‘I’ve had a bad day. I’ve just killed my mother.’
So says Shaun in Shaun of the Dead. But is Shaun being honest or is he merely trying to explain his lack of strength? In The Human Stain by Philip Roth, Coleman Silk is a black man who pretends to be white so he can realise opportunities denied to black people. Silk is too mischievous to feel guilt about the betrayal of his race but he understands that his false identity means he can no longer be the son of the mother he loves. Silk wants to secure an affluent destiny, and, in a racist society, that means lies and the ‘murder’ of his mother. Once a year she will sit on a bench and Coleman Silk will walk past her with the children he has made with his white wife.
Few of us reach adulthood without telling lies. We discover sex and that means secrets from mother. And mothers tell lies, too. Shaun was lied to by his mother. She thought that she could keep her zombie bite a secret. Mothers hope that teenage sexuality might disappear and tomorrow the family will sit down quietly as they had before. If the son cannot be trusted perhaps he will find a ‘nice girl’. Meanwhile, son will have to wonder what mother thinks about the man he has become and the girls he really wants.
Lies and deceit feature in all drama but they are fundamental in the struggle against vampires and zombies. Lies are how we negotiate sex and seduction and, not entirely unrelated, membership of the group. Female vampires pretend that they are nice girls like Mina. Unfortunately, telling serious lies involves opening the mouth and revealing tell-tale teeth. Vampires are more individual than zombies. They keep secrets longer. This is why they threaten. They close in for the seduction like the best of liars.
But vampires and recently created zombies are not normal liars. They are without will. This is why they have to be resisted. Willpower is needed for the struggle against the apocalypse. Without willpower and resolve humans will be defeated by vampires and zombies. Yet willpower is the distinction between mindless compulsion and crafted deceit. Willpower means that the uninfected will be able to lie and deceive. Irony, it gets everywhere.
Fatalism is the inevitable consequence. Bram Stoker concludes Dracula with a UKIP fantasy, the expulsion of a particular brand of alien hunger. Jonathan Harker pauses to look lovingly at his white English middle class family. Nobody expects life to return to normal in a zombie picture. The fight is for the next breath. Capitalism, a financial system that lies about assets and debts to create money, collapses quickly. Mothers are murdered before they or you tell any more lies. The smiling curvy/muscled romantic lead may be a bundle of deceit hiding a bite. Teenagers are loud in zombie movies. They need to convince and nobody believes anyone anymore.
This is where Chekov came in.
Howard Jackson has written 3 stories for Zombie Bites, which will be published by Red Rattle Books in October 2014. His collection of horror stories, Nightmares Ahead, will be released in 2015.
Red Rattle Books publishes books on crime and horror. www.redrattlebooks.co.uk