Missing Cassandra.

Happily rewatching the first season of The Walking Dead, which led to my discussing it when I was out with a friend yesterday afternoon.  And so the topic of zombies in general entered the discussion, and we circled around and back to it a couple of times, as you do.

Something consciously occurred to me which has never occurred to me before.  Back up a bit; I’m going to make a generalization about horror movies, and that generalization is someone knows what is going on.  Someone knows the what, and if people in general are beginning to be aware of the what, someone knows the why.  There’s a spooky caretaker or a horror movie geek who knows the slasher rules[1] or a PTA conspiracy or a brilliant and insane cannibal[2] who knows the secret.

Because there is a secret.

You don’t get this in zombie movies.  There is hardly ever any struggle to figure out what’s happening or desperate effort to explain to people, and when it does show up, it’s a brief thing–a panicked phone call to a disbelieving 911 line or something, lasts maybe forty seconds and then everyone gets back to falling apart or surviving.  Because in zombie movies, the how and the why don’t matter, so the secret has no power.  It has no weight.

This is rare in horror movies.  Combined with the lack of any kind of mystery, you get an utterly mechanical threat–something that is really rare in horror movies.  The only thing you need to know about zombies is to shoot them in the head, and that’s not even the kind of thing that you wouldn’t try if you needed to stop a crazed human attacker.

The light of my life makes a fairly convincing argument that the zombie movie is basically a natural-disaster movie.  I think he’s right, but until the discussion yesterday I hadn’t begun to actually see what it doesn’t have that most horror movies do.  Between the utterly prosaic threat and the ubiquitous spread of same, the element of the unknown is practically non-existent.  It’s seeing the situation for what it is that’s truly horrifying–


How very Lovecraftian.

[1] I love ya, Randy.
[2] Come on, Hannibal Lecter so fits.  I didn’t see it for ages, because the setting is so atypical, but he is absolutely the Spooky Stranger Making Pronouncements who Understands the Nature of the Threat and who can tell the protagonists what they need to know to defeat the monster.

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