Undead in the West: Vampires, Zombies, Mummies, and Ghosts on the Cinematic Frontier
Cynthia J. Miller, A. Bowdoin Van Riper
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In Undead in the West: Vampires, Zombies, Mummies, and Ghosts on the Cinematic Frontier, Cynthia J. Miller and A. Bowdoin Van Riper have assembled a collection of essays that explore the many tropes and themes through which undead Westerns make the genre’s inner plagues and demons visible, and lay siege to a frontier tied to myths of strength, ingenuity, freedom, and independence. The volume is divided into three sections: “Reanimating Classic Western Tropes” examines traditional Western characters, symbolism, and plot devices and how they are given new life in undead Westerns; “The Moral Order Under Siege” explores the ways in which the undead confront classic values and morality tales embodied in Western films; and “And Hell Followed with Him” looks at justice, retribution, and retaliation at the hands of undead angels and avenger.
The subjects explored here run the gamut from such B films as Curse of the Undead and Billy the Kid vs. Dracula to A-list features like From Dusk ‘til Dawn and Jonah Hex, as well as animated films (Rango) and television programs (The Walking Dead and Supernatural). Other films discussed include Sam Raimi’s Bubba Ho-Tep, John Carpenter’s Vampires, George Romero’s Land of the Dead, and Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West. Featuring several illustrations and a filmography, Undead in the West will appeal to film scholars, especially those interested in hybrid genres, as well as fans of the Western and the supernatural in cinema.
Rodriguez, however, demonstrates his loyalty to the Grindhouse project by suffusing his zombie film with black humor, gratuitous scenes of gore and violence (perhaps even more than expected of a zombie narrative), and a deliberately rendered low-budget aesthetic. Arguably, Rodriguez is more interested in adhering to the exploitation tradition in film than he is exploring the possibilities of the zombie genre. Yet Rodriguez’s influences go far beyond Romero. The Grindhouse collaboration is, itself, an homage to the exploitation B-flicks of the 1970s, mingled with references to Dan O’Bannon’s The Return of the Living Dead (1985) and the work of John Carpenter, among others.
V=afcWyJhsBXo 12. Gerry Canavan, “‘We Are the Walking Dead’: Race, Time, and Survival in Zombie Narrative,” Extrapolation 51. 3 (2010): 432. 13. Canavan, “‘We Are the Walking Dead,” 433. 14. Joshua Gunn and Shaun Treat, “Zombie Trouble: A Propaedeutic on Ideological Subjectification and the Unconscious,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 91. 2 (2005): 155. 15. Colette Balmain, “The Enemy Within: The Child as Terrorist in the Contemporary American Horror Film,” in Monsters and the Monstrous: Myths and Metaphors of Enduring Evil, ed.
12_228_Miller. indb 85 7/19/12 7:41 AM 86 w Shelley S. Rees racial panic. ”13 Many Westerns do characterize racial Others—usually Native Americans—as a threat to their (white) protagonists, their construction as savages outside of the laws of civilized society making them fair game for legitimized violence. Those racial markers that separate “savages” from civilized folk in the Old West reappear in The Walking Dead in the form of grotesque unpeople who retain human features but no humanity. The show makes deliberate use of the motif of the wagon-train migration as the group of survivors makes its perilous trek across the hostile landscape in search of a homestead, their fear and watchfulness affirmed by frequent encounters with walkers, just as denizens of the Old West circled their wagons against Indian attacks.
Popular culture—United States. I. Miller, Cynthia J. , 1958- II. Van Riper, A. Bowdoin. PN1995. 9. W4U53 2012 791. 43'6278—dc23 2012016352 ™ The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI/NISO Z39. 48-1992. Printed in the United States of America 12_228_Miller. indb ii 7/19/12 7:40 AM In honor of the Gun-toting preachers Cursed townspeople Mystical medicine men Unrepentant outlaws and Pale riders that brought the cinematic frontier to life.
These characterizations are tailored to simple realities, in which tests of manhood and male friendship take place amid a landscape as raw and powerful as the central conflicts that drive classic Westerns. The genre demands a clean narrative line and characters who—with noted exceptions—embrace a version of humanity devoid of complex psychology. At the margins of most great Western tales are the civilians, the noncombatants—the schoolmarms, bartenders, preachers, blacksmiths, and shopkeepers who round out the narrative and social landscape of the Western town.