The Cultural Gutter

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Red Eye

Carol Borden
Posted June 26, 2008

eating steve 80.jpg15 hours on the road and I was my own red-eye on I-94′s corridor of stripclubs, fireworks and roadkill, racing past dead deer in Michigan, then Gary, Indiana’s steel mills and through Chicagoland, the Sears Tower in the distance waiting for its evil eye, till the highway gave out in Wisconsin. Yes, I went to WisCon 32, the world’s oldest feminist science fiction convention. And there I felt deeper fatigue than 15 hours, 2 countries, 4 states and 2 time zones. Zombie fatigue.

I’ve mentioned zombie fatigue before. I’m fatigued not because zombies are boring, but because I know more than I’d like and there’s always more. I receive review copies for zombie comics. I see zombie movies at Midnight Madness. Games, zombie walks, a Sufjan Stevens’ song—all probably part of some think tank’s project for the new zombie century. Zombies are inescapable. So, of course, I attended a WisCon panel where Jim Munroe asked: “Do you suffer from zombie fatigue?” While panelists weren’t happy with the panel’s titular question (“Does It Have To Get Boring Before It Gets Good?”), I can put my fatigue to work answering their two zombie-related questions.

eating steve 250.jpgThe first is, Are there Japanese ghoul-type zombie plague movies? Yes, offhand, I can think of three. They’re all comedic, but they exist. Wild Zero (2000) is like Rock’n’Roll High School, if aliens had turned the High School students into zombies. And if the Ramones were Guitar Wolf, who also share a last name with their band: “Bass Wolf, Guitar Wolf and Drum Wolf.”

InTokyo Zombie (2005), characters are excited that Japan finally has its own zombie-plague. It stars Takeshi Miike regulars Sho Aikawa and Tadanobu Asano as jiu-jitsu aficionados who accidently kill their boss, bury him on a huge, garbage mountain (“Black Fuji”) and flee when the many bodies buried there rise up. Director/screenwriter Sakichi Sato also wrote Ichi the Killer and Gozu.

But before I totally tear up Ian’s yard, I’ll just add that Tokyo Zombie was originally a manga by Yusaku Hanakuma. (Last Gasp is releasing a nice-looking English translation in September, 2008).

If it were shot in the San Fernando Valley, Stacy: Attack of the School Girl Zombies (2001) would be a very particular kind of straight-to-DVD softcore title. But, instead, Naoyuki Tomomatsu’s Stacy is a zombie plague parody with a chainsaw named, “Bruce Campbell,” and “Romero Squads” that hunt and kill “Stacies,” zombified teenage girls.

And with every teenage girl inevitably becoming a Stacy, we come to the second question: Could there be a feminist zombie story? Why not? Avoiding the tricky question of what “feminism” is or “zombies” are, I can think of two graphic novels and two movies about women and zombies.

In Faith Erin Hicks’ Zombies Calling (Slave Labor Graphics, 2007), Joss and her friends survive metafictionally by following zombie movie rules. But Zombies
Calling
is less about surviving than Joss realizing her own competence as a
“zombie-ass-kicking-ninja” (6) and finally feeling able to leave London, Ontario for London, England, where she meets a lad as apparently Canada-obsessed as she is obsessed with England.

The hero of Michael and Peter Spierig’s movie Undead (2003) could be the woman who Joss wants to be. By the movie’s end, former Miss Catch-of-the-Day, Rene guards an post-apocalyptic Australian zombie pen with her shotgun, wearing stompy boots and her beauty queen tiara. Beyond the pleasure of a girl with a gun, the film itself is arguably feminist in the way that slasher movies can be feminist. Except in these zombie stories, a woman does the slashing.

Elza Kephart and Patricia Gomez’ Graveyard Alive!: A Zombie Nurse in Love (2003)
and J. Marc Schmidt’s Eating Steve: A Love Story (Slave Labor Graphics, 2007) are more complex. Both focus on the experience of zombified women. Graveyard Alive! is a 1960s-style hospital romance set in Montreal. There’s gore, but the film’s more Douglas Sirk, Nicholas Ray (and James Whale) than Fulci or Argento. Bitten by a zombie woodsman, Nurse Patsy receives an “ugly pretty girl” make-over via zombification and becomes desireable to the hospital’s male staff—and the envy of the other nurses. But the zombie plague developing in Victoria Hospital is less important than Nurse Patsy’s newfound self-confidence and joie de mort.

The zombie plague is even more tangential in Eating Steve. Set in Australia, Eating Steve is also about a woman coming to terms with the aftermath of a zombie attack. But unlike Nurse Patsy, Jill deals with having tried to eat her boyfriend’s brain. And unlike most zombies, Jill recovers after one taste. She retreats to an isolated farmhouse—not holing up to escape zombies but to get her life back together. She cuts her hair. She flirts. And once she pays attention to media again, she saves the world. But she doesn’t have the ugly pretty girl make-over.

