Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Undead Apocalypse: Vampires and Zombies in the 21st Century – review

Author: Stacey Abbott

First published: 2017

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: Exploring how the figure of the vampire has been infused with the language of science, disease and apocalypse, while the zombie text has increasingly been influenced by the trope of the 'reluctant' vampire, Stacey Abbott shows how both archetypes are actually two sides of the same undead coin.

The review: I really enjoy Stacey Abbott’s work and this academic tome walks a line that would seem an obvious focus in the study of the media vampire – exploring the dynamics between the vampire and the zombie.

Now, of course, the zombie underwent a metamorphosis from unfortunate victim of voodoo to the cinematic phenomena we know today through the work of George Romero and, in particular, Night of the Living Dead (I am aware that there were other examples, but Romero is recognised as the primary catalyst). We also know that the film itself was part-inspired by Matheson’s I am Legend and so the vampire birthed the modern zombie (or at least acted as midwife).

Abbott argues that Matheson made the vampire literally a bacteria within the blood (I have to point out that the name ‘virus’ is used in the book interchangeably but a virus is not a bacteria). Although the book does mention the film later it would have been apropos at this point to highlight that Universal actually got there sooner in House of Dracula, in which the vampirism is caused by (and thus is) a parasite in the blood.

In the second chapter – entitled Cancer With a Purpose – Abbott holds a discussion that touches on the alarmist tabloid headlines that have surrounded outbreaks in recent years and that includes SARS. It would have been fitting to have mentioned the film Sars Wars (as obscure as it is) not only because it has the sars connection but because it was a zombie (or infected) film that gave the creatures fangs. I settled on the idea that it was zompire and that was something I felt was missing from the discussion – that merging of the two creatures. So when we had a chapter on hybrids we looked at more obvious hybrids but not at the zompire. The hybrid section did explore such characters as Alice from Resident Evil and Selene from Underworld and explored the importance of the costuming within the depiction. At that point perhaps a touchpoint with Irma Vep would have been interesting to explore.

The book did touch on the idea that the zombie, on pre-millennial TV, was often a monster of the week, whilst the vampire had its own series. However many of the examples cited were shows that also featured the vampire as the creature of the week in other episodes – not invalidating the premise and argument but worth noting. I did think that suggesting the clawing out of the grave imagery being a zombie trope a misfire as it is as much (if not more) a vampire trope.

I touch these points almost in debate however, as the book was a well written and well researched volume that is well worth a read for both fans of the zombie film and the vampire film if they like to read an academic tome (notwithstanding the very high price tag). 8.5 out of 10.

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