Thursday, January 7, 2016

Cub (2015) and the Perils of Pretentions

I have once again been binging on movies in preparation for Dark Discussions annual year in review episode. The last film I watched before compiling my “best of” list was the Belgian horror film Cub.
Sam, a boy somewhere on the autism spectrum, is part of a scout troop on a weekend camping trip. The scout masters spin tales of Kai the werewolf boy to entertain and frighten their charges, unaware there is a real wild child watching over them.

Simple enough, but what follows definitely goes in unexpected directions. The real “Kai” causes only minor mischief among the campers, and only Sam knows that he exists. The real threat comes from a serial killer (I assume) who has seeded the woods with elaborate traps.

Cub is a film that seems to have divided audiences. It generated very strong word of mouth on the festival circuit, but now sits in the mid 30’s on Rotten Tomatoes. The kills are fun, director Joas Govaerts presents solid visuals, and I enjoy Steve Moore’s throwback synth score. The film’s characters are believable – the kids act as kids do, and the counselors are typical 20 somethings caught between wanting to teach the kids and entertain themselves – and the performances (as best as I can tell given the language barrier) are solid. This is especially noteworthy as the 12 year old boys are players by actual 12 year olds. In particular I liked Gil Eeckelaert's Kai, being able to convey a variety of emotions in addition to the menace the role requires.

For all these reasons, I find myself landing on the slight disappointed “pro” side, but I can’t help but wonder if I would be as supporting if the film was in English instead of Belgonian*.

Obviously, it is hard to rate performances if you don’t speak the language. Most 12 year old actors come across poorly in English, and it may be that the reason I so liked Eeckelaert’s performance so much is because Kai is the one character who speaks only through body language.

More of an issue though is the plot. Now, this is a straight up horror film, and as such the story matters much less than the kills, the scares and the atmosphere, but there are glaringly obvious issues that should bug me more.

The serial killer has no motivation except that he’s unemployed. His traps are absurdly elaborate, and it is implausible that any one man would be able to set them up, let alone wire them to a switchboard in an underground lair. For that matter, just how many victims does he expect to come through in the middle of a forest that is mostly prohibited to people? We get no backstory for Kai, which would not be a problem except that we eventually learn he has a connection to the serial killer, but we have no idea why that connection exists. There are at least 3 characters who are left just standing in the woods alone, their fates never resolved. This is not a city park – this is a murder forest, and dead or alive we should know their fates.Lastly, the final act includes a twist that I don’t think is earned, mostly because we don’t know enough about Sam to understand it.

And all of this would almost certainly bug the heck out of me. If it was in English.
For some reason, most Americans think of foreign language films, particular European films, as more sophisticated. It is a long ingrained prejudice and I can be just as susceptible to it as anyone. So I think on some level, these significant gaps to me come across not as sloppiness or poor editing, but as intentional ambiguity that makes the film deeper (something both praised and damned in It Follows). I wonder if there is some inner bias, my inner pretentious douchebag, afraid of lacking the sophistication to grasp the nuance of sublime European cinema, that wants to the film to be more than it is, rather that it in with American retro-slashers like Lost After Dark (which is a perfectly fine film itself).

PS: The fine folks at The Last Horrorcast did an episode on Cub that well mirrors my thoughts.  Give them a listen!

*That’s a joke. Unbunch your linguistic undies.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Choice Cuts of 2014

It's Oscar night! Ok, I'm kinda not that excited either this time around. Truthfully I haven't caught many of the nominees this year. Doing the Dark Discussions Podcasts has me committed to seeing a lot of genre films, and that's eating up time I could have used to see things like Whiplash or Boyhood. But truthfully, I'd rather live in the genre world if I had to pick one or the other - I'll catch up to the one's I'm truly interested in later.

Dark Discussions did put up our Year in Review episode a few weeks ago, and if you're interested, you can give a listen here. You can also find it on iTunes or Stitcher, and as always, reviews and feedback are appreciated.

