by. Jay Wilburn
There is phenomenon in zombie movies that has bothered me for a long time. Bad acting, terrible effects, and clichéd stories, you say? No, I’ve made my peace with all of that. It’s the off camera stories that bother me. We have our main characters that we follow and in the process new characters come along to join up with the story line we are following. The newcomers tell their story and for some reason their story is substantially more interesting than the one we are left to follow.
Now I get this to an extent. You don’t want new characters to come running in and say, “I went to get a sandwich and then I quietly walked here.” Also, zombie film budgets are notoriously tight, so having the new characters come running in covered in dirt with a harrowing tale can be interesting and fascinating without the cost of actually filming it.
The problem for me is that I’m often left thinking, “Why am I sitting here watching this crap fest when all this more interesting stuff is going on down the street?” I want to see that movie over there. The alternate universe where that is the “A” story sounds like a better place to watch this movie.
I’ll give you a few examples without connecting the movie title with my spoilers. If you know the movies, you will recognize the A and B story line dichotomies, I think. If not, you won’t know that I’ve ruined the movie for you. Either way, you’ve been warned. There are potential spoilers ahead.
In a classic zombie tale of old, we follow a couple visiting a grave yard on a Sunday afternoon. One zombie comes. She rolls slowly down the hill in the car in neutral and hits a tree. She runs to a farm house. The zombie gets hung up in a clothes line. She waits inside. Meanwhile, a male hero arrives. He tells a story of being trapped in a diner and a flaming truck covered in zombies comes smashing through! What? Why am I watching this mute girl hang out in a farm house?
In another film, we watch a helicopter escape. They run low on fuel and land on top of a mall. They find food inside. But on their way out, we find a group of armed cops that are grabbing a boat and fighting their way to an island. We will literally watch our characters be bored in the mall as a major plot point. Their boredom becomes a key story point. We will watch them be bored. What happens to the boat guys, I want to know.
In a popular remake of a classic zombie movie, we follow a nurse. They watch TV and take a shower. She ends up in a scary escape, but runs off the road and hits a tree. She sleeps a while. They have a close call, but get in a mall. There is disagreement between the survivors, but they go to sleep and watch TV. We watch the characters watch TV. Later, a truck comes crashing through the parking lot. They got trapped in a church and had to fight their way out. They tried for the fort, but found it overrun. Why am I watching people watch TV?
In another of my favorite zombie movies, we are in a bunker watching people not get along. They tell of their escape from Washington D.C. where zombies were trying to drive cars. Why am I in this bunker?
There are two major zombie franchises that begin with the main character in a coma. In one, Atlanta is hit by napalm. In the other, London is destroyed. But we will watch these guys wake up and then quietly follow them out to look around.
That may be the advantage of the zombie novel over the zombie film. We get to follow the more interesting story. We can even show all the B and C stories, if they are interesting enough. The zombie novel is essentially the more interesting off camera story unfolded for the reader. Pick up a few books from our celebrated zombie authors and see what you might be missing.
Next zombie movie you watch, see if you can find the off camera story they aren’t showing you. Imagine what that movie would be like. It is a funny little quirk of the zombie movie that I enjoy at the same time that it drives me crazy.
You read this whole post
and no one even offered you a tee shirt!
How about some books instead?!
Jay Wilburn lives with his wife and two sons in Conway, South Carolina near the Atlantic coast of the southern United States. He has a Masters Degree in education and he taught public school for sixteen years before becoming a full time writer. He is the author of many short stories including work in Best Horror of the Year volume 5, Zombies More Recent Dead, Shadows Over Mainstreet, and Truth or Dare. He is the author of the Dead Song Legend Dodecology and the music of the five song soundtrack recorded as if by the characters within the world of the novel The Sound May Suffer. He also wrote the novels Loose Ends and Time Eaters. He is one of the four authors behind the Hellmouth trilogy. He cowrote The Enemy Held Near with Armand Rosamilia. Jay Wilburn is a regular columnist with Dark Moon Digest. Follow his many dark thoughts on Twitter, Instagram, and Periscope as @AmongTheZombies, his Facebook author page, and at JayWilburn.com