From my blog, “Welcome to the Dead Parade #1: Back From the Dead,” posted April 17, 2006:
This first installment of my own Dead series begins with a nod to Return Of the Living Dead. The inaugural film in this five-installment zombie-athon is absolutely the stupidest a zombie movie can get in terms of quality. The acting and special effects are terrible, even for the 1980s. The severed zombie limbs are yellowish and rubbery, looking more like a necrophiliac’s vibrator collection than actual dead flesh, and every line is delivered in a frenzied one-note scream and accompanied by a Matthew Perry-like windmilling of the arms. But in terms of concept and message, the movie and its first sequel are self-referential comic genius. A high school student is interning at a cadaver supply warehouse, wherein two drums (military property) containing dormant reanimated corpses and the airborne toxin used to create them are stored. The teen and his smart-mouthed mentor accidentally open one of the drums and are immediately under siege by the living dead as they are slowly turned themselves after having inhaled the toxin. The usual “if they bite you, you become one of them” rule applies, but in a funny twist, Return takes place in a “real world” kind of setting where the two main characters have seen Night Of the Living Dead, and they find that severing a zombie’s head doesn’t seem to work like it does in the movies. Apparently, you have to burn this particular brand of zombie to kill it, after which its ashes become the airborne toxin, and then… you get the idea. Even funnier is the idea of giving these zombies the ability to speak; once they have killed a rescue party, the zombies use the CB radio to call for another police car or ambulance as if they are ordering takeout.
In Return Of the Living Dead 2, the crew decides to bring back the cast of the first Return, but put them in a new setting with different relationships. The intelligent, indestructible zombie premise persists, as do the comedy, stupidity, bad acting, and special defects. But again, there is genius hidden in pointlessness as one of the characters expresses a feeling of deja vu; that he has been around these same people, and has been attacked by zombies, before.
The only decent installment across the board is Return Of the Living Dead III. In this second sequel, a couple have decided to run off together, against the wishes of the boy’s military big-wig father. They are run off the road by a military truck carrying…you guessed it: barrels full of indestructible zombies and reanimation gas. The girlfriend dies, but the boy decides to sneak into his father’s research compound and use the toxin to bring her back to life. What follows is part morbid love story, part twisted road movie, and all zombie flick. No bad acting, no bad special effects, and an unbelievably heartfelt ending.
But despite the C-list star power of Peter Coyote, Return IV and V are modern-day violent duds. The zombies have fallen victim to convenience and are now killable by conventional zombie-slaying means. Return IV, a.k.a. Return Of the Living Dead – Necropolis, aims low at being a Resident Evil knockoff, and in a nod to the first two films, ROtLD V – Rave To the Grave recycles the cast and crew of Necropolis. This time around, the toxin gets used as a psychedelic at a Halloween rave party, and the results are brain-dead and stoner-stupid.
Return & Return 2: D+, Return III: B-, Necropolis: C-, Rave: D-BRRAAAIINS!
I used to love zombie movies, probably more than the average person should.
I’ve downloaded and watched every zombie movie and TV show available in digital format (even the god-awful Return of the Living Dead sequels and conceptual zombie flicks like The Birds and Terminator), I’ve read Stephen King’s Cell roughly ten times since it came out, and I review it all on my blog, which you just experienced for yourselves. It only attracted a few thousand hits in the years between April 2006 and D-Day, but I enjoyed writing it. Perhaps when this is all over, I’ll post my story for the world to see. But since I’m still here and the Decay still shamble through this city’s streets (and God only knows how many others), there’s still a tale to tell, so I might as well get back to telling it.
Here’s another bit of perspective I gained since D-Day: When zombies were just instruments of creative social commentary, I respected the creators of the original Return for hiding a brilliant irony amid an abundance of the moronic. Being a real world human in the face of something zombie-like that can’t be killed in the same manner as a movie zombie, I would have preferred to go on scrubbing toilets and wiping Dr. Pepper-hol off my shoes for the rest of my life.
But we can’t choose what form the proverbial fan-guano will take when it taps us on the shoulder or drops at our feet, so I’m stuck in a living horror movie, getting the kind of firsthand experience every fanboy (including myself) would have given his, uh, first hand for.
Not so much now.
Don’t ask me why a zombie would be tapping me on the shoulder instead of biting my throat, or how it had gotten into the store without raising an alarm because I don’t know (but now that I think about it…). I don’t even know how I did what I did next. Not knowing things sucks, especially when youâ€™re faced with your first zombie attack.
My brain is an amazingly unpredictable thing when I feel threatened. I’m either so focused that my body just reacts to whatever is coming at me and I can deal with it with laser precision, or I lunge blindly at my attacker like a feces-hurling gorilla, only to wind up flat on my back with a person much smaller than myself crushing my crotch beneath his foot.
Let’s just say that if self-defense skills were the primary requirement for a job, my rejection would be immediate and accompanied by a chorus of laughter and pointed fingers, which I would not be privy to enjoy since I would be unconscious by then.
Truly seeing the zombie for the first time (the grey skin that hung loosely around its lifeless eyes and gaping mouth, the yellowish-grey teeth mottled with specks of black, the dark, swollen tongue), I could feel my fight or flight instinct taking over almost instantly. It was like I was shaking from head to toe and frozen stiff all at once, every possible scenario playing through my mind in that ethereal, unfinished way it has of presenting things when I’m trying to think at the speed of light, and then the world disappeared before my eyes in a white-hot glare.
