“Oh boy . . . bloody, slack-jawed, bone-crunching zombies staggering and lurching around a grim Pennsylvania town in a movie shot in grainy 16-millimeter, and the three of us [Oates, friend and musical partner Daryl Hall, and Hall’s sister Kathy] sitting in the old sedan, eyes big as saucers and brains pulsing on what the fuck is happening. The fact that the movie was narrated by a well-known local newscaster named John Facenda (who many football fans will recognize as the longtime NFL films' ‘Voice of God’) made the jacked-up realism even more intense. In fact, we were more than a little freaked out, alternating our attention between the undulating outdoor screen and the car's side windows . . . paranoia washing over us with a growing, genuine terror that the zombies might actually be right outside the car. . . . ‘Wait ...what was that?!’”—Rock ‘n’ roll singer-songwriter John Oates with Chris Epting, Change of Seasons: A Memoir (2017)
I couldn’t let the old year go out without a bit of a chuckle, and this quote from John Oates’ enjoyable musical memoir fits the bill nicely.
I never got around to noting the 50th anniversary this year of George Romero’s legendary low-budget shocker Night of the Living Dead. Scruples have prevented me from commenting on this film that I have never watched except for a scene here or there on TV.
But the little I have seen—plus Mr. Oates’ helpful (not to mention sanguinary) summary—confirms what a close relative told me back in the mid-Seventies about the film. “It’s the scariest movie I’ve ever seen,” the relative said. “The grossest, too. I was shaking when I got out of the theater.”
How can that heart-popping fear be topped? With the mind-altering substances that Hall and Oates took in their wild younger days, of course—days that they can laugh about now when they want to unbend after a show.
As for me, I don’t need to see this (literally) scene-chewing mayhem. Reality has its own various and abundant terrors. Do you think it’s an accident that The Walking Dead has lasted for nearly a decade on cable TV? Why?
"Zombie fiction and movies, when they're good, aren't about zombies. They are stories about people and how they respond," Jonathan Maberry, author of many zombie books (e.g., Rot and Ruin), told Newsweek’s Raina Kelley back in 2010, just as The Walking Dead premiered. "A zombie is a stand-in for anything we fear: pandemic, racism, societal change, depersonalization of humanity, pervasive threat and how this threat affects people. It's the core of drama and a never-ending blank canvas."
In zombie movies and television, best friends can turn on each other, no longer able to recognize their common humanity. Thank Heaven that didn’t occur in the sedan where Mr. Hall and Mr. Oates sat huddled against the evil they (wrongly and hilariously) believed surrounded them…