If anyone is looking for a more detailed look at my lists for best horror and non-horror films of 2014, there will be an article forthcoming on the DDP homepage (any day now, Phil), though I should add in the interim I have caught up with American Sniper, John Wyck,  and The Guest. Of those only John Wick would have snuck onto my top 10 non-horror list, though I did enjoy all three.

So without further ado, my Choice Cuts of 2014:

Favorite Film, Period: 
Nightcrawler - It is a shame that this film didn't make the Oscar list. A brutal look at modern news and our gawker culture. Gyllenhall's performance is outstanding. DDP episode can be heard here.

Favorite Horror Film:
Cheap Thrills - As we have said repeatedly on the podcast, this has been a great year for thrillers, not so much for horror. The boundary between the two genres can be very thin, and we had a bit of debate as to what was what. I lean towards a broader definition of horror, and so included Cheap Thrills here. This is one of the more disturbing films of the year, particularly the dinner scene, and it is one I kept coming back to again and again. On the surface the film is an exercise in sadism, but beneath that is a clever exploration of class and interpersonal relationships. Very similar in plot to Thirteen Sins, but I think with deeper resonance and without the conspiratorial silliness. DDP Episode 135
Runner up: Big Bad Wolves DDP Episode 132

Favorite SF Film
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: It is an apes movie, and it is exquisite. No way this doesn't top my list. I know the humans are thoroughly fleshed out, but that's not the point of the story. DDP Episode 148
Runners up: Snowpiercer and Edge of Tomorrow (DDP Episode 143)

Favorite Action Film
John Wick - Keanu makes a comeback mostly by keeping his mouth shut. A classic revenge tale, it is nice to see movies like John Wick and The Guest eschewing CGI extravaganzas for short, brutal and mostly practical sequences. Be warned: if you're a dog lover, the first few minutes may be tough.
Runner Up - The Raid 2 DDP Episode 136
Favorite Comedy
Dead Snow 2 - Exploding baby carriage. Need I say more? An instant classic in the zombie comedy genre (which is already bursting with classics). DDP Episode 167

Favorite Comic Book Film
Captain America: Winter Soldier - Not quite the ton of fun that Guardians of the Galaxy is, but some fabulous action sequences, including a fight between Cap and Batroc the Leaper. I shit you not.

Favorite RemakeThe Town That Dreaded Sundown - Kind of quiet on the remake front this year, and that's OK with me. But this is a solid entry, despite an ending ripped right out of classic 90s horror film.

Favorite Zombie Film
Dead Snow 2

Favorite Vampire Film
Only Lovers Left Alive - What Twilight would have been if it had been made by and for grown ups. A very slow relationship drama, with barely a trace of horror, but the performances by Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston are more than capable of carrying us through.

Favorite Nature Horror
Since I didn't see Sharknado 2, let me say Big Ass Spider. Weak, weak year for the genre.

Best Cheese of the Year
Tusk - Not everyone loved this film like I did, but really Justin Long in a walrus suit made of human flesh? Johnny Depp as a Quebec-an knock off of Inspector Cleuseau? The silliness just won me over.DDP Episode 156

Favorite Found Footage Film:
Exists. DDP Episode 162 As maligned as this genre is, there were some very solid entries this year. Exists easily tops the list (as was DDP's #2 horror film overall), but entries like The Den, Afflicted, The Case of Deborah Logan and Conspiracy are well worth catching.

Best Kill:
"You raped her! You murdered her! You killed her children!" Many good and violent death scenes this year, but nothing tops the climax of Game of Thrones "The Mountain and the Viper."
Runner up - Godzilla blows away the MUTO.

Deserved Better Award:
Edge of Tomorrow - Damned fine action and entertainment, and a solid, self effacing performance by Cruise. People need to get over the couch jumping.

Most Disturbing 
Eat - A last minute watch bumped Cheap Thrills from this spot.  Starry Eyes handles the premise better (actress desperate to save her career) but if body horror gives you the quivers, give this a shot.

Worst Film:
The Pyramid - Just bad in every way imaginable. Worst theatrical experience in many years, and it is a shame that this got a wide release while so many better movies went straight to video.

