Posts Tagged ‘horror’

Human/Animal = A False Divide

Sunday, January 16th, 2011 by

The Wolfman (2010)

While The Wolfman (2010) is hardly what I’d call an animal-friendly film – or even a good film – I found this exchange between two “gypsy” women (Irish Travellers?), tending to an injured man in the wake of a werewolf attack, rather insightful (if unintentionally so):

Daughter: Once he is bitten by the beast, there is no cure. You should let him die.

Maleva: That would make me a sinner.

Daughter: There is no sin in killing a beast.

Maleva: Is there not?

What of killing a man? Where does one begin and the other end?

Elsewhere in the movie, villagers are shown tying up a moose and using him as “bait” with which to catch the werewolf who had been terrorizing their village (happily, the moose escapes unscathed). Additionally, the traveling gypsy clan owns a “dancing” bear who is initially blamed for the “animal attacks.” While the bear appears to be computer generated, his captivity still makes for depressing viewing. Last but not least, the bulk of the story’s plot involves the hunting of a werewolf, which could quite possibly be construed as a matter of self-defense, as said wolfman primarily preys on his human kin.

Possibly there’s a more nuanced discussion to be had on the animal ethics of The Wolfman; if so, I’m not feeling it. In one word: yawn.

Milk addictions, Nazi monstrosities & long-suffering canines: Three things about The Strain.

Tuesday, January 4th, 2011 by

“Once upon a time,” said Abraham Setrakian’s grandmother, “there was a giant.”

Young Abraham’s eyes brightened, and immediately the cabbage borscht in the wooden bowl got tastier, or at least less garlicky. He was a pale boy, underweight and sickly. His grandmother, intent on fattening him, sat across from him while he ate his soup, entertaining him by spinning him a yarn.

A bubbeh meiseh, a “grandmother’s story.” A fairy tale. A legend.

“He was the son of a Polish nobleman. And his name was Jusef Sardu. Master Sardu stood taller than any other man. Taller than any roof in the village. He had to bow deeply to enter any door. But his great height, it was a burden. A disease of birth, not a blessing. The young man suffered. His muscles lacked the strength to support his long, heavy bones. At times it was a struggle for him just to walk. He used a cane, a tall stick – taller than you – with a silver handle carved into the shape of a wolf’s head, which was the family crest.”

“Yes, Bubbeh?” said Abraham, between spoonfuls.

“This was his lot in life, and it taught him humility, which is a rare thing indeed for a nobleman to possess. He had so much compassion – for the poor, for the hardworking, for the sick. He was especially dear to the children of the village, and his great, deep pockets – the size of turnip sacks – bulged with trinkets and sweets. He had not much of a childhood himself, matching his father’s height at the age of eight, and surpassing him by a head at age nine. His frailty and great size were a secret source of shame to his father. But Master Sardu truly was a gentle giant, and much beloved by his people. It was said of him that Master Sardu looked down on everyone, yet looked down on no one.” (pp. 1-2)

Spoiler warning: minor plot details discussed below.

The Strain (2009)

So begins The Strain, a 2009 vampire novel co-authored by filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy) and novelist Chuck Hogan (Prince of Thieves: A Novel). Set in present-day New York City, the story follows Ephraim Goodweather – an epidemiologist with the CDC – as he races to stop the spread of an virus that essentially hijacks its host body, transforming human to vampire. (Nonhuman animals appear not to be affected, though this doesn’t preclude their consumption by vampires. Spoiler warning: the dog gets it!)

Transmitted via the exchange of bodily fluids (usually in the form of a “brutal” feeding frenzy as opposed to a more sophisticated and sexy neck bite), the virus is as old as the seven vampires – the Ancients – who are spread out among the “Old” and “New” Worlds. Kept under wraps by a tenuous truce between the Ancients for centuries, the virus is about to be unleashed upon humanity by a renegade vampire – the Dark One, Master, Sardu, The Thing – with the help of one especially evil, ambitious and self-involved human. (A billionaire, natch.)

Our hero “Eph” is accompanied by fellow CDC scientist Nora Martinez, along with a rag-tag team of unlikely experts, namely: Vasily Fet, an exterminator working for the City of New York and Abraham Setrakian, an elderly pawnshop owner and Holocaust survivor who has spent much of his life in pursuit of the Dark One.

