This time around, folks, I’ve got another dose of Severely Interesting from the webcomics community. I’ve got Jenny Romanchuk here of the webcomic The Zombie Hunters, a brilliant if somewhat slow-paced epic detailing zombie apocalypse and how the world reacts. Max Brooks should take some lessons here, in all honesty.
But Jenny’s not here to talk about poseurs from the Saturday Night Live writing team trying to be zombie writers, she’s here to talk about her comic and her own observations on the zombie film industry. She’s got a lot to say, and she’s doing it in a singularly modest fashion.
1. Being as closely involved with zombie films as you are due to your comic The Zombie Hunters, do you find the major theatrical zombie movies better or worse than the smaller independent zombie movie releases?
I am perhaps the worst person to ask this! I honestly don’t watch a lot of zombie films. So I shall try to answer the questions to the best of my abilities.
The ones I have seen thus far are mostly the newer releases:
28 days later (not really a zombie film, but close)
28 weeks later
Land of the dead
Dawn of the dead
Diary of the dead
Shaun of the dead
And this weird Australian move where I guy punches a zombie fish in the face. (Which, for the record, was hilarious) Undead I believe it was called.
I haven’t watched a lot of zombie movies to honestly make a fair comparison, I don’t know if this makes me weird because I am doing a comic about zombies, or umm, well I guess it just makes me weird, but hopefully I can redeem myself by the end of this interview. But from what I have observed with most independent films compared to the major theatrical movies, is that Independent films have to rely more on story and their ingenuity in order to make a film, because they don’t have all the flashy special effects and makeup. If you have a big budget you can easily over do it with special effects. I have found with some big budget movies they tend to just go overboard with the gore, and I find it no longer scary, or it just becomes obnoxious. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should kind of deal. Does this make independent films better? Not really, because I have seen some pretty stinkeriffic independent films, as well as some pretty bad theatrical movies and visa versa. I guess it depends on your own personal tastes in storytelling and presentation of effects.
2. What makes a really good zombie movie?
Creating fear and anxiety for the audience. WITHOUT having to rely on violence and gore to get your point across.
As an example, remember the first Alien movie? How you NEVER really saw the Alien until the very end? But still, during the movie the characters and audience were absolutely terrified of it, and it created a sense of fear and anxiety because you never did see it– the fear of the unknown creates some powerful fear and atmosphere, not knowing what’s around the corner, or whether you are going to get nabbed.
For a good example of creating fear for the audience: in Dawn of the Dead, when chickie was trying to climb out the window while her husband is busting down the door, and she is struggling to get out, but keeps slipping cause she is shaking and slipping because she is covered in blood– and her legs are dangling within reach– that’s good! If a movie makes me pull my feet closer to my body cause I am afraid that they are going to get bitten that’s a good sign, or if I find myself freaking out shouting at the TV telling the character to calm down, that’s even better!
If I get up in the middle of a movie to go get a snack and not pause it, that’s bad.
Creating fear for a character can be hard, because you have to make the audience have fear along with the character as well, to make it successful.
3. Considering how simple it is for smaller independent producers to make zombie movies, do you expect that major theatrical zombie movies will stop being made in favor of smaller direct to video titles?
Oh goodness no. If there is money too be made, big movie producers will be all over it, because that’s how the business works.
If you notice, the horror themes of movies kind of go in circles, like fashion. Right now the zombie movie and apocalypse genre is very popular, where earlier it was werewolves and vampires, and before that it was the wierdass creepy children psychological horrors. So you’ll notice that whatever is really popular the movie industry will make to appease the public interest at the time. Right now people are taking a gigantic interest in comics so there are a lot of big budget comic movies.
It’s all about knowing your audience.
4. As an easy way to illustrate the differences between big and little zombie fare, which is better: George Romero’s Land of the Dead or George Romero’s Diary of the Dead?
I am going to dish out some hard criticism on both, because Romero is a big boy and can deal with it, but I still respect him a lot as a director regardless of what I say, and a lot of what I say is because I respect him.
I didn’t really care for either of those movies, and I feel neither is better than the other, like, they weren’t horrible, but I wouldn’t pay full price for either, and I didn’t see them in theatres.
Diary of the Dead seemed to be like another hopping on the bandwagon with one of those arty fartsy shaky cam movies with a bunch pretty college students. But done with a bigger budget—but tried to make it low budget–it looked incredibly fake, I am not sure how to put my finger on it. I am probably incredibly biased because at the time of that movie’s release EVERYONE was doing shaky cam movies with zombies, or along those lines, like it had already been done to death (pardon the pun).
I really didn’t get the point of that movie either. Because why do they think that the Internet is still going to be around for long–and that people will be online during a zombie outbreak? “OH YEAH zombies! I am going to dick around on youtube to see more of what I can see outside my window!!” And the whole “The truth thing” who are you? Fox Mulder? The government in this case is probably TOO BUSY being eaten to cover anything up–and I think they would have a hard time covering that shit up when half the population is eaten, you don’t really need to ‘let people know’ when its EVERYWHERE. What’s WITH all these movies about government conspiracies? And the ‘man’ covering everything up? It’s like hell, politics is not that mysterious. In fact, it’s quite boring. But the people like conspiracies–so they make up conspiracies–but it’s really just them, making things less boring. It’s probably because I am biased because I live in Canada, and our political scene isn’t as thrilling, but, regardless, Canada should totally do a government conspiracy movie that would be awesome.
But anyways, It was rather bland and nothing really to write home about. The characters weren’t memorable at all (besides the Amish dude, and the comedic relief drunken professor). The fear was somewhat fake, and nothing really gripped you emotionally. Like there was no pacing–no anxiety. I actually almost fell asleep a few times. Or maybe, I am just a hollow husk of a human being and harder to scare?
Oh and the whole thing at the end where those guys were shooting at the zombie in the tree was kind of eye rolling. Yes we KNOW humans are horrific monsters. We are the thorn in the side of all living creatures, the scum of the Earth, we are not nice at all. We are hateful to our fellow man, wasteful, materialistic and like buying name brand clothing, and drink our double tall lattes, and play with our ipods and blah blah blah blah, fight the man, political propaganda, snore snore snore we get it.
Land of the dead was…kinda meh? I rolled my eyes at the ending. Granted it had a few moments, like Diary of the dead, but the special effects didn’t save them at all.
It all boils down to writing and presentation again. It doesn’t matter how big or small your budget. Granted having money in the bank can help, but it’s not a movie saver. Plus Romero’s ‘appearance’ of a low budget movie, doesn’t really make it so.
5. Diary of the Dead 2 starts shooting in September, at last report. Looking forward to it, or is it a horrible idea?
Well, I guess due to the laundry list I gave about disliking the first one, no, not really, I actually didn’t even know about it until this interview haha.
But I don’t think it’s a horrible idea. I’ll still probably see it because, I can be such a sucker for zombie movies, good or bad. Which is probably why this genre has survived for so long. Because even if a zombie movie is bad, people like myself will probably still see it, out of a burning curiosity because it has zombies in it. And really, that’s a rather unbreakable franchise.
And so, there it is–Romero’s sledgehammer-subtle political messages (even Romero fanbois like myself have been irked in the past by that), low budget only looks low budget, knowing your audience is the best thing you can do and the truest sign of a bad movie is when your audience goes to get a snack without pausing.
The walking dead will likely be a staple of American horror cinema for years to come, but here’s hoping there are more people like Jenny Romanchuk leading the charge into it.