainbow colored castle behind her house, lead in the burro for the pack of wild children to pet and ride.

Spoiled, he said to himself, still shaking. Just because a girl loses her mother.

He watched because he knew the things she’d do. The things she’d done. The missing birdhouse first. Then a pot from the back porch, painted with a yellow cat, some long-dead flower dangling over the clay. Things his daughter had made him long before she’d passed. Things he found in pieces, halved-roofs and shards, behind his work shed.

The trees he watched through, he’d made them to keep her out. Hadn’t meant to, not at first. They had floated in, dead, from the swamp behind his home, what seemed to him to be an amoeba of gray water and white limbs that crept in the night toward the steps of his back porch. The rotted stumps had stacked and climbed like two dozen giant bones up those steps, to knock gently on his windows. And when they had, he tore them down and pushed them back under the swamp’s pudding skin.

They’d be back, of course, a dog pile, a tangle, of them, knocking over his porch furniture. And to spite them, he got his ax. Filled himself with coffee and bourbon and cracked, splintered, frayed them, till the thick dermis that had wrapped their hearts laid about like clumps of manged hair.

And he let them lay, through the storm of the night, to find them the next morning, just one of them, one he hadn’t cut too deeply, like a thick wild leek pushing up through the weave of gray fibers.

He made them days later, the trees, after finding a fire in the reeds at the swamp’s edge. He’d kept a torch there and tended it, sure for a long time that his daughter might pull herself out and need a way to find her way back to her bed. He made the trees after finding the torch knocked over, after the fire, after finding the little footprints in the soft ground, after the dead trunks piled again. He started with one, pulled from the top of the pile and pulled it into his work shed, pushed its bench aside, chopped and carved with an adze, the soft and dry and old of it away, till he found something with the hardness of life and turned and carved, and dragged it to the property line, dug and buried the bottom of it, and he slept. And like the raw, exposed, green heart of the tree had been smothered before, like it had been wrapped so tight it couldn’t breathe, it had grown in the black soil of his yard, when he went to it in the morning, like it was free.

He made a line of six of them, hoping they would be a wall. Each one different, bending to the moon with the contours of his carves, limbs wild where he’d gone too deep, and wet black wounds where he’d gone deeper.

And he watched her, like he had watched the swamp. But his little window could only see so much and he lost her for a day, maybe more. He came down from his window and circled his home, took stock of his remaining exterior belongings, a wind chime of moons, a garden hose, the peppers and tomatoes that had shrunken, neglected on the vine, and found the rest as it should be, save the patches of yellow, first near the shed, grass blades dead and brittle. And another patch along the porch steps, and another just under them. And when he knelt he found her squatting, in the far corner underneath, and in the slatted dark, saw only her eyes, wide and white.

She turned and ran and he chased. An arc toward the corner of his house, then wattling at a fevered pace, through the trees, into the yard behind her home. Her arms out and moving like rope, her auburn hair caught and curling in the wind, over the white shoulders of her dress.

Her legs were cherubic, short and round, but he couldn’t catch her and he couldn’t breathe, bent over, hands in his cardigan pockets under the black limbs above; he huffed and watched her disappear around the white corner of her house.

He walked and tried to jog and found her, just her eyes again. She was laying, hiding behind her father, her raven crown, rising behind his torso. His back and head in the grass, arms out like falling. Her round eyes, then round face. Pupils propped open. From fear. But not for him. For her father. His face, his neck, his hands, everything out from under his sweatshirt, gray.

Gabriella looked up from her father’s splayed limbs to him, eyes more pupil than white, and he stepped and reached fingers toward the man’s neck. But like he knew he wouldn’t, he didn’t find a pulse.

911. An ambulance. He thought. Some way to save her. Give him back to her. And thought of running to his house for the phone. But he pulled his hand from her father’s neck and it came back cold. And he looked to her house, to the screen door open, a girl-sized hole torn from the outside in, a box of cereal, upended and on the kitchen floor, and he shook his head.

