I am the queen of weird obsessions. As my family will happily point out, I have many and they are varied. There’s my fascination with the collection and display of condiment jars, which is just as exciting as it sounds. Or my obsession with covering the world in red glitter, which has involved everything from shoes, to broaches, pears and even an ill-fated venture involving a bedraggled apple, lack of sleep and a glass or three of sauvignon blanc. But there is one aspect of life where my obsessive nature ventures from casually curious, to investing in my very own intellectual latex suit.
‘She’s just another Walking Dead hanger-on,’ I hear you say. Well, yes, I am partial to a bit of walker action. And yes, I may have entertained the odd erotic daydream about a crossbow carrying, scraggy-bearded redneck – but this is not where my zombie obsession began.
Come gather around people. Hear my obsessive zombie-loving origin story. It’s the story of a scrawny blonde girl from 1980s country Victoria, who lived in a small farmhouse on the edge of the Mallee. I was in love with Bananarama, and had a fondness for hair bobbles, as well as a stellar ability to take off my toenails and kneecaps while falling off my bike.
One day, I heard a knock at the door. Curious, I opened it to find my older brother pacing excitedly. Eyes darting back and forth, he whispered, ‘Is Mum home?’
I responded in the negative, and he bounded through the door, straight to the lounge room, a single videocassette in hand. As I engaged annoying little sister mode, repeatedly poking my head over his shoulder and under his arm, I noticed that the videotape had the little plastic tabs broken out to prevent re-recording.
This was serious.
As the videocassette was sucked into the machine with a click and a clack, I had time to notice a single word written in blue biro on its white label.
There was a hushed moment as we looked at each other. Identical grins appeared on our faces. The specifically Mum-prohibited music video was in our machine. In our house!
We sat side by side on the chocolate brown corduroy couch. My brother, the remote resting in his hand, grey cord trailing back to the machine. Me, bobbles vibrating with excitement, glass of Tang clasped in my hands.
‘Cause this is Thriller, Thriller night…’
The rest is but an ecstasy-filled blur of killer beats and awesome undead dance moves. In that moment, in 1984, I realised that zombies were cool.
Many a year passed on the farm. Barbies were shunned, in favour of killing the imaginary walking dead, in various bucolic locations. My equally left-of-centre farm neighbours were up to the task. While other girls were braiding hair and learning the fine art of eyeliner application (something that evades me to this day) we were keeping the world safe from an onslaught of imaginary supernatural foes.
When, some years later, I saw the original Dawn of the Dead at a high school sleepover, I was sold – though slightly disappointed by the lack of killer undead flash mobs. If ‘Thriller’ was my gateway drug, George A. Romero’s 1979 masterpiece and his Dead series became my pharmaceutical of choice. I have also watched the 2004 reboot of Romero’s classic, but frankly, seeing Phil from Modern Family in this version does takes the edge off. I have still watched it repeatedly, but Phil as a zombie? Meh.
By the early nineties, my love of all things zombie was in full swing. I was sourcing my next hit at every opportunity, be it cinematic or musical. The Cranberries’ classic song ‘Zombie’ may have been a great track in isolation, but when heard from within my permanent undead haze it was pure brilliance.
By the 2000s, I was lost in a mire of groaning, brain-eating, zombie action. My husband became my enabler and first class zombie dealer, downloading any zombie-focused, or zombie-sounding, movie he could find. If it had ‘Dead’ in the title, it was mine. Good or bad, I watched it. Day after day after day. I began to critically analyse the plots of D-grade zombie movies, yelling at the screen in a scene not dissimilar to the yelling that occurs in our lounge room, when Christopher Pyne or Barnaby Joyce appears on Q&A.
Head shot not chest shot, rookie!
Hershel his leg you fool!
Double tap! DOUBLE TAP!
You’re a tool, Pyne!
(Oops sorry, got a little confused for a moment.)
I’ve searched out every Buzzfeed zombie quiz I can find. And yes, I would last until the end of the zombie apocalypse. Though luckily the first question is never, ‘Do you require a mobility aid? Say, a wheelchair?’
