Note: This post contains spoilers for the movie DAWN OF THE DEAD.
So last night I was on the couch with my sister, and we were wallowing in the sweet, sweet bombardment of cheesy horror movies that this time of year brings to TV. BLOODSUCKERS on SciFi channel? Terrible, but oh god what fun it is. Then I saw that DAWN OF THE DEAD was on, and I was like: YAY! because I lurve zombie films, but due to certain circumstances, hadn’t seen it when it came out. (This is a remake of the late 1970’s one by George Romero, based on his screenplay but with a different director, and the characters are all in a shopping mall.)
Aside: God, I really want to write zombies into a romance. Er, as the bad guys. I’m so going to, someday.
Anyway, lots of people are killed, there’s a zombie baby (I was a wimp and had to look away — ever since having a baby I’ve been oogy about things like that) the zombies run really fast (I like that) though there’s the same zombie mythology (you’re bitten, you turn into one; you have to shoot them in the head — I was disappointed that they didn’t seem to care about eating brains, though…just biting. They have to eat brains!)
Okay, okay, here comes the spoilery part:
At the end of the movie, the characters take these buses to a marina, with plans to sail to an island where, maybe, there aren’t any zombies. (Like the end of MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE, only with zombies instead of killer semi-trucks, heh.) And there’s a sad little part where the good guy is bitten and he doesn’t get on a boat, but commits suicide on the dock instead. Aw (because a few of the characters were actually better drawn than your typical stock horror characters). And then the girl who had to leave him behind and three other people sail off into the sunset.
I should have turned off the movie then.
See, I don’t have to have happy endings. I like them, but they aren’t necessary. Ambiguous endings are great. Non-endings are great. Multiple endings — like you get so often on DVDs now (ie: 28 DAYS LATER) — are great, too. Or movies where the main characters die, but there’s a reason and something positive happens because of the sacrifice.
And if the movie had ended with them sailing off, that would have been fine. You don’t know that they’ll make it, but there’s a small, tiny, itty bitty hope. Something to make the whole two hours I spent watching the movie worth it. I like zombies — but what I like even more is seeing people, maybe, get out of it. Persevering. (Oddly enough, this is also why I like the sequel-baiting scene at the end of horror movies, where the dead bad guy opens his eyes or twitches, or the camera pans over to an egg about to hatch with baby Godzilla or whatever, because it means the good guys didn’t completely win, either).
Another aside: Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is the exception to this. In that, everyone dies but the ending had a point, and it made a hell of a statement. That didn’t happen with DAWN OF THE DEAD. Even the possible statement about consumerism and zombie-like behavior in a mall wasn’t taken as far as it could have.
Instead, during the credits, we see a montage of scenes where the food on the boat goes bad, tempers flare, gas runs empty — still all good. I can deal with this, because maybe maybe they’ll arrive somewhere, and they’ll get off, and there will still be a bit of ambiguity.
They get off the boat and are killed by a billion zombies.
WTF? Why did I just bother with that movie? It’s like going to a hotel on the beach and ordering a porn to watch with the hubby and then choosing Teenage Sluts 15 or whatever, and then after paying $12.99 for it, you just get scenes where there’s penetration but no orgasm. Oh, and the actors are ugly and the moan-track really bad. WTF?
There has to be a payoff. Sometimes, yeah, characters are so unlikeable that the payoff (for me, at least) is their gruesome brain-eating death. In DAWN OF THE DEAD, for example, I was really rooting for the death of the TSTL chick who drives a truck across a parking lot filled with zombies to save a dog that isn’t in danger. So, you know, you’d think I’d be glad that she’s one of the people killed at the end.
But I wasn’t.
Luckily, however, ARMY OF DARKNESS was on right afterward. Nothing cleans the disgusted horror palate better than a bit of Ash.