Monday, August 2, 2010

Dr. Zombielove (Or How I Learned At An Early Age To Stop Fearing and Love The Zombie)

There I was, in the third grade. Story-sharing time. First and only draft in-hand. Standing in front of a venerable sea of kids who were about to be horrified or enthralled. I was excited. I grinned, waiting to blow their minds.
And, damn it, if I didn’t.
You see, I had spent the majority of my early formative years accompanying my mother on errands and grocery store trips in the hopes of stopping by Video Unlimited in Clinton, Md., just to see if I could catch another glimpse at the VHS boxes. You see, should you be a child of the late 1980s, when us old children born in the late 1970s walked into a video store, we were lucky if there was a single copy of a film sitting on the shelf. We would take that empty box sleeve to the counter, and, in most cases, a number scrawled sloppily across the front of the box in masking tape, would correspond to a giant black box behind the counter. Inside that big black box would be the movie we wanted to see.
After some monetary exchange and seemingly endless questions about phone numbers, addresses and credit card swipes, those black boxes were placed into bags, and the customers left, carrying with them a world of wonder.
I hated those little black boxes. As with Video Unlimited, and the early Erol’s Stores, those black boxes simply had a flimsy piece of receipt tape containing the name of the film. No description. No pictures. I saw plenty of them in varying cheap plastic bags with cheap logos: The Video Store emblazoned on a white bag with the logo busting out in all of its purple glory; and, much later, the familiar Blockbuster Video ticket.
But, back to the hunt.
In the early days, in order to rent a film, one would take the original box to the counter. The box would take place of the Black Box, and, therefore, any idiot who could figure out the number system could look on the shelf and say “It’s out” if someone could not figure out the fact that when the VHS sleeve was missing, so was the film.
But I simply loved going to the video store. At this time, while living in Clinton, I was about 6 years old. The trip to the video store was my trip to Dairy Queen and Chuck E. Cheese in one. But I was not there to look for the latest Disney film on VHS: I stalked the horror section.
I remember being so fascinated by the incredible box art on so many films. “Blood Feast” was one I revisited over and over. The box screamed to me “The Original Gore Film!” and featured a fetching, yet grisly picture of a woman over a blue background, her mouth spitting blood and hands reaching for her. I would flip the box over and see the small pictures, snapshots from “key” moments in the film. I saw, what to my young eyes, appeared to be a man’s hand holding the neck of a woman. No head. No torso. Just the neck. I learned much later, having seen the film, I was looking at a dismembered arm, the elbow joint — but how did my imagination run wild at my young age. While my mother — whom, for full disclosure, was with me on every single one of these visits — was looking for the latest release of Hollywood fare, I was staring at each and every one of these boxes, looking for the next thing that I thought was morose and scary. Then I saw the box for the Americanized “Hell of the Living Dead” (in America, we call that “Night of the Zombies;” Also, see Andrew's damning review). Zombies. Zombies. Zombies. On the box there were four or five melting-looking skeletons reaching out to me, almost smiling. I flipped the box over and saw the only picture I needed to see: a “zombie” popping out of what looked to me like a manhole cover.
Then I saw the cover for “Dawn of the Dead.” And then the Holy Grail of VHS zombie film covers: “Zombie.” “WE ARE GOING TO EAT YOU!” the tagline screamed at me. And, if you happen to be unfamiliar with that cover, it features one of the most iconic zombie images ever: a rotting and nearly skinless skull, wilted lips unable to cover broken, but menacing teeth, and worms pouring out of an eye socket.
That was enough for me. I instantly wanted to know all about these “zombie” creatures. I knew about Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolf Man thanks to many a horror marathon on TV during Halloween week (I miss the old FOX TV). And, thank you, mom, she told me all about these creatures that rose from the grave and wanted nothing else than to eat us.
I handled it great for a child.
I wrote my own zombie tales.
And I shared those tales like it was show-and-tell day, treating each chapter as American literature, reading to a classroom of children with minds which may have not been quite so ready for those gruesome moments.
But, whenever I penned each successive chapter in my opus, I got a thrill from sitting on the stool, opening my incredibly wide-ruled pages, and seeing them all adjust to get comfortable and become attentive for those five minutes as I read.
So, I stood over and over, telling my stories of zombie attacks on a small town in rural America. I even knew the “rules”: Get bit, you turn into one. Head blows kill them. And fire is a useful tool if you are without a blunt object or gun.
I still have that tiny compendium of stories. One is even titled “Blood Feast.” And one features a headless zombie with a chest cavity hiding a set of vicious teeth (do you think I might have seen or talked to my mother about “Alien” by then?).
Buckle up, kiddies. Rob has plenty more stories to tell about our undead friends/fiends.
And, no, the teachers never said what I wrote was “unusual” or “violent.” Go figure…

— Rob

1 comment:

  1. no encomiums to laser disc? you're slipping.