I’m totally sorted on ‘Who do you trust?’ and, ‘What weapon do you need?’ Without pesky questions about a reliance on pharmaceuticals, a pacemaker and wheelchair, I’m home and hosed for any future zombie apocalypse.
As time has passed, I’ve moved from classic zombie fair to the frequently unintentional comedy of the low budget (and sometimes also high budget) zombie movie.
Dance of the Dead is a stand out. It not only features a zombie high school prom, but also a zombie-on-zombie make out session. If you aren’t sufficiently debased to find enjoyment in watching zombies slow dance to Pat Benetar’s ‘Shadows of the Night’, be happy that you will never know the lows of zombie loving I have descended to. Although frankly, if you can’t get enjoyment out of a plot that reads as follows, I don’t want to know you:
It is prom night in middle America. Tuxes have been rented and dresses have been bought. But when the dead unexpectedly rise from their graves to eat the living, it’s up to the geeks, the nerds, the outcast and the losers who couldn’t get dates to the dance to save the town from the undead.
Oh the depths I have gone to in search of my next zombie hit.
I’ve watched it all, from 1945’s Zombies of Broadway staring Bela Lugosi to the Norwegian zombie comedy/horror classics, Dead Snow and Dead Snow 2, which involve Nazi zombies. In the snow. From Zombieland and Zombie Strippers, to World War Z and Z Nation and iZombie, to the flashy Resident Evil franchise with an arse-kicking Milla Jovovich. Dawn, Day, Return, or Night of, I’ve consumed it all. Repeatedly.
My living dead shame knows no bounds. In 2011, when I stumbled across a competition to be styled and photographed as my undead character of choice, I jumped at the opportunity. My uncoordinated sausage thumbs tapped a furious 140 character entry, and I sat back on the couch invoking the spirit of Romero while quietly chanting ‘pick me, pick me, pick me.’
My squee when I learned that I’d won could have been heard in Perth, or at least in the next room by my two decidedly underwhelmed Great Danes. I called my family, who, although weary, continued to tolerate my zombie addiction. They responded with a confused ‘What?’ followed by an unenthusiasic ‘Yes dear, that’s really exciting.’ But I didn’t care. I was going to be a zombie.
Finally, a dream that began in a beige, brown and orange lounge room in 1984 would be realised. And that strange little girl in the Bruce Doull t-shirt, who sat on the couch with her brother watching and re-watching dancing ghouls on a pirated videocassette, would have all her weird little girl dreams come true.
I was so excited that my attempts to pose as an angry menacing zombie for the photographer were continuously foiled by the unstoppable grin spreading across my face. I became forever known as the happiest zombie the photographer had ever shot. I revelled in the photoshoot: I was brain eating zombie, pin up zombie, film noir zombie and an ill-fated, photos-will-never-see-the-light-of-day, Beach Blanket Bingo zombie.
There was pasty skin, gore and much fake blood, the capsules of which tasted vaguely like aniseed, with a side of arse. There were brains and body parts and a bloody-handprint-covered wall in the lounge room-cum-studio. And there was joy; pure, unadulterated, zombie-obsessed joy.
As I sit here now, I have yet to overcome my zombie obsession. I am still searching for the next gore filled high. I scour Zombipedia for the next release. I run through the titles late at night or while I should be doing more important things, like showering. Have I missed one? There could be one? It may be the best one yet? What if I miss it? And so I pick the chip crumbs from my dressing gown and brush my lank hair from my eyes and mumble my best ‘Urgh arghhhhhhhhh’ while I dream simple dreams of head shots and gore explosions.
And while I eagerly await the arrival of 2016’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I am left to dream of a Make-A-Wish Foundation for forty-something women with weird medical conditions. They’d fly me to Georgia, the setting of The Walking Dead. I’d get zombied up, and Daryl Dixon would shoot an arrow through my eyeball. Or Michonne could decapitate me. I’m not picky. But I would be one happy zombie-obsessed camper.
This piece was originally performed at the Kill Your Darlings Nerds Gone Wild event at the Emerging Writers’ Festival.