Saturday, June 30, 2012

Dead And Undead In The 19th Century: Exit Humanity / Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Article by Marie Robinson

Greetings, readers! I hope you are enjoying your summer, because it is a cool 98 degrees in St. Louis (where is Nick Lachey when you need him?). Did I mention that I hate hot, humid weather? I have been trying to spend most of the daytime in air-conditioned movie theatres, and using the cool nights for walks. Speaking of creatures of the night…

When you think of the American Civil War, you probably think of the battles and the blood, the dead men strewn across the field, who now rest in chipping graves in their very own section of the cemetery (assuming you have a morbid imagination). However, two recent releases have turned our thoughts toward the undead in the eighteen hundreds.

2011’s Exit Humanity and 2012’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter tell tales of centuries-old monsters we know all too well: zombies and vampires. We all have seen a thousand films featuring both, but these two have a shared twist to the old trope.

One of the many things Christine and I have in common is we are sick and tired of zombies, or “dead-walks”, if we want to use the adorable nickname given in the film I have mentioned above. Don’t get me wrong, I love the classics, can’t get enough of the golden days of George A. Romero, but after a while, shit gets old. They have ceased to be scary and instead become stale. Yet as film companies seem to green light ANYTHING that features a drooling, vacant-eyed, blood-smeared face on the poster, I have begun to ask myself, “What else can they do?”

But when I caught wind of Exit Humanity and saw the trailer, I found myself actually excited for a zombie film (I’m sorry if I am hurting any zombie lover’s feelings, I hope I can patch things up between us as this article trails on). Written and directed by John Geddes (who seems to be building himself a career in the horror genre), the film is narrated by Brian Cox who introduces himself as Malcolm Lee. He reads to us from a journal that is written by a distant relative, Edward Young (Mark Gibson). Edward writes to us from a time where the war has just ended, in a Tennessee where zombies outnumber humans. Distraught after having to kill both his wife and son with his own shotgun after they had become monsters just like so many others, he now wanders the wooded South with his horse, Shiloh.

At first I didn’t think I was going to like the movie, it seemed like just another fight for survival among the undead. Now although I am usually very stubborn to watch zombie movies - because I think the story can only be so unique - there is something about zombies that allow for quite a bit of creative flexibility: they don’t exist. But there are a consistent set of traits that people have established about them over the years, and our Civil War era zombies are given the following: they are have no speed beyond a stagger, they must be dealt a fatal wound to the head to be killed, and they possess wide, unsettling, inky-black eyes.

As the movie progressed and the plot thickened, I found myself more and more enthralled by the film. Edward stumbles upon a fellow living person named Isaac (Adam Seybold) who basically forces him to accompany on his crazy mission to find his sister, whom he believes was kidnapped by the dreaded General Williams (played by Bill Moseley, who has been a horror veteran since the 80’s) who has a sinister plan of his own.

Although the time period gave Exit Humanity the film and the genre a refreshing twist, it isn’t the first time we humans have heard of zombies in the American South.

Painting of a Haitian zombie
Voodoo was introduced to Louisiana through Haitian slaves in the seventeen-hundreds, and became abundant in the 19th century. It became a dominant religion among slaves and was also a way for them to express their culture and stay in touch with their tribal roots.

Zombies exist in Voodoo culture as a reanimated corpse, devoid of its soul, that had been resurrected by a Voodoo priest or queen. Voodoo queens became important and powerful figures in the eighteen-hundreds, particularly around the time of the Civil War. Voodoo zombies are usually used as servants, or to carry out some task for the creator; they were often used to work the fields. A priest or queen must capture the soul of the deceased person in order to create a zombie, prevention of this included relatives stabbing a dead loved one in the heart, or cutting off the head.

On encountering his first zombie, our protagonist Edward Young says, “It was though he was alive, but had been stripped of his soul…”

I must admit that I did want to see Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, but the reason I followed through is because I got to see it for free (perks of working at a movie theatre). I suggest that you see it ONLY if you can view it under similar circumstances. The 3D was impressive, and I was into it for about thirty minutes, and then when it started trying to have this whole “serious plot” thing, I was pretty much done.

Unlike zombies, I CANNOT get enough of vampires. If there is a movie where vampires are involved, there is a 90% chance that I will see it, and probably a 70% chance that I will like it.

Similar to zombies, you can play around with appearances and traits, and I must admit, the bloodsuckers were pretty bad-ass looking in Abraham Lincoln. Once they got a taste for that crimson human sweet stuff, their faces get all distorted and hideous—Buffy style! These vamps can also walk in the sun, but they can’t be seen in mirrors… Not that I can really get mad about it—like I’ve said before, they aren’t real.

The film, directed by Timur Bekmambetov (known for Wanted and the Night Watch series) and written by Seth Grahame-Smith (the same guy wrote the book), doesn’t begin during the Civil War. First you meet a poor, young Lincoln who finds his hatred for the undead in the vampire who killed his mother. Years later, in a bar, he meets a man who tells him that he is a vampire hunter, and can teach him the ways of killing the beasts—which isn’t with a wooden stake, but with silver.

Abraham wields his weapon of choice—an axe with a silver blade—and goes to work. Things get awkward for the Yankees when they discover that the Confederacy has vampires in their army, but luckily, Honest Abe is Commander in Chief, and he just-so-happens to be a bad-ass slayer.

Bill Compton serving in the Civil War
Seth Grahame-Smith may think he had the cutest idea by writing Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and he sure as hell made a lot of money on it, but he isn’t the first one to think that the South is a good place for fangers.

True Blood’s own Bill Compton fought for the Confederacy just before he was made into a vampire, and we can’t forget Charlaine Harris, who wrote the series of books that inspired the show that I am truly obsessed with. Horror author heroine Anne Rice, who is a Louisiana native, has written of bloodsuckers in her hometown of New Orleans.

I even have the pleasure of owning a book entitled Vampire Stories from the American South edited by Lawrence Schimel and Martin H. Greenberg, which features stories published as early at 1939.

The South is perhaps the most whimsical, cultural, and mysterious place in the United States; it’s no wonder that the people who die there refuse to stay dead.

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