She’s lost, he told himself. A girl needs her father, just like a father needs his girl. And he thought of his own, sleeping and submerged, forever taken from him, under the mud-thick water.

He put his hand on the man’s arm and found it different in death. Cold, yes, but as rough as any limb soaked through and left to dry. And he looked to her, her head back and her eyes to the sky, breathing a hundred times in that moment, like she’d forgotten how. And he grabbed her father by the feet, and slid and pulled him on his back, grunting with each pull and trying to step around her as she smacked his legs, to protect her father, he thought, to his yard. And when they had crossed the trees, he dropped her father’s legs, and tried to catch her slaps and stop them. But her arms were spinning like a windmill, and he grabbed the feet and pulled again.

At the shed, and in the dark, he pulled him in, his chest and torso arching over the hump of the doorway, and used one hand to keep her out as he pulled the door closed.

He grabbed his adze from the bench and stood for a moment over the man, arms crossed and shook his head.

A man is gentler than a tree, he said, and got his draw knife, got down and knelt around the man’s legs, close enough to open the man’s shirt and lean the blade above his chest and draw it to himself.

And it whispered like any wood. And the blade moaned when he got too deep and tried to cut too much. And as the dead parts of him came off, in tendrils and dust, the man’s chest began to move, like the hands around his heart had let go. And his shoulders moved and his eyes turned under their lids.

He had watched closely as he worked, but when it started, it pulled his eyes from the blade; he lost his focus and got too deep, made a purple wound above her father’s heart.

And her father’s head snapped to the side and his eyes snapped open. The whites now yellow and cracked red. And her father pushed himself out from under him, and turned and pulled open the door, out past his daughter, looked for a moment back at her, his chest exploding and collapsing like it’d been opened with holes and wouldn’t hold its air. And he ran along the row of black trees, past his house, to the woods on the other side, toward some incandescent light, a blur soaking through.

And Gabriella ran too, her arms out and her fingers flexing, like she could catch onto him a hundred yards away.

And all he could do was follow, rustle through the dead leaves of the dead trees, past the torn-open screen door, and watch the woods swallow her.

They’d be going toward the light, he knew, and he pushed himself, stumbling over mossed over logs, creek water soaking into his loafers. He knew he’d find her worse than before. She had lost her father, but he had carved the scar deeper than it had to be.

So he began his Hail Marys, his crosses making him wobble as he moved.

Behind his heart he was digging for some apology a child would understand; one she could bear to hear the scores of times he’d have to repeat it before he died. Hoping for words like, ‘Hail Mary, full of grace’; words that would weather the repetition.

And at the edge, thorns and prickles dug into him and limbs and leaves slapped as he pushed out of the trees and beside a garage. The light in front of it was on, and he limped, coughed and gasped toward the pool of white on the gray cement. He turned and he found the door of the garage up and them inside. Just at the edge of what the lamp and the moon gave off.  A tangle of people. A mess. Arms and bodies confused. He could only move into the dark to see.

And when he shuffled in, he found three of them. Gabriella, her hands on her father, her father kneeling beside a woman on the pavement and his hands inside her chest. His hands wet and pushing some mass between them to his mouth. Squeezing and tearing, trying to push some fat lump down his throat. The girl tearing at her father’s arm and jumping.

And when he was done, he tossed the purple rind to the ground and  moved to her.

He knew what her father would do, and he moved to a rack along the wall and found a hammer. He could hear her screaming. She had been soundless for days, but now, his back turned, she was frantic. And he turned, the hammer pulled back behind his head, and stomped toward her father.

But her father had her down. Her father’s hands in her chest and she was wailing. And he put the hammer into her father’s head. He pulled it back and made two more holes. And she was still wailing as he cracked and dug the hammer past the bone. And he kicked her father down. But Gabriella lay, head back on the concrete floor, eyes crushed shut and wailing. A fist size hole, black and smeared purple, just below her shoulder.

