Versus 1: Vampires vs. Zombies

The annual Black List that circulates around Hollywood at December time is a comprehensive register of the most popular unproduced screenplays of the year, with the prospect of this raise in profile being a catalyst towards getting the script to mature from the page onto the screen. The 2011 version was rife with interesting ideas that will likely pick up a production team over the course of the year and come to fruition for our entertainment, but while the list harbours a number of compelling scenarios for potential dramas, one in particular stood out to me while perusing the catalogue of unproduced idea for its patently transparent band-wagon hopping. The unproduced Bethlehem script entailed a circumstance where a zombie apocalypse forces a band of human survivors to reach out to a vampire for protection on the pretext that zombies do not eat vampires. In this sense, the potential script is highlighting the recent trend of both the zombie and vampire genres, cross-sections of fiction that have been massively saturated over the course of a generation, with the Twilight saga and The Walking Dead series representing the pinnacle of these modern obsessions in recent memory. In this very first edition of Versus here at RhettMedia, Vampire Week continues with a look at the reasons why these genres have grown at such an exponential rate and contrasts the two supernatural phenomena in the construct of a friendly competition with one another by discussing three key aspects of both.

The Turn: Curse vs. Infection

Traditionally, the zombie outbreak within film and television is rarely depicted on screen, with iconic films linked to the brand such as Night of the Living Dead open with a zombie attack on the main characters as a manner of drawing the audience into the nightmarish situation without getting bogged down too early with explanations as to the contagion. Similarly, 2010’s television smash The Walking Dead commences with main character Rick Grimes awaking from a coma amid the outbreak of a zombie apocalypse, rendering the turn patently irrelevant and merely a backdrop to the early action of the series. While the origins of the disease rise to prominence when Rick and the group discover the scientific hub seemingly at a crucial focal point in the face of the outbreak, it is clear that the turn in zombie media is relatively unimportant to the general narrative, as the mindless creatures are means to an end of an overwhelming mass threat to humanity, the infection previously symbolising the rot of social and ideological bedrocks previously drawn as the dangers of Communism to ‘70s America and now perhaps a more damning indictment of the Facebook/Twitter era a la Charlie Brooker’s Dead Set here in the UK.

In stark contrast to this, the vampire turn is a distinctly more personal affair, as though the strain of vampirism is passed in the similar climes of viral and carnal transmission, the relationship between parent and child vampire is essentially a large fountain of the devotion and conflict in the genre’s drama and the transition in the turn is vital in drawing a fully functional and three-dimensional bloodsucking character. Where the zombie outbreak is relatively simply and occasionally crudely underlined as infection and nothing more, the vampire virus is subject to a more mythical and relatable status in the form of a curse on the humanity of the individual, as seen within the constant brooding of Angel from Buffy and his own self-titled spinoff as well as on the big screen in Brad Pitt’s take of Louis from the adapted version of Interview with the Vampire. The turn in zombie media leaves the characters mindless and emotionless, while the vampiric turn adds gravitas and intrigue to the history of the character, highlighting this conflict between genres as the polarisation of collectivism versus individualism.

Winner: As good drama relies on fascinating characters whose past incontrovertibly influences their present complications, the legacy that the vampire turn has on character means that the emptiness of a collection of mindless creatures is no competition for the bloodsuckers. 1-0 Vampires.    

Relationships: Sex vs. Loyalty

Ever since the vampire became a synonymous trope of the horror genre, its iconography and symbolism has been inevitably connected to sex, with countless examples of literature utilising erotic overtures in relation to the penetration of skin and personal identity being a key ideal explored even since the relatively more sedate times that Stoker’s Dracula and Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla were written. This trend has continued in the transference towards the screen, as more liberal times permit far looser interpretations of this aspect, with shows such as True Blood explicitly indulging in the carnal attitude of the creature, mixing sex and violence to make a product that appeals to a wider demographic as their cover of Rolling Stone so clearly shows. In this context, vampirism has largely become an intricate tool for the exploration of sexuality and the discord between the personal, individual experience and the intimacy established in the turn.

