In August 2008, Kensington Books released a great nonfiction title called ZOMBIE CSU: The Forensics of the Undead, written by Stoker Award-winning author Jonathan Maberry, that is definitely worth a look-see if you’re a fan of this subgenre of the undead. Reminiscent of — but far richer in scope than — Max Brooks’ classic Zombie Survival Manual, Zombie CSU covers far more than just “Crime Scene Unit” material. It is, in fact, a thick cultural guide to virtually everything associated with these brain-eating maniacs, with chapters devoted to every possible subgenre within this huge subgenre, alongside original art by many horror artists and fans, reports on little-known facts of the undead lifestyle, heady discussions of film scenes and analyses of fiction, and just a ton of interviews with horror professionals about their take on zombies.
Maberry kindly interviewed me by e-mail when he was putting the book together, and I had a lot of fun with my answers. But the book itself was so huge that the publisher had to lop off tens of thousands of words…and my section was sadly dropped. I recently checked with the author to see if he wouldn’t mind if I shared it with readers here as a weblog exclusive article on The Goreletter, and he kindly granted me permission. So without further ado, here is the “lost” Arnzen interview (questions by Jonathan Maberry) from Zombie CSU.
Maberry: Why zombies?
Arnzen: Zombies as we think of them today (thanks to Romero) have been around for forty years now — as long as the Beatles and McDonald’s and space travel. They are some of the most direct and visceral metaphors for mankind today, especially on screen. They are social creatures (they move in hoards, like the proverbial “masses”), but (usually) without any hierarchy or organized system to keep them together beyond their consumerist hunger and crazed instinct. So zombie stories are always about the survivors, and how they organize or individualize, and not the (often animalistic, often stupid) monsters themselves. I can tell I’m being too academic because I put too many parentheses in there. Next question.
Maberry: Distill down to a few sentences why you think zombie stories are so popular worldwide.
Arnzen: 1) They give us a way to have our brains and eat them, too.
2) The dead speak an international language.
3) They are us…especially in the morning.
Maberry: What’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever seen humans do in a zombie film?
Arnzen: Become zombies in the first place? Okay, seriously: In 28 Weeks Later — one of my favorite films — there’s a scene where a woman and two children go into an underground tunnel with only a night vision rifle scope to help them find their way through a pile of dead bodies. That’s like going shark diving with only a whipped cream canister for your oxygen.
Maberry: What’s the smartest thing you’ve seen a human do in one of those flicks?
Arnzen: Using fireworks to distract the zombie hoard in Land of the Dead. Brilliant! And a sly comment from George Romero about what it truly means to be zombified in our society of the spectacle.
Maberry: If you could nudge the genre in a certain direction, what themes/aspects would you like to see explored more fully?
Arnzen: I’ve never quite been satisfied with the ‘origin story’ behind most zombie stories…or the endings, either. But it seems to me that every good zombie film I’ve liked leaves the origin open to interpretation and has ended in a really nihilistic fashion, where nobody wins and there’s no hope for a future. I liked the idea in the end of Land of the Dead that the zombies could organize themselves as an autonomous unit, but it seems silly at the same time. Zombies can’t make sense; the second they do, they lose something essential, I think. So, actually, I’d like to see zombies put to even more surrealist and experimental ends altogether. Horror writers should be asking: if zombies represent the masses, what ELSE do the masses do beyond consuming? Let’s find out.
Maberry: Quick question: Zombies…fast or slow?
Arnzen: Slow but still strong and unstoppable. Fast zombies are more like wild animals or insane people on steroids than supernatural monsters. Plus my bullshit detector kicks in when the zombies race around: I can’t help but think they’d need more fuel than they’re getting from even the meatiest of body feasts.
Maberry: What are your favorite zombies (movies, books, etc.)?
Arnzen: Night of the Living Dead remains my favorite zombie film — mostly because its grainy b-movie feel is creepier than any dream state I’ve ever experienced…and that montage at the end gets me with its irony every time. Heck, I even liked the remake. But right now, despite a few of its stupid haunted house tactics, 28 Weeks Later is high up on my “best zombie film” list, because I like the scope and theme of the picture: it’s all about death, and the death of the civilized world, just like all zombie films — but it’s also a very effective story about the breakdown of the family unit. To me, that personalized it in an effective and chilling way, balancing the horror show aspects with good writing, all while taking the subgenre in a relatively new and meaningful direction (though, of course, Romero did it first, with a trowel!). Beyond these, maybe in a different category altogether, lies Rodriquez’s Planet Terror — my god, it’s ingenious!
Maberry: What other areas of zombie pop culture interest you (Games, books, comics, etc.)?
Arnzen: I think zombies make for great comedies as much as great horror films. Obviously, Shaun of the Dead proved that — and Planet Terror just might be one of the most outrageously hilarious zombie comedies ever made. But even long before them, Evil Dead 2 employed zombies in hilarious and outrageous ways. Basically, Sam Raimi took the “surrounded in a cabin in the woods” scenario to extremes…and the best zombie comedies take the extremes way over the top. So I’m interested right now in movies like Andrew Currie’s Fido or books like Jeff Strand’s The Sinister Mr. Corpse and even Max Brooks’ infamous (but almost too dry) “survival guide.” Let’s see a zombie musical — that’d be a riot.
Maberry: Have you ever written zombie fiction? If so…tell us about it.
Arnzen: I’ve done some short stories here and there, but my main zombie work appears in a cute little booklet called Rigormarole: Zombie Poems. That’s right, poetry. A lot of it is comedic horror, actually, like the Rhysling-nominated poem, “Those Who Landed, Surprised that Zombies Had Taken Over the Planet” or the patently silly “Home Depot of the Dead.” It even includes freaky-deak doodles by bestselling author (and editor of Mondo Zombie), John Skipp. Some of these pieces, and more zombie work, can also be found in my brand new “best of Arnzen” collection, called Proverbs for Monsters (Dark Regions Press, 2007).
— E-mail Interview, July 14, 2007
Want a copy of the book this interview was slotted to appear in? You know you do. And, luckily, the publisher is currently offering 30% off the list price of Zombie CSU!
And be sure to visit Jonathan Maberry’s blog, to learn more about what hellish irons he is currently stoking in the creative fires of his imagination.