I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone, so I won’t go any further into plot details than this. One rave featured on the back cover describes it as “Bram Stoker meets Stephen King meets Michael Crichton”; I don’t know about Crichton, but if you’re a fan of Stephen King and/or modern-day vampire stories, you’ll love The Strain. Nor can I offer a comprehensive look at what I’ll call the story’s “animal ethics,” as The Strain is the first part of a trilogy. (I’m still waiting for a copy of The Fall to become available at my public library, and Eternal Night won’t be released for several more months.) I would, however, like to discuss several specific passages and plot details.

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George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead answers with an emphatic “Hells, no!”

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010 by

George A. Romero's Survival of the Dead (2009)

Spoiler warning!

Earlier this year, I wrote a brief piece about George A. Romero’s 2007 zombie horror flick Diary of the Dead. While the film did not explicitly address our treatment of nonhuman animals, the ending depicted two hunters tormenting a female zombie for “sport,” her “death” (if, indeed, one can kill the undead) becoming for them a form of entertainment, as opposed to a matter of survival. The narrator’s final words posed a question that I oftentimes ask myself, particularly during monster movies in which the future of humanity’s existence is called into question:

Are we worth saving?

You tell me.

Survival of the Dead is Romero’s 2009 follow-up to Diary of the Dead. While similar in style and tone, I found its ending and implications to be far more disturbing than those of its predecessor.

Without going too much into plot detail – it’s mostly incidental – Survival of the Dead follows a band of ex-military mercenaries (seen briefly in Diary of the Dead) as they escape a U.S. mainland riddled with zombies for a seeming island oasis. Located off the coast of Delaware, Plum Island is controlled by two feuding Irish families: the O’Flynns and the Muldoons. While the O’Flynn clan and its allies work to save the island and its remaining human residents from an infestation of the undead by finding and slaying all of those infected, the Muldoon camp believes that it’s their familial duty to keep their zombie kin alive – but chained up and under control – until a cure can be found. Naturally, these two philosophies cause a further rift between the competing families; ultimately, the Muldoons prevail, and Patrick O’Flynn – family patriarch and head of the zombie-hunting posse – is banished from the island.

After some time, O’Flynn returns in the company of the mercenaries, only to find the zombies “chained up […] in imitation of their previous lives – a mailman puts mail in a mailbox, a logger wields an axe on some wood, and so on,” as Wiki so aptly describes it. The remaining inhabitants have started to lose hope that a cure is forthcoming; instead, they’ve shifted goals, aiming to train the zombies to at least “act” human – and, more importantly, to crave and consume the flesh of nonhuman animals over that of their human kin.

Ultimately, a show-down between the two clans hinges upon Seamus Muldoon’s success in this endeavor. One of Patrick Muldoon’s daughters, the zombie Jane, is placed in a small corral with a horse, in whom she shows little interest. Instead, she bites the hand of her twin sister Janet, thus infecting her as well. A gunfight breaks out between the two warring factions, and in the chaos, a group of gathered zombies is set loose on the participants, most of whom are devoured by their undead relatives.

After the battle ends and the group disperses, Jane does attack the horse, biting a chunk of flesh from his body. Alas, the only witnesses to this “victory” are Janet and her father. As Janet rushes off to inform the departing group, Patrick shoots his infected daughter in the head; the secret now belongs to the ever-proud Patrick, and Patrick alone.

The Muldoons, it turns out, were right: zombies can be retrained to eat nonhuman animals. In the context of the film, this shift in consumptive preferences is presented as a “good” thing – progress, success, a triumph. But is it?

As a vegan, my answer is obvious. But one need not be an animal advocate to see the horrific moral calculations embodied in this message. As popularly imagined – and certainly, as presented in Romero’s films – zombies are…undead. Unfeeling. Immune to pain, of either the physical or psychological sort. Lacking in emotions. Incapable of anything but the most rudimentary, instinctive thought. Unable to bond with or even recognize friends and family members. But most of all, they are dead! They had and lived their one life and, while it may have ended prematurely, it is over.

And yet, we’re supposed to see the sacrifice of countless other lives in sustenance of the undead as a “win”? As compared to zombies, nonhuman animals are sentient; they are capable of feeling pain, and suffer immensely while consumed alive, piece by agonizing piece, whether by zombies or humans. They can think, fall in love, experience joy and sadness, and feel fear and longing. They have friends and families, daughters and sons, mothers and fathers. Their will to live is no less than our own.