Best Ending
Come Back to Me - Hard to blind side me with an ending, but this film did it. DDP Episode 170

Worst Ending
Willow Creek- No bigfoot, and a cheap Blair Witch camera drop. 

Hero of the Year:
Peter "StarLord" Quill - Guardians of the Galaxy is a joyous experience, and a big part of that is Chris Pratt's rogue.  There's a reason he's being talked about as the new Indiana Jones.

Villain of the Year:
Lorne Malvo, Fargo (TV series) - An absolutely brilliant performance by Billy Bob Thorton, playing a hit man who might as well be the Devil himself.

Best Creatures
Journey to the West - Not a lot of good monster films this year, but this fun kung-fu action flick boasts some fun critters, despite limited effects.

Career Boost:
Chris Pratt

Career Block:
Johnny Depp - Transcendence continued his string of disappointments after Dark Shadows and Lone Ranger, and his cameo in Tusk is widely cited as ruining the film for most of its detractors.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Lamenting (While Appreciating) Television's New Golden Age

Things are pretty good when your biggest complaint is that you've been too busy to write a blog for 3 months. Sorry about that.

Unfortunately being busy, and especially my wife's being busy, has meant that my DVR is full to bursting with shows I am weeks or months behind. Of course, we didn't skip "everything" - still make sure we keep up with Game of Thrones and Hannibal, and before that The Walking Dead and True Detective

Sometime in the near future, the Dark Discussions podcast is planning on doing a Breaking Bad episode. Timely, right? For some reason, Phil never watched the show until recently, and now that he's all caught up, and caught up quickly, he's anxious to talk about it. Me too. It is a great show, perhaps even the all time greatest, and one whose success was only possible in this modern era.

The ever fracturing market has dramatically lowered the threshold for success, allowing niche shows - like Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead and Hannibal - to survive. Netflix, Hulu and other streaming services then allow them to find a wider audience and actually build a following from year to year. This is completely antithetical to pre-streaming patterns, in which most shows started with their largest ratings, and slowly watched them decline until cancellation fell upon them, whether it be in season 2 or 12.

So we really are living in a Golden Age for television. It has easily surpassed the cinema as a writer's medium (if you haven't seen it yet, please catch Sundance's The Writer's Room, now in its second season - the first is naturally streaming on Netflix), and even mediocre shows are easily superior to those of the Three's Company era. And viewers not only have a wealth of series to choose from, catering to all varieties of tastes (or lack thereof), but they can watch it when they want, where they want, how they want. Really this is an embrassment of riches.

So this is where the bitching comes in. I wrote the above because I wanted to make it clear that I really do appreciate this television renaissance. But with this cornucopia, I feel that we have lost something, specifically the water cooler.

I mentioned how my wife and I were, despite our schedules, make an effort to keep up with Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead and others, and the reason is social. Sure these are series we enjoy, but more importantly, these are series we enjoy talking about. We discuss them with each other, with coworkers, with friends, on Facebook. We can't do that if we haven't seen them. Hell, Monday morning Facebook is a spoiler minefield. You see constant brushfires on message boards because someone accidentally spoiled something that happened the night before, while half the readers are waiting until they can binge view the blu-rays.

And this is what I miss. The idea of television as a social event, especially the choice series that have grabbed the public mind the way Thrones and Dead have. Shows like Seinfeld and Lost were appointment viewing, because we didn't have Netflix and DVRs, and we all knew everyone would be talking about the latest episode the next day. Now, after a major character dies on Game of Thrones, you're afraid to mention it until someone has given you the "all-clear".  On-demand binge viewing has great benefits, but it has really put a crimp in the tv devotees social experience (at least with real people, not digitized "friends").

And while I'm bitching about my gift horse, can I also say I am sorry to see how binge viewing has taken away the appreciation of a good cliffhanger. Too often I hear people say that they don't want to have to wait week to week, to agonize in anticipation. I find that sad. Remember this:

Arguably the highlight of the entire series, made even more memorable by the week of speculation that followed. How effective would that have been if we only had to wait 20 seconds for the next episode to boot up in our queue? The final season (or second half of the final season) of Breaking Bad was a masters class in tension but I really wonder how much a person can appreciate its construction without having to suffer that week between initial viewings.

