I have something I have to get off my chest. While as a life-long horror fan I am delighted at the mainstream strides that the genre has made over the last decade, I am tend to get annoyed by how the mainstream is behind on following the trends within the community itself. Case in point: the Reverend of a Unitarian church in Massachusetts delivered a great Christmas Eve sermon invoking zombies. He was not a fan but got the metaphor; however I wanted to bitchslap whoever told him that “zombies are the new vampires”. (I’m not annoyed with him; his sermon rocked.) That’s the third time in as many months that I’ve heard that, and well, they’re not. As one fan online wrote, vampires are the new vampires. And I’m speaking here in terms of film and television, which is how most people are exposed to this undead critters anyway.
Why nitpick? Because while The Walking Dead is a hit for AMC and a positive harbinger of terrifying TV to come, another scary show paved the way for a mainstream horror TV revival first: HBO’s vampire hit True Blood, which recently finished its third season. (Well, that and Showtime’s gruesome Masters Of Horror anthology.) More importantly, the vampire resurgence is really only a couple of years old; the first Twilight movie and the first season of True Blood arrived in 2008. But the mainstream zombie renaissance? That dates back to major movie releases like 28 Days Later (2002), Resident Evil (2002), the remake of Dawn Of The Dead (2004), Shaun Of The Dead (2004) and Land Of The Dead (2005). Not to mention indie releases like Fido (2006) and sequels or newer installments of those films just mentioned. Further, the Toronto Zombie Walk has been going on since 2003, and loads of literature on zombies has been published for several years now. And frankly, zombies feel a little stale to me now (no pun intended), even though I still like them. They’ll never be as sexy as vampires either, even if some movie and comic book dorks try embarrassingly to sex them up.
Vampires, on the other hand, have had a steady but less plentiful stream of major releases in recent years. While the Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel series made fanged ones regular characters on TV between 1997 and 2004, they were actually cult hits with devout fans and felt like procedural dramas at times; not so scary. The Underworld film franchise, which began in 2003, did bring Matrix chic to cinematic bloodsuckers, but their stories were pretty lame. And I feel that the latest vampire revival did not kick into high gear until 2008, when the first Twilight movie and the True Blood series emerged, followed by the CW’s cult hit The Vampire Diaries the following year. While Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight books first date back to 2005, many true vampire lovers argue that they neutered the danger and sensuality that made the creatures so alluring to begin with. In fact, the latest vampire return feels pretty tame in comparison to the current zombie ascension.
I would also like to argue that while metaphorically zombies were a great symbol of the mindless masses duped by the War On Terror and the Bush/Cheney cabal (which George Romero was heavy critical of in Land Of The Dead), vampires work better now as symbols of the political, financial and corporate institutions sapping our money, power and identities all in favor of the Almighty Dollar. Either way, the current success of both vampires and zombies prove that horror resonates with millions of people beyond the gratuitous sex and violence that its purveyors have been accused of peddling for decades.
So no, zombies are not the new vampires, unless one considers this to be the time when they are finally recognized as equals in the horror world on a mass level. But really they’re just getting a second wind in their recent resurgence, which is an ironic concept given that they’re reanimated but brainless hulks with no pulse. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still watching The Walking Dead, whose killer ratings bode well for the future of horror as a mainstream TV staple. In fact, NBC is developing a show called Vampires Vs. Zombies which will offer twice the undead appeal, although some question the concept of a show featuring vampire cops regulating zombies. It sounds cringe worthy. (And hey, when are werewolves going to get their cinematic due? Just asking. They need some better movies.)
On the film front, let’s hope the studios return to releasing quality horror product in general and not the stream of subpar reboots and remakes and star vehicles that have littered cinemas during the last few years. I feel that horror thrives best when it’s trying to claw its way up from the underground, and lately it feels like it needs to be buried again so that it can take a respite, then bubble up anew, fresher (or perhaps more putrid?) than ever.