At Terrible Minds, Chuck Wendig writes about Mad Max: Fury Road and Game of Thrones. “So, two very popular storyworlds. Two portrayals of a world where women hold dubious power and are seen as ‘things.’ One of these is roundly criticized for it. One of them is roundly celebrated for it. Game of Thrones catches hell for its portrayal of women and this subject. Mad Max is wreathed in a garland of bike chains and hubcabs for it. What, then, is the difference? Let’s try to suss it out.”
Posted June 26, 2008
15 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.
The 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.
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.