The first episode of the second season of House of Cards ends on a big twist, the sort of thing that you immediately want to talk to someone about. Except, the next episode is already on the tv. And this is a Netflix show, so it doesn't have a scheduled air time, so you also have no idea if anyone watched it. Go to work the next day and ask if anyone saw it, most likely no one even knew it was up yet. If they had seen it, they'd already moved on and were pondering the events of episode 4. I have to wonder why in the world the writers bother sticking with conventional episode structure.

Again, these are minor kvetches in the middle of a glorious revolution. I'm glad I have my drug dealing school teachers, zombies, dragons and lecherous ad men on tv, and I'm even glad that others have their duck callers, dancing stars and wacky sitcom families. But I can appreciate all that we have while still lamenting the things we seem to be losing.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

2014's Most Anticipated Genre Movies (part 2)

Continuing from part 1

#8. Big Bad Wolves (January)
Kalvet (Rabies) was my #2 horror movie for 2012, and gave us a solid episode of Dark Discussions. Big Bad Wolves is the sophomore film for writing-directing team Aharon Keshales and Narot Papushado, who at the very least showed a talent for creating effective scares and kills in their first outing. It hit several top 10 lists in 2013 (including a #1 ranking but Quentin Tarantino), and those of us who missed it on the festival circuit will soon be able to catch it at home.

#9. Sacrament (May)
Ti West and Eli Roth team up to bring us this tale of cannibal religious cultists. I get that some may see this pairing as unholy, but I've already gone on record supporting Roth, and I am no less a fan of Ti West. True, his films make the typical slow burn look like a raging inferno, so I can see them not working for everyone (indeed DDP co-host Phil loathes The Innkeepers),  but this time West is working with Roth to make something more palatable for a broad audience. Will it work? Will it fail? Will I see it? Hell yes.

#10. Tusk (TBD)
Let's roll with the controversial filmmakers and drag in Kevin Smith. He's very hit and miss for me, at times witty and insightful, and others smug and insufferable, but I can't deny I enjoy Red State more than I expected to. This time he's jumping into body horror, which I've discovered creeps me out more than other. I don't know if he's going for laughs or scares, but the one piece of production art that's been released already gave me quivers.

#11. Horns (November)
Alexander Aja and Daniel Radcliff team up for this adaptation of Joe Hill's hit novel. Aja is one of my favorite horror directors right now, consistently surpassing my expectations with films like Piranha 3D and The Hills Have Eyes. Radcliffe is doing all he can to put Harry Potter behind him, and with this, Woman In Black and Frankenstein he seems to have embraced the horror genre. Wonder if they can bump this up a few weeks for Halloween?

#12. Interstellar (November)
There is probably no one bigger in Hollywood right now than Christopher Nolan, and that Dark Knight/Inception money will ensure that he'll get any project greenlit for the rest of the decade. So now that he can do whatever he wants, what has he done? No one knows for sure except that its about space travel. The enigmatic trailer didn't shed much light, but then mystery worked very well for Inception. But really they had me at Chris Nolan, so take my money already.

#13. Guardians of the Galaxy (August)
I'm still amazed at the wealth of comic book films coming out these days, but even with Spider-Man and Cap returning, my most anticipated was a toss up between Guardians of the Galaxy and X-Men: Days of Future Past, but the mutant franchise is an old friend at this point, and no matter how ambitious, can't tickle my curiousity like the latest entry from Marvel Films. The merits of the Marvel movies are debatable, but their success is undeniable. While many saw second-tier heroes like Thor and Iron Man as long shots, Guardians has to be their biggest gamble yet. The Marvel Universe casts a wide and weird net that I'm not sure mainstream audiences are ready for, but Marvel is (again) going against convention and going with the bizarre. Say what you will about the B-levelness of Iron Man and Thor, at least most people had heard of them. The Guardians are barely third rate heroes, and Green Lantern would have most studios running fast from cosmic comics. Yet here Marvel is, taking a film starring the chubby clown from Parks and Rec, teaming him up a green woman, a blue archer, a talking tree, and a gun-toting raccoon inspired by a Beatles tune, and handing the whole package over to the director of Slither and Super. It's like Kevin Feige did this on a dare. Regardless, this is going to be a key entry in Marvel's "second wave", and I would love to see them pull it off.

