Wednesday, March 07, 2018

The Living and the Undead: Slaying Vampires, Exterminating Zombies – review

Author: Gregory A Waller

First published: 1986

The Blurb: With a legacy stretching back into legend and folklore, the vampire in all its guises haunts the film and fiction of the twentieth century and remains the most enduring of all the monstrous threats that roam the landscapes of horror. In the Living and the Undead, Gregory A. Waller shows why this creature continues to fascinate us and why every generation reshapes the story of the violent confrontation between the living and the undead to fit new times.

Examining a broad range of novels, stories, plays, films, and made-for-television movies, Waller focuses upon a series of interrelated texts: Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897); several film adaptations of Stoker's novel; F. W. Murnau's Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror (1922); Richard Matheson's I Am Legend (1954); Stephen King's 'Salem's Lot (1975); Werner Herzog's Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979); and George Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Dawn of the Dead (1979). All of these works, Waller argues, speak to our understanding and fear of evil and chaos, of desire and egotism, of slavish dependence and masterful control. This paperback edition of The Living and the Undead features a new preface in which Waller positions his analysis in relation to the explosion of vampire and zombie films, fiction, and criticism in the past twenty-five years.

The review: When I ordered this volume I didn’t realise it was an older volume (my edition is the first paperback edition published in 2010 but, other than preface, it is the same edition as released in 1986) and there are a couple of moments in this book where we have moved our understanding on, such as the authorship of Varney the Vampire is now generally understood to be Rymer (with no contention). However, this isn’t a criticism because, at the time of authorship, there was a contention.

Be that as it may such moments were few and far between and this is a very enjoyable and informative look at the genre through a narrow focus but that focus works very well indeed. There are a couple of points of factual error in the book (Matheson did write the screenplay for the Last Man on Earth - but then distanced himself from the film and had the credit placed under a pseudonym) but these again were few and far between.

What might confuse genre fans is the move through to zombies (by way of I am Legend) and the works of Romero at the end of the book. This is absolutely logical as Romero did say plenty of times that the book was a major inspirational factor for Night of the Living Dead and Pirie, in the book the Vampire Cinema, does refer to them as vampires (note the word zombie is not used in the film, they are referred to as ghouls). Whilst I believe that Romero’s opus signalled the birth of a separate and self-contained genre the logical movement through stacks up (and of course leads to later genre crossover). What is a shame is that the author didn’t also consider Day of the Dead, which was released the year before original publication.

A good reference work and plenty of food for thought. 8 out of 10.

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