Andrew Hershberger and Arnold T. Blumberg
If a flesh-eating plague crash-lands in Baltimore any time soon, you'd better have some DVDs handy while barricaded in your basement. But how are you going to know what zombie movies are worth your increasingly finite time? Thank goodness longtime friends and current co-workers at Geppi's Entertainment Museum Andrew Hershberger and Arnold T. Blumberg (with additional research contributed by Rochelle Blumberg, Arnold's mom) have compiled Zombiemania (Telos Press), a definitive and irreverent guide to the best of 570-plus movies about the day the dead walk the earth. Hershberger and Blumberg take a break from their busy workday to let City Paper pick their braaaaaaiiinnnsss . . .
City Paper: So there's this idea that the zombie movie starts with Night of the Living Dead--
Arnold T. Blumberg: --and that's completely erroneous. It starts with White Zombie in 1932, assuming that you don't believe a few things that we turned up, including a [presumed lost] Indian movie from the same year.
CP: What is White Zombie? I haven't seen that one.
ATB: Basically, from the point of view of the zombie myth, it's a very real-world, traditional version of it with a voodoo master controlling a bunch of people. Actually, a lot of White Zombie is very similar to Dracula. But I always felt it's visually more appealing, and [Bela] Lugosi just knocks it out of the park. It's unbelievable. It has a quieter feel, a slower pace, and a brilliant performance to watch.
CP: Tell me about what makes a traditional zombie movie.
Andrew Hershberger: I don't think there is one. I think right now a traditional zombie movie would be the dead coming to life and eating people.
ATB: That's the [Night of the Living Dead director George] Romero [version]. A lot of people refer to the Romero style of flesh-eating zombies: "Oh, brains." And that's one specific set of films, whereas in all the others brains are not the subject matter. When I say "traditional"--
AH: Oh, you mean like the Haitian zombies?
ATB: Yeah, zombie movies that are based more on the real-world lore of voodoo masters and using actual drugs to put people in what seemed to be a dreamlike, deathlike state. Obviously these people are not dead, not reanimated, they were just subject to this mind-altering substance. Now there are a lot of zombie movies that play off the voodoo aspect of it--White Zombie, for example. The whole idea of turning a zombie into a supernatural monster really starts to develop after Night of the Living Dead, in 1968.
CP: You talk about what is and what isn't a zombie movie. Were there any titles that you struggled back and forth about including in the book?
ATB: A little bit. The most important thing was we wanted to create a set of criteria so that at least if you disagree with us you would understand why we picked what we picked. We included a lot of movies that are not zombies in any strict sense, but because those movies adopt certain motifs they become honorary zombie movies, and people who are fans very rarely dispute the idea. For instance, 28 Days Later you could say on a certain level is not a zombie movie, because they're not dead.
AH: But it could be a zombie movie because real zombies aren't dead, they're just [drugged] with chemicals--
ATB: Exactly. And you have the creators of the films themselves being just vehement in interviews about, "We're not making a zombie movie." And as far as I'm concerned, that's a good red flag for they're making a zombie movie. (laughs)
AH: We could have conceivably done Fritz Lang's Fury where Spencer Tracy is attacked by a mob. But that's just a mob.
ATB: There's got to be something of either supernatural or science fiction-y--something fanciful going on.
AH: But zombies themselves are not fanciful. They actually exist.
ATB: No, but there's that seed of folklore that has that supernatural feel to it.
CP: What is the attraction of the zombie movie?
AH: The mob mentality. Just the fear of being consumed by death. Visceral gore.
ATB: You see so much social commentary in a lot of these movies. It's about society turning against itself. I think the other thing that's always grabbed me about it that makes it much more horrifying than vampires and werewolves and other fanciful creatures is that these are your neighbors and your family and your friends. A lot of these movies, when they get to the real level of pathos is that moment when a person is confronted with having to face and destroy their own family. I think it's that underlying paranoia and fear that the people closest to you can be your worst enemy.
AH: Well, a vampire could be your own grandmother, too. You see that all the time.
ATB: Well, there goes my whole argument at that point. (laughs)
CP: So is there a lack of scholarship on the subject of zombie movies that inspired you to make this book?
AH: No, we just liked zombie movies. There aren't that many [books], though.
ATB: But it is a smaller category. The important thing is that we're offering a specific voice.
AH: We wanted to make [this book] the perfect toilet reader. We wanted to make sure that it wasn't just us prattling on about how we liked the movie, we didn't like the movie. We wanted it to be factual stuff so you could expand your zombie knowledge.
ATB: We're a big fan of things like the Leonard Maltin [Movie and Video Guide] book. The idea for me is that this is one of those coffee-table books. You can watch a movie, and you'll want to look it up and look at all the stuff about it.
AH: We also wanted to make sure we didn't just cover mainstream stuff but gave everybody a chance. There are people in there with films that cost only $2,000.
CP: Did you discover any rare gems among the cheapest films?
AH: Oh, I liked Meat Market a lot. It's basically about a guy and a girl on the lam from the zombies who run into a trio of helpful vampires.
ATB: Lesbian vampires, so there is that.
AH: And the zombies are being caused by nanobytes. It's a lot of fun because you can tell it's all the friends getting together to make a zombie movie.
CP: So for somebody who's never seen a zombie movie in their whole life, what are the three must-sees to get them up to speed?
AH: Night of the Living Dead.
ATB: The original Dawn of the Dead.
AH: Uh, I wouldn't go that far because that gets covered by Night of the Living Dead.
ATB: They're very different, though.
AH: They're different in tone but--
ATB: Send people to a mall with zombies. Why not?
AH: It's like the same genre. I would say White Zombie for starters
ATB: White Zombie, yeah.
AH: Night of the Living Dead, to cover the Romero trilogy, and then the third one go to Wild Zero.
CP: Is that the one with [Japanese rock star] Guitar Wolf?
ATB and AH: Yes!
CP: I was reading about that in the book--
AH: I love that movie.
ATB: Oh, it's just bizarre.
AH: Aliens from outer space are reanimating the dead and one person can help us and that's Guitar Wolf. And at the same time, a little nebbishy fellow named Ace madly wants to be Guitar Wolf's successor and inadvertently saves Guitar Wolf, becoming Guitar Wolf's blood brother, and when Ace goes on his journey to rock out, he falls in love with a beautiful--what he thinks is a beautiful girl, but it's a beautiful guy, but thanks to Guitar Wolf's intervention, he doesn't dismiss this love.
ATB: And don't forget the guy in the gold lamé shorts.
AH: You know, whenever you see a Godzilla movie and the boy's wearing the tightest shorts in the world and you think, I wonder what that guy's going to grow up to be. He's the villain. It's the greatest movie ever made.
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