#14. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (July)
I am an unabashed fan of the Apes franchise, which I think is too often overlooked for its kitsch factor (you can hear more on this topic in the rough, early episodes of Dark Discussions). Rise was an unexpected surprise three years ago, handling the franchise with respect and intelligence, and giving real heart to the new Caesar. Andy Serkis thankfully returns, and while I was at first sorry to see Rupert Wyatt go, I was even more excited to see Cloverfield and Let Me In director Matt Reeves step in. The new cast, headlined by Gary Oldman, looks to be an upgrade in every way, and with a probable war between apes and the surviving humans, this could be an even darker entry for the franchise. But then I would be first in line to see this if Uwe Boll was making it for Asylum.

So those are my most anticipated films for 2014. What are yours?

Sunday, January 5, 2014

2014's Most Anticipated Genre Movies part 1

The Dark Discussions Podcast will soon be doing its annual year-in-preview episode, and we hope to have the 2014 installment a bit better focused than 2013's rambling marathon. To that end, I've taken a break from finishing my 2013 list to look down the road, and choose the 14 genre films (i.e. horror, fantasy or science fiction) that I am most interested to see. These may not end up being the best of the year, but they are the ones that have my curiosity piqued.

In no particular order:

#1. Knights of Badassdom (January)
Tyrion Lannister, River Tam, Jason Stackhouse, Abed, and DJ Davis fight a she-demon? That's all I needed to hear. Directed by Joe Lynch, who did the ridiculously over-the-gory-top Wrong Turn 2, this shows us what happens when a group of LARPers accidentally upset the Renn-Faire by summoning a real demon. Should be a fun way to start the year.

#2. The Jungle (TBD)
Nature-horror is one of my favorite sub-genres, and Andrew Traucki's Black Water and The Reef are two of its finest entries. This time he goes first-person (which, when well done, I am still a sucker for), following a group of conservationists trying to find the elusive Javan Leopard. I am sure that all goes well.

#3. Willow Creek (Spring?)
Speaking of first-person nature horror, how about a bobcat? I am speaking of course about comedian Bob Goldthwait, whose gone from being that guy who screamed in the Police Academy films to one of our most interesting directors. World's Greatest Dad and God Bless America were deliciously black comedies, and I can't wait to see what he does with the horror genre. Word from the festival circuit is that he's finally made a good, funny and scary bigfoot film.

#4. Green Inferno (September)
OK, let's stick with environmentalists in danger of being eaten, this time by Eli Roth. I know some hate the guy, but I am an unapologetic fan. Roth has an unbridled enthusiasm for the genre, and his films (Cabin Fever, Hostel, Hostel II) consistently made me squirm. It has been too long since he sat in the director's chair, and I'm hoping his Cannibal Holocaust-inspired serves up some gruesome dishes.

#5. Godzilla (May)
It isn't easy being green. Perhaps the ultimate statement in environmental horror, the great Japanese icon celebrates his 60th anniversary with his biggest film to date. Hopefully enough time has passed for audiences to forget his last visit to the states, because all the pieces are lined up to make a terrific monster film. Director Gareth Edwards' Monster was a thoughtful brush up against the giant monster genre, one which I dug but disappointed those wanting more kaiju carnage. This time he has the money and tools to wreak havoc across the globe, and he's bringing red-hot Bryan Cranston along for his first post-Breaking Bad role. When the teaser played in front of The Hobbit , a small voice behind me squeaked in awe "I want to see Godzilla...." Me too, kid.

