Zombies: We Have Seen the Enemy and It’s Us … Dead

COMMENTARY: They are some horrible version of ourselves — some moral comeuppance we all deserve.

I’m a fool for zombies.

That’s right: the dead guys – and gals. Love to watch them in any movie — make that almost any movie. It’s not like I’m a dedicated fanboy, who has zombie screensavers and can reference zombie scenes at you all day. But I do dig the post-mortem shufflers.

In the movies, zombies run the gamut, of course. They're B-movie flesh-eaters, as they are in my favorite z-flick, 1968’s “Night of the Living Dead.” Or they’re voodoo types, under the spell of an evil master. Or they’re super powered alien freakazoids. Or they’re the equivalent of feral dogs, as in “28 Days Later.” Usually doesn’t matter to me.

They’re all good.

They’re all dead.

As many have observed before me, zombies lend themselves beautifully to metaphor. They can stand for consumerism, jealousy, man’s heedlessness to the environment, God’s punishment for man-made Armageddon or just the sheer arbitrariness of marauding evil.

They are invariably the punishment for something societal. Some horrible version of ourselves. Some moral comeuppance we all deserve. We have seen the enemies and it’s us — dead.

They fascinated me from early days. When I heard the biblical story of Lazarus — the one that Jesus Christ raised from the dead — I was intrigued. Not so much for the miracle the Good Book said it was. But because the dude was a New Testament zombie!

Man. If I’d been around when that happened, I would not have yelled, “It’s a miracle!” I would have yelled “It’s a zombie. Run for your lives!”

What I like about the z-peeps is that sense of otherworldly animation. They have that been-to-Hell-and-all-I-got-was-this-lousy-T-shirt campiness, sure. But they also agitate something in the Jungian soul. They have supernatural pizzazz, they’re post-sepulchrally spooky.

The way they shuffle! A little off balance. Like drunks for whom last call is an arm and a leg. Love those slack-jawed, open mouths, messy from the last human meal. Love those thousand-yard stares, too. In their eyes, you see nothing. Just the void. A terrible sadness about them, too.

I’d love to have a few of them over sometime. But, you know, I feel like the dinner would go horribly wrong. I’d find myself shuffling into the darkness. The neighbors would start talking. I’d hate that. So I keep my distance, even though — as they say in Hollywood — I love their work.

Speaking of Hollywood, I caught that “Zombieland” flick, the one starring Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin (the girl from “Little Miss Sunshine”) and Amber Heard. I’m reeling off all those names to emphasize what’s wrong with the picture. If I were a zombie (hey, suddenly, I sound like an undead Zero Mostel), I’d be appalled.

Is there a Zombie Anti-Defamation League? This movie pretends to pay homage to the silent ones. But it’s really just a vehicle for some Hollywood slumming.

Filmmakers Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick and Ruben Fleischer have taken this B-movie genre and turned it into a sort of perky gorefest for the multiplex set. I won’t be surprised if it makes decent, if not great, money. It’s filled with violent slapstick and the kind of quippy dialogue that makes audiences feel smart and midnight-madness-hip for chuckling.

And the characters doing the quipping onscreen — a small band of human survivors in a post apocalyptic world overrun by zombies — are recognizable stars. They’re there to comfort us. They’re making it officially cool — almost user-friendly — to be in zombie territory.

And it’s no coincidence that the sports utility truck they drive, at one point, is the same color as the family van in “Little Miss Sunshine.” All this movie is missing is an old-fashioned TV laugh track. (Speaking of which, do you realize, when you watch old reruns of “The Honeymooners” or “The Andy Griffith Show,” most of the people whose canned laughter you hear are now dead? Sorta zombie-creepy, don’t you think?)

I have nothing against filmmakers making zombies their own. I loved Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s “Shaun of the Dead,” which placed amusing British characters in a London filled with commuter and work-slave zombies. But “Zombieland” wanders too far into opportunistic, exploitative land. And it devalues the b-movie currency of one of the movies’ greatest creations.

I look forward to the next generation of zombie filmmakers, going back to the basics. Making it creepy, not fuzzily adorable, to be a zombie again.