And, me? I like my red eyes just fine.

~~~

Trapped in a house surrounded by zombies, Carol Borden still cares enough to write about comics.  And movies.

 

Comments

8 Responses to “Red Eye”

  1. weed
    June 26th, 2008 @ 7:40 pm

    Hi Carol,
    Thanks for the scoop on the Zombie Ladies!
    I’m curious as to what you (and Ian and the rest of the Gutter denisons, for that matter) think makes zombies so hot right now? Clearly they are moving people. Is it just a backlash against the overthinking and angst of the vampires of the last two decades? Is it the culmination of consumer culture? Are we tired of sympatheic evil? What’s up?
    Demanding reductionist answers to complicated issues,

  2. Carol Borden
    June 28th, 2008 @ 2:39 pm

    hey weed–
    i’m not entirely sure it’s responsible for me to answer because of the zombie fatigue and someone more into zombies could make many deeper, more interesting points.
    but the uptick in american zombie material at least might have to do with an overall disgust with people in general, disgust with ourselves. romero’s movies are social satires and they’ve followed an arc of increasing sympathy for the zombies or at least greater disgust with the unzombified. for example, in diary of the dead, sportsmen stringing up a zombie, then carefully shooting her so she remains a “living” head while the narrator wonders whether we deserve to survive. or there’s joe dante’s “homecoming,” about the american iraq war dead rising up to vote.
    but it might be just a slight difference of emphasis. part of the reason vampires became sympathetic is that it was easy to see humans in groups as so much more destructively evil than lone bloodsuckers. and american zombie stories are about group evil.
    it’s clear that there are differences in what american, canadian, australian and japanese zombie stories are about. the japanese movies seem to be about enjoying a new horror form. my own experience is that canadians are way into zombies and were before zombies really took off in american comics and movies.

  3. Carol Borden
    June 29th, 2008 @ 6:32 pm

    Cerise Magazine‘s Robyn Fleming writes about her WisCon experience, if you’re curious. i was sad to miss both the panel on octopusses and the panel on asian science fiction and fantasy (“not just japan”).

  4. Mr.Dave
    June 29th, 2008 @ 8:03 pm

    Other Japanese movies with zombies:
    Zombie Self-Defense Force: Zonbi jieitai (2006)
    Battlefield Baseball: Jigoku kôshien (2003)
    Junk: Shiryô-gari (2000)
    Wild Zero (2000)
    Versus (2000)
    The Happiness of the Katakuris: Katakuri-ke no kôfuku (2001)
    OK, so The Happiness of the Katakuris really only has a brief appearance of undead/zombies for a musical number, but I couldn’t resist putting it on this list.
    Note that there are also other east asian zombie movies, such as Bio-Zombie (Hong Kong, 1998), but I was just limiting my search to Japanese movies.

  5. Mr.Dave
    June 29th, 2008 @ 8:46 pm

    I accidentally included Wild Zero in the list of “other Japanese zombie movies” not mentioned above, and it seems I forgot to include one other Japanese zombie movie:
    Emergency, the living dead in Tokyo Bay also known as Battle Girl: Batoru garu (1992)
    It apparantly features a kick-ass heroine, but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s feminist – should we consider movies like Resident Evil or Underworld or Tomb Raider feminist just because the main protagonist is a woman?

  6. Carol Borden
    June 30th, 2008 @ 2:00 pm

    weed–fixed your link!
    mr. dave–never apologize for mentioning happiness of the katakuris!

  7. Chuck
    June 30th, 2008 @ 6:09 pm

    Carol said:
    >And with every teenage girl inevitably becoming a Stacy, we come to the second question: Could there be a feminist zombie story?
    Now you’ve done it. The wheels are turning in my head, but not completely.
    I sort of owe Dave a review of Richard Morgan’s Thirteen, and my thoughts about how it’s kinda-sorta feminist science fiction. If I write that, then maybe something will break loose on the zombie feminist front. (Although it’d be a purely tangential thing, since Thirteen was science fiction — no undead involved.)
    >but it might be just a slight difference of emphasis. part of the reason vampires became sympathetic is that it was easy to see humans in groups as so much more destructively evil than lone bloodsuckers. and american zombie stories are about group evil.
    Somewhat tangential thought… It seems vampires might want to keep human society as it is, so they’d have enough human victims and blood to sustain themselves. (Although they wouldn’t want to prey on too many humans, because that’d draw unwanted notice — a vampire’s herd (the supply) would have to be much larger than demand.)
    BTW, a new hallucination has kicked off… Every time I see a headline about Robert Mugabe, I misread “Zimbabwe” as “Zombiebwe.”
    I blame it on Carol.:-P

  8. Tarot
    October 3rd, 2010 @ 7:27 am

    Japanese zombies dont have red eye they have closed eyes.

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