#6. RoboCop (February)
The most hated movie no one has seen since World War Z, fans have been determined to kill this reboot in its crib. I get the love for the original, but Peter Weller ain't donning that hot, heavy costume at his age, and the later entries (which included a children's cartoon for godssake!) steered the franchise into a deep gulch. As a 27-year old  politically minded action-science fiction tale, this seems to be exactly the type of franchise we should be rebooting. The original is very much mired in its time (whether that's good or bad is up to you), and the modern world is not short of issues that could use satirizing. Plus technology, and our relationship to technology, has changed greatly. What rang true to me in 1987 would not be remotely familiar to the 17 year olds of today. Sure, I'll miss the hard-R rating, but so much else offers promise. The film's director, Jose Padhila, may be a newcomer to us, but his Elite Squad was one of Brazil's most popular films, and well reviewed to boot. And the cast is phenomenal - The Killing's Joel Kinnaman is a great choice to step into Murphy's shoes, and he'll be backed up by Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Sam Jackson, Jackie Earl Haley and Michael K Williams. Sure it could very well suck, but I can't wait to see how those pieces all fit together.

#7. Transcendence (April)
The box office for Dark Shadows and The Lone Ranger indicate that audiences have grown tired of Johnny Depp, but whether he succeeds or fails, I find him interesting. Here he plays a scientist who is forced to upload his mind into a computer after a terrorist attack. What happens next? Who knows, but I'm hoping for a modern take on Colossus: The Forbin Project. At the very least it will look pretty, as it is the first feature directed by Wally Pfister, Chris Nolan's long-time cinematographer (Pfister also brought along Nolan stalwarts Morgan Freeman and Cilian Murphy for good measure).

#8-14 will be posted on Wednesday, January 8th  can be read here!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

2013's Best Dark Discussions

2013 is a year I will be happy to be rid of. Yes, I grant that it is naive, foolish and superstitious to place any emphasis on a largely arbitrary calendar turn, but for once I will bow to the convention and flip the year the finger as it recedes in the rear view mirror. My normal procrastinatious (well it should be a word) tendencies were compounded by various work, family, feline and health related stresses, which is why I haven't written anything these past six months.

And so it is that I am even more grateful than ever for those fans who support the Dark Discussions podcast (whether that it because of or in spite of my efforts remains a mystery). For a couple of hours every week or two I can set aside the rest of the world and just chat with friends and fellow fans. It has been my pleasure to be a regular contributor since Phillip Peron invited me aboard for episode 6 back in 2011, and its a bit of a surprise to see us going strong 2 and half year later, creeping up on episode 125.

In recognition of the show, I thought I'd take a moment to dwell on the positives, and pull out my five favorite episodes from 2013 (listed chronologically). All episodes feature myself, Phil Peron, and Eric Webster (also host of the excellent Askancity podcast). While Abe Spinney became a regular co-host later in the year, he didn't feature in any of the five I picked as my favorites. That should not be seen as a reflection on Abe, and you "reely" should check out his reviews at .

Mike's Five Favorite Dark Discussions Podcasts of 2013:

Episode 97: Evil Dead (2013) 
Controversy is good for ratings, or so they say, and this provided plenty of fodder. It started even before the podcast, with Phil exploding on the film on our Facebook page (we normally hold back out thoughts until we've done the episode). Author MJ Preston (The Equinox) came aboard to pile on the remake, and when the real Ice Road Trucker kicks a film, he does it hard and with steel toed boots. Without question this was our hottest topic of the year.

Episode 100: The Exorcist
It's my wife Pam's favorite movie, a benchmark episode for the podcast, and prompted DD UberFan Michelle Barkely to unintentionally launch the Great LaserDisc Quest. It is always nice to revisit a classic, and one this rich gave us plenty to chew on. Once again, author MJ Preston joins in the fun.

Episode 103: World War Z
Noteworthy for being the first (and to date only) gathering of the Dark Discussions hosts. We had been talking for almost two years and finally got the chance to meet each other in the flesh. Perhaps those good feelings colored our opinions of the film, which we all seemed to enjoy more than the other reviewers. Recorded "live and on location" immediately after viewing the film, it captures one of the better days from 2013. As a bonus, Pam gets to join in as a guest host.

Episode 108: The Conjuring 
Author Kristi Peterson Schoonover returns to Dark Discussions and brings along her husband Nate, podcaster and Demon Hunter. They add much needed balance to the skeptical views of DD's regular hosts, and really enriched the discussion about a fine film and the events that inspired them.