And he knew what would become of her. And he knew he should have done more. And he knew there was more he could do.

And he took a knife from his pocket. And he sunk it in just below where he knew his heart should be. And he opened himself up; he dug it out, held it up to the moon, then cradled it to carve it, to shave off the old, hard parts of it, so it would fit inside of her. So it would work.

Focus Unfocused
June 20, 2011

I’ve sent out the press release to all the major news media (and this happens. A dude in Wisconsin will write a self-help book on how to make you and your dog more patriotic and he’ll work up his little press release complete with picture of him and his dog both in Uncle Sam hats, staring longingly into each others’ eyes, drifting ever so gradually in for what I can only assume is an open-mouth kiss or at the very least a sharing of some very intimate secret, and he will email blast every TV and radio station, every major and minor newspaper that is connected to a computer, even the very local ones, who, the only book they’ve ever reviewed is the Bible, and not the whole thing, just the Old Testament, “before God got all fast and loose with that love business.”) but you’re probably reading it here first.

As you probably know, I started putting all these electronic words and photographs here as a means of plotting my course, however loopy and meandering and impossible it may be, toward my grand delusion of having my book published. As I gained perspective, after I peered out into that abyss and realized just how far off that likely is, it became more a headquarters, too, if you will, for my short stories, and then other projects. But subsequently, presently, I’ve come to understand I could better serve the internet and the rest of society, you know, the good ones, the ones not on the internet, by expanding that focus. Only by ever so much.

I hope now to include thoughts and ruminations, illustrations and other graphic representations of the themes in my writing, listed in ascending and descending order: The American Rust Belt, The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Western Pennsylania, and Zombies, because however infrequently they may show up in my writing and reality as a whole, they are prone to wander into frame at any moment.

For those of you out there playing one of my favorite games from Sesame Street, one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-other, and saying to yourself, Zombies have no place in any of this. You’re listing geographic divisions and then you throw in some mythical voodoo creature that is fueled only by human brains. Pure nonsense. Perhaps what you don’t understand is that the Zombie is as Western-Pennsylvania as Holsteins or abandoned industrial fields. The modern Zombie was created here, not far from where I sit, in Pittsburgh, and just a little farther north of it, in Evans City, by the Honorable Dr. George A. Romero, a fellow CMU alumnus. Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of, Day of, the original The Crazies, and so and so on, all born here in Western Pennsylvania. (With Night of the Living Dead being released in 1968, just a few short years before the industrial complex of the metropolitan Pittsburgh area and America as a whole began to give way, giving way to the Rust Belt, you could argue that zombies were an allegory for that industrial complex, unaware as of yet, that it has died, that it has been dead, and instead just goes on living like it’s not dead, making pilgrimages to the mall, hanging out, eating brains, but I think Romero was speaking more about class, race, and general consumerism.) So it’s not arbitrary, the inclusion of zombies. It’s just another arm of trying to document, understand, and preserve my own culture.

With that said, in introducing what is currently my sole short zombie story, “Why’d You Come Back?” I wrote, “Think Gabriel Garcia Marquez but less Colombian and more zombies.” And some wonderfully blessed person stumbled upon my site because of those words, by googling, “Gabriel Garcia Zombies.” That’s got me thinking. I should write a Gabriel Garcia Marquez zombie story. It’s not here yet, but to show you how serious I am, I direct you to the art above, the head of some sombreroed, likely intoxicated Gabriel Garcia Marquez, crudely photoshopped into a frame of Night of the Living Dead (It’s near the end when they have that really uptight jerk guy throw molotov cocktails down at the zombies. Molotov cocktails. How perfect for Gabriel. And how self-indulgent for me.)

Why’d You Come Back
December 30, 2009

Zombie story up. Here’s the link for those interested in an attempt at literary zombie writing: Why’d You Come Back

Think Gabriel Garcia Marquez but less Colombian and more zombies. Not that many zombies really. A dead farmer and his dog. Mmm. Brains.