I like zombies. Like, a lot. My two favorite things in the world are zombies and unicorns. Only one of those things has had a show about them on TV for five, going on six, years. Oh, and a spin-off prequel. I should be elated, right? I mean, back before Netflix even did streaming, I spent a month or so renting every DVD they had starring zombies. Even the ones about Nazi zombies where they did the actors up with blue and green paint that rubbed off every time they touched another actor. So, I’m willing to put up with some pretty awful stuff. But, there are some pretty serious challenges when it comes to doing a horror series. Since The Walking Dead is one of the most popular shows on TV, it seems like a pretty easy target. I mean, uh, example.
So, here’s my dark secret. I don’t like The Walking Dead. I’m not even sure if I like Fear: TWD or if I just have a massive crush on Frank Dillane. And, I think, the reason is that I can deal with the sick-sad-world setting for so long without a break.
Granted, the humans of The Walking Dead have it particularly bad. I mean, part of the point of the comic book and, I assume, the show as well is that the zombies aren’t really the monsters. I do get it. But even the first season of True Detective had hope, and it was circling eldritch nihilism like a hungry crow. Without hope, there’s nothing on the line and nothing to lose.
Okay, wait. Maybe hope isn’t quite the right word. Hope is good, but not necessary. Levity, though, that’s important. I need a chance to process what I’m watching. Space to breathe is good. Laughter is better because it throws me off balance for the next bloody blow.
But you know, that isn’t the worst part. And it certainly isn’t a deal-breaker for most people. Hell, it’s not even a deal-breaker for me because here I am still watching that show.
See, familiarity breeds contempt. Contempt isn’t fear. It’s just, you know, contempt. Annoyance. Irritation. The inhuman monsters become a storm. Rats. Earthquakes. They’re a part of a hostile environment and dangerous, but they’re not really monsters anymore. And the human monsters, they’re all just bad people, walking around, kicking puppies, and playing king of the mountain. It gets so easy to predict. All the creator can do is keep upping the ante, making each successive bad guy more depraved than the last. And, eventually, even that isn’t shocking anymore.
When H.P. Lovecraft wanted to describe the most horrifying thing imaginable, he just didn’t. He wrote that it was indescribable. To see the creature was to be mad. Even their names are alien, with too many consonants next to each other and vowels stacked on top of the next, not really pronounceable. Lovecraft may have been an awful person, but he understood fear. He knew that the things we truly fear are the things we don’t understand. It’s so true that it’s an idiom you can barely make it through the day without hearing.
When was the last time vampires were scary? Even the teenage terrors in The Lost Boys were hotter than they were horrifying. It’s why Freddy Kruger became a joke, Michael and Jason turned into Lennie Smalls, and nearly no one likes the sequel as much as they think they will. You start to understand the monster. Maybe not on an emotional level, but on a logical one. There are rules to everything. And once you know those rules, the supernatural is natural, paranormal is just normal.
About Adrean Messmer:
When Adrean Messmer was eight, she asked her mother to read Stephen King's "It" as a bedtime story. Her mother obliged and that probably explains a lot.
She is the editor in chief of A Murder of Storytellers, an affiliate member of the HWA, and a member of Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc. If you want to know more, you can find her over at www.splatterhouse5 where she writes mostly about other people's books.