Episode 120: Gremlins  
I don't know if this episode is as fun to listen to as it was to record, but it was a great walk down memory lane for the DD hosts - a long, winding walk that often went off the beaten path. Kristi joins us again to discuss Disney, Speilberg, the 80s, and occasionally the Joe Dante classic.

All in all it was a good year for the podcast, and I again want to thank our fans for supporting us. Special thanks as well to my wife for making the Monster Mania episode possible (, and to Frederic Dominguez for inviting me to cohost the Man of Steel episode of Dirty Bay Horror.

Dark Discussions home page:
Eric Webster's Askancity Podcast:
MJ Preston's Page:
Kristi Peterson Schoonover's Page:
Nate Schoonover's Page:

Monday, June 24, 2013

Yes Virginia, Zombies DO Run

I was thinking of writing a review of World War Z, but if you're interested you can hear all my (generally positive) thoughts in the forthcoming, very special episode of the Dark Discussions Podcast. Instead, let me address something that's been bugging me for some time now: what a zombie is or is not. Specifically, I'm getting tired of the Zombie Authority telling me exactly what a zombie can and can not do.

Ever since breaking out into the public consciousness a decade or so ago, there have been self-appointed Keepers of the Zombie Faith telling us what does and does not qualify as a zombie and, by association, a zombie story. I first took note of it with the releases of 28 Days Later  and Resident Evil 4, and it continues today. The latest whipping boy is World War Z, which has elicited complaints about zombies running, swarming, climbing and having a hive mind (which they don't in the film, but that's another story. Go listen to the podcast).

1) There is no agreed upon definition of what a zombie is.  Go check a dictionary. You'll get a reference to voodoo zombies, to the popular drink, and some vague definition of people that behave in a mindless way.

2) Zombies aren't zombies. All good zombie nerds already know this - What Romero created were ghouls, the living dead, or, going by NOTLD's original title, "flesh-eaters." He didn't use the term in the film, and didn't use it until years later. The zombie label was slapped on by fans (or perhaps critics) of the film and it stuck. Sadly the Zombie Authority wasn't around back then to declare that "zombies don't eat people" or "zombies don't act independently" or "zombies aren't brought back to life by space radiation."

3) Mythologies Evolve. Everyone knows that a werewolf is created when a poor soul is bitten by one. Except that was never part of the lore until The Wolf Man popularized it. For that matter, most werewolves were wolves, not men with dog masks. The same goes for vampires turning into bats, something that got incorporated into the mythos after vampire bats were discovered in the new world. Before Karloff donned the makeup, Frankenstein's monster not only wasn't mute, he had a vocabulary that would shame most Princeton grads. The point being, none of these things are real. They are all made up, and the rules governing them are too.

4) Even Romero got zombies "wrong". At least according to the Zombie Authorities. Night of the Living Dead gave us fast (if not running) zombies and zombies that used tools. Tool use and learned behavior were further worked into the series with each new installment. Return of the Living Dead, by Romero's NOTLD partner, gave us zombies that not only ran, they talked, they planned, they strategized. Oh and they were the first zombies to ask for "braaaiinns", some 17 years after the modern zombie first appeared. Try making Return today and Russo would get some hefty citations from the ZA.

The modern zombie is a fairly new monster - newer than aliens, newer than kaiju, newer even than killer robots. The zombie genre is busting open wide and, despite the insistence of critics, shows no signs of slowing down. It is a shame that at a time when horror films struggle to find an audience, so many fans are trying to stifle a flourishing genre.

List of Things Zombies Do
Ride horses
Use Tools
Eat anything
Eat only people
Eat only brains
Don't eat
Display emergent behaviors
Mow lawns
Serve dinner
Die from head tauma only
Die from any old trauma
Die from total destruction of body
Die by filling mouth with salt and sewing it closed
Get made by space radiation
Get made by viruses
Get made by government chemicals
Get made by ancient curses
Flash mob
Shop (during a Christmas themed zombie flash mob)
Shoot guns