Going far beyond the fucked up, speciesist morals and practices of existing human societies, Survival of the Dead imagines a world in which nonhumans animals aren’t just “less than” humans – but are also “less than” dead humans. Has-been humans. Once-were humans. Are no more-humans. At best, terminally ill and in need of swift, humane euthanasia. At worst, just this side of a rock.

Nonhuman animals < zombies = a world I don't want to live in. Is there a reason our undead families should snack on the flesh of nonhuman animals over that of humans? (After all, it is we who cannot accept their deaths.) Would we willingly offer our own bodies up to aid zombie dogs or undead polar bears in their own survival? (I think not.) And what happens, exactly, when the undead eat through all the nonhuman animal life forms on the planet? Humans are already devouring the planet’s resources at an alarming rate; earth simply would not survive an undead army of consumers for long. Ultimately, the Survival of the Dead would mean the demise of all – humans and nonhumans alike.

So.

Are we worth saving?

You tell me.

George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead asks, “Are we worth saving?”

Sunday, June 20th, 2010 by

Diary of the Dead (2007) - Movie Poster

George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead (2007) is your standard, post-apocalyptic zombie fare. As the dead begin to reanimate, a group of film students and their professor flees down the East Coast in a rickety RV. The story is told from the vantage point of the students, in particular Jason, the aspiring documentarian of the group.

Nonhuman animals don’t make an appearance in Diary of the Dead – really, there’s not one guard dog or zombie cat to be found – and yet, the movie’s ending speaks to what I’ve been feeling with increasing urgency as of late. (Cue images of the “oil” spill in the Gulf Coast, complete with hand-wringing about oil-soaked pelicans, torched turtles belonging to endangered species – and the “livelihoods” of the “fishermen” who themselves eke out a living by slaughtering nonhuman animals by the millions. “RIP Gumbo,” indeed.)

The final scene, narrated by Jason’s girlfriend, Debra (who took up his cause after he was mauled to death by a zombie; no spoiler alert needed, as she refers to him in the past tense throughout the film’s voiceover), turns the camera’s lens inward, into the heart of humanity.

Click here to watch the movie’s ending (skip ahead to 6:50; sorry, embedding disabled!), or keep reading for a transcript.

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When Violence Goes Viral (On The Crazies)

Monday, March 1st, 2010 by

Movie poster for THE CRAZIES - Help Us!

Caution: Spoilers Galore!

As far as horror movies go, The Crazies is fairly standard stuff. A plane crash-lands in a remote marsh just a tick upstream of the rural farming town of Ogden Marsh, Iowa. On board is a biological weapon, engineered by the U.S. government in order to “destabilize populations”; allegedly, it was en route to “an incinerator in Dallas,” having proven too dangerous for wide scale use. The plane’s payload slowly leaks into its watery tomb, where the contaminant is carried downstream, straight into Ogden Marsh’s water supply – and onto its citizens’ crops and into their bellies. In short order, the virus infects the town’s residents, transforming them from loving husbands and mild-mannered educators into violent, homicidal “crazies.” *

The federal government quickly moves in, quarantining the town and separating the townspeople into two groups – “infected” and “not” – ripping families apart in the process. Those who are thought to be sick are taken to the local high school (now set up as a makeshift hospital), strapped to hospital gurneys, and “treated.” (“Observed” is more like it. The viewer doesn’t get the feeling that there’s anything the doctors can do to help their patients.) The healthy residents are transported to a large gas station/truck stop/convenience store situated on the edge of town, ostensibly for eventual evacuation to nearby Sioux City. Of course, because this is a horror film and all, things do not go as planned; a riot breaks out at the high school, leading to the government’s evacuation (and eventual nuclear incineration, complete with cover-up) of Ogden Marsh. The events unfold within a 96-hour period (two days pre- and two days post-outbreak), during which the audience follows four heroes – the local sheriff and deputy; the sheriff’s wife, who’s also the town’s only doctor; and her teenage assistant – as they try to understand what’s happening to their fellow citizens and, later, escape to safety.

What’s particularly interesting about The Crazies from a vegan perspective is the way in which the town’s residents are portrayed, pre- and post-infection. Precipitating the sheriff’s hunt for and discovery of the downed plane is the discovery of its pilot – or rather, its pilot’s body – in the marsh by a group of (duck?) hunters, whom the sheriff scolds for illegal, off-season hunting.

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