It sounds like such a simple thing. ‘Let’s get together and watch zombie movies.’ Little did I ever know how much of a dialogue would be created by the concept of what a zombie is exactly. Over the years (yes, I said years) of doing this, we have used as loose and accepting a definition as possible. Nothing, after all, is more shameful than having the film you chose be disqualified from the Golden Zombey Awards as well as a ranking on our master list. (Fuck you, Carriers!)
It goes something like this:
An external force of some kind alters human beings in such a way that they lose control of themselves and begin to cause harm to others.
This very inclusive definition has served us well and allowed us to enjoy some films that other undead enthusiasts might be quick to dismiss. The Signal. The Crazies. Demons.
This is where we seem to run into the most trouble. A demon is definitely a different thing than a zombie. My three year old niece knows that. However, a demon’s M.O. lands gracefully under our loosely defined zombie. A possessed person has certainly been altered, does not have control over themselves and usually seeks to cause harm to others. For sure. So why does it always make us uneasy and question our definition whenever a demon is involved in a film?
I think the biggest obstacle for me is the power of manipulation. Part of losing control of yourself is the mindlessness. Whether it’s a Romero walking corpse gnawing on an arm or a sick person grabbing an axe and chopping somebody up, neither being has the ability to just stop doing that. A demon, on the other hand, can gauge the effectiveness of what it’s doing and change things up if needed. And usually while providing a running commentary and cursing a lot. That’s the other thing. Being able to talk throws me off.
But these two things I mention are not even deal breakers. The killings in The Signal are brought about by altered perceptions of reality and broken logic. No one in that film loses the ability to speak. But we counted it. And of course there are the Return of the Living Dead zombies who can shout BRAINSSS!!!! or radio for more police to be sent. To confuse matters further, ‘Demons’ is a pretty straight forward zombie movie that I know we had no debate over. What it comes down to is our gut feeling, guided by the loose structure of our definition. The Signal counts because we say it does. The Bay doesn’t because we say it doesn’t. (And it really, really doesn’t.)
Evil Dead has been the biggest headache over qualification that we have ever had. By far. We talked about whether or not we should go see it. We talked even more about whether it counts after seeing it. It contains many qualifiers that we have used to justify putting other movies on the list, but for some reason, it feels different for ED. It makes no sense, I know. 4 of the 5 main characters lose control of their own bodies and attempt to harm the others. One of them even becomes a killer by being bitten! And yet still I left the theater with a “yeah, but…” feeling in my mind. We didn’t line up to see The Last Exorcism Part 2 when it came out. Possession is just a different ballgame. No matter how many scenes I watched that totally fall under our loving umbrella of acceptance, I could never get past the feeling that these particular characters were battling one singular demonic force. Even though said force was totally altering human beings and making them harm others. Ugh.
So the final decision we made was that Evil Dead counts as a zombie movie because of precedents set, but neither one of us is happy about it!