Old Pregnant Hags, Love, and Life By Jasie Stokes

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I am becoming an expert in zombie culture, and horror is my thing. I can work with horror. I can read it and I know a lot about it. Sometimes I forget that I know it so well and I feel like I don't have any particular knowledge with anything else, and sometimes I think "Great job, Jasie. You've become a horror expert. Now people will take you seriously"--all thought in quite a sarcastic and cutting tone. There's so much to learn and know and I feel like I'll never get it all. But that is why I have also been trained as an expert student. I don't have to know everything; I just have to be able to understand what other people say and know and be able to use their knowledge to support my theories.

I kind of like being an expert in horror films because now when I watch them they are so much more enjoyable. I've been trying to verse myself in all the antecedents of Shaun of the Dead because it is a film that takes cues not only from Romero's films, but also from movies like Evil Dead II, American Werewolf in London, Reanimator, and Dead Alive (akaBraindead). The Halloween season is my favorite because it makes watching all of these wonderful horror films feel a little more appropriate. I've watched Dead Alive twice in the last two days. It was done by Peter Jackson in 1992, and it makes me have an immense amount more respect for the guy who did Lord of the Rings (a series that I have to admit bored me to tears). The man is clearly a visionary.

Dead Alive is a film about a boy who lives with his mother and who falls in love with a girl and has difficulty cutting the apron strings, even after his mother has turned into a zombie, even after his zombie mother has tried to kill him and his girlfriend, even after his zombie mother has turned the entire town into zombies. The film is a melodramatic slap stick love story that becomes more and more believable as the two lovers become more and more drenched in blood and viscera. I kept thinking of Buster Keaton being attacked by zombies. There is one point when our hero, Lionel, is trying to run from a horde of zombies. Only, the tile floor is drenched in blood and he simply runs in place as he slips on the blood. This lasts for a good long minute and is hilarious.

I also kept thinking of Mikhail Bakhtin and his theory of the grotesque and the carnivalesque. For Bakhtin the medieval carnival was an opportunity for order to be restored to communities through the state sanctioned disorder of a carnival where social hierarchies would be undermined and people would be free to express their most carnal drives. After the big party people would go home feeling satisfied and regenerated and continue life without any thoughts of rebellion nor any bit of mistrust or dissatisfaction for the state. All would be back into its proper order. The grotesque played a big role in this because the carnival was about the body and physical desires and it was also about rebirth. Thefore, the lower parts of the body were emphasized: the loins, the stomach, the womb; sex, consumption and defecation, and menstration, birth and death. When we think of grotesque we usually think of one or more of these elements. Because so much of the essentials of life are focused in this area and carnival was about all of these elements we find that grotesque language and imagery is essential in the regenerative effects of carnival. For instance, Bakhtin points out that one of the images often seen were little carved figurines of an old, pregnant hag. She represented pregnant death; the opportunity for birth and life to come out of something old and dead; life not yet formed but promised.

Dead Alive is a grotesque carival. There is a strong emphasis on the oozing, bleeding, and consumptive parts of the body. Blood and viscera abound; zombies have sex (which in all of my zombie research I have never seen before) and and procreate, actually making a zombie baby. Then of course the zombies eat human flesh. The most grotesque and fascinating part of the film, however, is when Lionel's mother actually turns into Bakhtin's old, pregnant hag. She mutates into a 20 foot tall version of these carvings with sagging breasts and overaly stated tummy and thies. She is the grotesque mother goddess, and she literally consumes her son back into her grotesque womb. He has to break through her flesh and become in a very literal sense reborn, and it is in this rebirth that Lionel becomes a new man and can finally let go of his mother.

With the comedy, the grotesque images and the love story I found that the carnival in Dead Alive accomplished just what Bakhtin said it would. I felt good after the film, regenerated, happy and better for watching it. This is why I believe horror films are not evil and are worth looking in to and experiencing. Life is tied up in death. Life begins with blood and viscera and pain and often times it ends that way. I think its important to remember this and try to see what lessons we can learn from experiencing it again through the medium of art. We may just become better people.

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Good article. I had seen Dead Alive once, but at the time didn't get past how disgusting it was, to consider how the grotesque elements were being used.

The article could use a little proofreading and editing, but I'd like to see more from Jasie Stokes.