Saturday, November 2, 2013

Ruminations on werewolf flicks and post-apocalyptic road movies

I have the sneaking suspicion that movies of these two genres aren't epidemiologically well researched. Consider this. Zombie movies (variations of which constitute a large percentage of post-apocalyptic road movies) depict multitudes of zombies, with a few ragged survivors fleeing from place to place in search of a mythical haven. Werewolf movies, on the other hand, have one (or, two or three, at best) werewolves at loose amongst a terrified population. The safest place to be around full moon is at home, all shuttered in.

Why this discrepancy? In both genres, transmission generally happens through bites, so there is no reason why zombies have such a numerical superiority over werewolves in the demographics of Reelworld. Is it because zombies are slow and steady and just one can be easily avoided by walking around it? That would, admittedly, make for a pretty boring horror movie. Does the speed and agility of werewolves mean that film-makers can scrimp on make-up and special-effects costs by having just one on the screen? Or is it more of a mood and world-view issue? If it's the former, writing a few strong letters to the editors of newspapers and weeklies seems to be the appropriate course of action. The latter, though, is more vexing and could cause large-scale reordering on the movie-shelves of aficionados.

Most real cineastes order films taking into account various factors such as director, age, genre, language, budget and the like. And this has thus far had me placing post-apocalyptic road movies and werewolf films side-by-side on my shelves. However, new thoughts, hitherto hidden deep in my subconscious, have risen to the surface, prompting a re-evaluation of the Algorithm.

Post-apocalyptic road movies in general, and the zombie sub-genre in particular, are pretty gloomy. They represent the end of the human race, of everything that we know and recognise. Sure, the stamina (and lethargy*) of zombies makes them ideal cross-country hunters and allows film directors to cover vast distances and show us breathtaking vistas, but this gorgeous photography is usually presented as a requiem. They serve merely as indefinably sad reminders of all that we once had and have lost. There is always the sense that The Road, our most enduring symbol of hope, is either ending just round the bend or carries us on relentlessly through the heart of darkness.

Werewolf movies, on the other hand, have a vitality and a humour to them that belies all the talk of a disease or a curse or whatever - the characters have a transformation more akin to Buck's in The Call of the Wild: painful at the start, but for the better in the long run. Sure, these too are themes of change and an end to our current ways, but in a positive sense - lycanthropy is a metaphor for a return to our roots. Plus, werewolf movies have the likes of Michelle Pfeiffer, Julie Delpy and Jenny Agutter in sexy roles, while folks in zombie movies generally give the impression of having crossed off sex and showers as relics of a bygone era. And you know the world has serious issues if sex is no longer foremost on everyone's minds.

So... do these genres belong side-by-side - in the sense that they are the opposites that give meaning to each other? Or is a re-ordering called for; with zombies next to Michelangelo Antonioni and werewolves mixed in with Terry Gilliam or Federico Fellini? Do reflect deeply and write in.

*Much as I like Stake Land, I don't approve of films showing zombies as having superhuman speed and reflexes. Come on, they're the undead! They don't have the metabolism for all that leaping about.

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