However, while vampire media is inextricably swayed and influenced by stories surrounding sex, zombie cinema and television is largely driven by portrayals of humanistic, compassionate tales of loyalty to one another. The magnificent Shaun of the Dead starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost is the perfect example of this, as in the face of a zombie apocalypse, the remaining human characters are charged with looking out for one another and ensuring the safety of the group of friends. The pretence is similar in the aforementioned Walking Dead, as Rick and the remaining survivors form a decidedly unlikely family of sorts. In this sense, while vampire films and television is largely concerned with questions of the more animalistic construct of human sexuality, zombie media regularly pursues ideals of loyalty and dependence on your fellow survivors, with the dissonance between characters in this context leading to a much wider examination of the human condition in the face of such harrowing odds.

Winner: The consideration of the human condition in zombie media leads to a much broader array of storyline directions than the emphasis of sexuality in vampire pictures. Zombies tie it at 1-1.

The Audience: Humanity vs. Dislocation

Finally, the last subject on the list lies in the conflict regarding the characterisation of humanity in the films and television shows and the connection that aligns with what the audience are watching. What springs to mind in particular regarding this topic is that the drawing of vampires as creatures with tangible and relatable histories and emotions make them far more watchable in relation to their zombie cousins. Earlier in this article, I mentioned Angel from Buffy and also wrote about him Tuesday at https://rhettmedia.wordpress.com/2012/03/06/episodes-3-angel-i-will-remember-you-season-1-episode-8/. It is clear that what made Angel such a fascinating and successful character was that he was inseparably human at the very core, and therefore we could understand his plight as the vampire with a soul and his situation was palpable for an audience looking to be drawn into a compelling drama. This is a reoccurring trend within vampire media and is one of the more important aspects of its success as it utilises the spectacle and scenario of vampirism as a conduit to examine the humanity of the characters you see on screen.

While zombie media also attempts to use the legions of undead to channel this reaction within the audience toward the human characters, there is a discord in the dislocation between this recognisable threat and the effect this actually has on the characters. Within the facelessness of the overarching threat of an undead army that seems impossible to completely overcome, the survival of the characters becomes far more important than the emotional and moral quandaries of the characters to the point of functionality. Often it seems that the actual concept of continuing human existence results in the negation of character progression and awareness, and comes at the expense of its audience really looking at and applying the narrative as a metaphor for their own personal experiences and beliefs. All good drama should be concerned more with connecting with the audience on a personal level rather than being purely about cool ‘what-if’ scenarios, and the functionality of survival that persists in zombie media often surpasses the importance of character progression for the audience to sink their teeth into.

Winner: Vampire media often focuses far more strongly on the human side of characterisation and human situations, which is abundantly more palpable for its audience to digest. Vampires win 2-1.

 

That’s all from this first edition of Versus at RhettMedia, with vampires taking the win over zombies on the basis of the supernatural aspect of the turn leading to a decidedly more relatable human reaction for the audience to understand and reflect upon. However, perhaps more important from this article is the recognition that both of these genres have a substantial amount of depth within them, thus indicating that the respective boom periods for both will likely continue for a long time.

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~ by jrhett on March 8, 2012.

2 Responses to “Versus 1: Vampires vs. Zombies”

  1. The more you “humanize” vampires, the less frightening they are. They’ve been humanized so much, they’ve become perfectly acceptable love interests. I don’t know what that says, but it can’t possibly be good!

    • Which is perhaps why vampires have quietly moved away from the horror genre and evolved into more rounded characters for humans to play off of in drama. It does take a lot of venom out of the mystique of the vampire and has led to an over-saturation of the market, but there’s been some cracking interpretations recently including the Swedish film Let The Right One In, which I explore in another article today. I’m set to do a piece on the evolution of the vampire character over the next few days so be sure to check that out. Thanks for reading.

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