When I came back to myself, the zombie was crumpled to its knees, indicating that I did not just get my butt kicked for the tenth time in my life. Somehow, I had deftly unclipped the handle of my floor mop, broken it in two over my knee, and shoved both pieces into the thingâ€™s eye sockets.
From around the splintered shafts where its lifeless eyes had been, there oozed some unknown oily substance that seemed to move of its own accord, progressing sluggishly at first, but then dividing into several smaller pieces that scattered throughout the store with projectile speed. I kept my distance, just barely hurdling over one of the black pellets. I knew instinctively, even following this, my earliest of encounters with the Decay, that touching the black stuff was a bad idea.
You’ve heard me use words like “Decay” and “D-Day” several times now, and I think it best that you hear from the present me what Past Me is up against here.
It all begins with “the black stuff,” which I call the Plague. The CDC (what’s left of them so soon after the Plague hit the fan), in their understatement of what they have yet to fully comprehend, call it the Hydra Virus.
Whatever you want to call it, the Plague is a symbiotic parasite, a living organism of unknown origin that takes control of its host while consuming it from the inside. Only, at the time that Past Me was opening his first can of Decay-Con, It hadn’t figured out how to perfectly bond with human physiology, so the host’s body tissue would react as if poisoned, aging and atrophying at an accelerated rate until the host was just a walking pile of Decayed flesh with nothing but the Plague in its veins to hold it together.
The Decay have no functioning brain, so not even headshots or decapitation can put them down. What’s worse (as Past Me is about to learn), such trauma only serves to splatter Plague matter everywhere, so the more Plague you shed, the more Decay you have to deal with (which is where the CDC got their stupid code name fromâ€”if you don’t know what a Hydra is, bone up on your Greek mythology, dude).
About D-Day: the D stands for Decay, as you can probably guess. For me, the day that the Decay first entered my life was October 10, 2009. For almost every living person I’ve come in contact with, the date of D-Day has been different. We even suspect (and fear) that the true D-Day was farther in our pasts than any of us dares to think. But to reveal any more at this point would spoil what you are about to read, so let’s see what D-Day has in store for Past Me.
The Decay I had just dropped wore a faded blue denim vest over a black tee shirt boasting the slogan, “I’ll have whatever kind of day I damned well feel like!” His clothes and a floppy green VFW cap that had been pushed askew in the fall were the only indications that this zombie-like thing was once human (and apparently, said human wasn’t too fond of customer service personnel).
A Decayed host has no mind of its own, as Present Albert has already told you, but before Past Me whited out and turned the undead veteran’s eyes into ruptured sacs of Plague jelly, I could swear I saw something in them that was less mindless hunger than a mixture of fearless hatred and malevolent intelligence.
To my mounting horror, the not-zombie reached blindly up to the two splintered shafts protruding from its face where its eyes had been and yanked them free.
As the sightless, undead thing staggered to its feet to pursue me, I looked around desperately for some kind of weapon. From the corner of my eye, I spotted a large frying pan hanging in the cookware section near the ironically packaged baking sheets, grabbed it with one groping hand, and swung at the thingâ€™s deformed skull with all my force like a demented tennis player.
I landed a direct blow to the side of its face. The impact rippled through its flapping, ashen flesh, sending bits of blackened brain matter, yellowed cranium and decayed teeth flying through the air, and splattering the frosting section with more of that seemingly sentient black goo.
I stood at the ready, feet spread with a two-handed grip on the frying pan, just in case two punctured eyes and a caved-in skull proved not to be overkill enough for the veteran-thing laying at my feet.
From the corner of my eye, I saw the goo starting to twitch and ripple on a can of peppermint frosting just inches from my head, and decided I would be better off getting the hell out of there. I hurdled over the body of the Decay I had twice killed, being careful not to make physical contact with it or any of the Plague pouring from the side of its head.
I made it to the end of the aisle before almost crashing headlong into another Decayed host. The man it had been was so comically dressed I almost didn’t register the danger until it was too late. Blocking my path was a tall, gangly white guy (but how can you tell with all the life and color sucked out of his skin?) dressed in a Rastafarian stocking cap, lime green leggings and shirt, and baggy neon orange shorts and sneakers. I could see that the Plague infection had caused half of Mr. DayGlo’s dreadlocks to fall off, taking the flesh from the right side of his skull with it, all the way to the bone. With no lid tissue to hold it in, his right eye hung by a blackened optic nerve, swinging lazily across his exposed cheekbone.
Sufficiently terrified and disgusted, I reversed direction, narrowly escaping Mr. DayGlo’s grasp, only to see that the splattered goo had begun to drip down to the floor and join with the puddle forming at the side of Mr. VFW’s shattered skull, and I knew I was screwed.
If I tried to jump Mr. VFW’s corpse for a second time, the Plague mass would most likely grab me and that would be the end. On the other hand, if there was one host shambling around in here, there were sure to be more, and if I took a wrong turn one of them would grab me and the Plague would have me anyway.
I can wait patiently for a long time if I need to, but where bad news is concerned, I prefer to get it over with whether that turns out to be a good decision on my part or not.
So I thought, Screw it, leaped over the gathering Plague-puddle, and ran like hell.