There is something about the living dead. Those huddled masses of resurrected corpses that hungrily shamble along together, leaking blood and intestines, groaning while their decaying hands reach out for human flesh. Zombies have always found an admiring cinema audience, but are now crossing over into the land of the living, with zombie fandom now at a place where dressing as zombies and going for marches (or “lurches”) through crowded cities are typical events. More and more people are covering their skin in pussy welts and putrid lesions, soaking their shirts in blood and brain matter and going for a stroll with like-minded people. The excuse for such behaviour has traditionally been of charity; amusingly playing on the conventions of zombies by running blood-drives and raising awareness of world hunger. A new Australian feature film is currently in development that is set to benefit from this craze, which aims to break the record for the most zombies assembled in one place and at the same time break the record for the most zombies on a film set.
Numurkah, a zombie feature film that will begin shooting in March 2010 is calling for volunteers to be zombie extras. It will be shot in the small town the film is named after which is 3 hours north of Melbourne and 8 hours west of Sydney. An ideal exotic location as it comes with a creepy name included. But will zombie fans travel that far to be in a feature film? Numurkah Producer James Hicks is confident that they will, with over 500 names already registered on the website without any formal marketing carried out. “It is a strange thing” he says, “I don’t know what it is but they are drawn to it…the first question people ask when I tell them about the movie is–can I be a zombie?” The film’s development team hopes they can get over the 2000 needed to break the record for the most zombies on a film set. While Numurkah isn’t a blood drive or charity event, it will appeal to the social consciences of the zombie movement. The film’s focus on a town that is located in one of the driest areas of Victoria is no coincidence. Numurkah has been struggling with drought for 12 years and while Hicks admits the film is making a statement on climate change and globalisation, he doesn’t want that to be the only achievement of the film. “We don’t want to hit anyone over the head with a message, but we just want to draw some attention to the idea that climate change is happening and if we’re not careful we might all turn into zombies!” he laughs.
If the film does attract the undead horde it hopes for, it will make a very unique and interesting statement on participatory fan cultures, as, believe it or not there is a suprising amount of academia that attempts to explain such extreme levels of media fandom. For example, it has been suggested that Star Trek convention attendance can be likened to a religious pilgrimage, where its members feel connected by their belief in the positive ideals and optimistic future portrayed by the show. But where does that leave zombie fandom? While existing in the smaller domain of a mere sub-genre, their fans display a similar passion for active fandom, adorning the grotesque costumes, applying liberal amounts of make up and organising social and community events such as charity fundraising zombie walks. But this does little to explain where the zombie’s sense of community comes from. There are no positive ideals or redemptive messages in zombie mythology and very little to suggest a sense of egalitarianism rather than the fact that zombies don’t eat each other, they eat humans. So how come we’re always on their side???
Do zombie fans idealise the freedom from repressed cannibalistic desires, or find some sort of metaphorical beauty in their instinctual, nihilistic natures? Does zombie fandom exist as some sort of celebration of the pessimistic, hopeless tone of the genre’s history? Maybe their fan marches could even be seen as an anti-religious or evil pilgrimage but the answer is probably simpler. The problem is when you ask a zombie fan, most of them will just tell you they do it for fun, or “because zombies are cool”, or completely stay in character and growl “brains” at you. But it can’t just be that people like to do things out of the ordinary every once in a while. It’s not like they’re wearing mismatched socks or running the city to surf. So if it isn’t the nature of zombies that is attracting them, it leaves only one answer; the nature of Humanity. The faction of human survivors in zombie films traditionally includes the most dysfunctional, selfish, annoying bunch of whiners scraped from the bottom of the b-grade actors’ barrel. By the middle of most zombie films you will be wishing terrible and violent ends would come to half of the human cast or have switched your allegiances to the zombies’ altogether. You wont see them squabbling about who holds the shotgun during the apocalypse!
The popular attraction to zombies is probably more or less complex then this but there is certainly some aspect of these menacing figures that still holds a powerful allure to a not insignificant amount of people. World Zombie Day celebrates its second birthday this weekend, and with Sydney failing to host an event this year, it will leave many local zombies hungry for an outlet. Numurkah has some stiff competition for the world records with marches around the globe swelling into the thousands, so if you would like to join the horde and make zombie history, registrations can be made here. If you would like information on past and future Sydney zombie marches, the relevant facebook page can be found here. If you need a fix of zombie fiction before the year is out, the satirical Zombieland is released in Australia on December 3rd, and look out for the French zombie action film La Horde, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival in September. Or if local is your scene, the amusing Sydney-based web series Sharehouse Zombie Apocalypse has been running strong into its 7th episode, a collection best viewed in HD on its facebook site here. Happy hunting.