Skip to main content

Is There a Better Apocalypse?

It's a week from Halloween and I'm a solid 24 movies into my Shocktober extravaganza.  I've seen some terrific films and I've found quite a few surprises.  But amazingly, I have yet to watch a single zombie movie so far this month.  (Open Grave missed the count by a good two weeks.)

Partially this is because there's not too many I haven't seen that still hold any appeal for me, and partially it's just because I'm burnt-out on the genre.  I don't think I'm alone.


It's been anncoultered.  We've gone in so many circles on the zombie train, I'm not even sure what level of irony we're at.  I think now it's only okay to put a zombie in something if it eats misery instead of flesh?  And maybe there's a bunch of young dudes in goatees sneering at it from a distance, and then the zombie bites them and they become super excitable forty year-olds who try to relate to their angsty twelve year-old daughters?  Is that where we're at?  Guys?

Anyway, I've been thinking on this topic, and I think I've figured out why zombies are pretty much here to stay.  It has to do with The Apocalypse.

Naturally, every zombie movie is also simultaneously an Apocalypse movie.  The two concepts are intertwined more often than not, because how can you have zombies without the world ending, and how can you have the world end without zombies?

It's definitely tiresome.  I seem to recall that The Onion had a pretty good piece that sums up my attitude, but I can't find a link to it.  Something like, "Zombie Outbreak Lasts 24 Hours: Everybody Prepared."  We're past the point where the threat can be believably destructive.

But when you stop and think about it, zombies are pretty much a perfect premise for the Apocalypse.  The reason we keep going back to the well isn't necessarily because we like the monsters - it's because we're just stuck for a good alternative.

There's a few key ingredients to tell a story with a believable Apocalyptic tone and mood.  First of all, the setup needs to be powerful and destructive - it's not almost-Apocalyptic, after all.  At the same time, it needs to have enough room for hope or else you're effectively killing any sense of tension.  Knowing that there's no chance of survival is every bit as dull as knowing that there's no chance of death.

It can't be a one-time event; it needs to be a constant and prolonged threat.  Otherwise you're not telling an Apocalyptic story, you're telling the story of rebirth and renewal.  Completely different.  So one-time natural disasters like a supervolcano or solar flare or whatever aren't going to work.

You also need something that would spread wide enough to kill most people anywhere, but not everyone everywhere.  It should also be something that renders the planet uninhabitable except for a few restricted or qualified areas (like an underground bunker).  Preferably it would be something that disrupts travel or at least makes it burdensome.  Otherwise there's not much dread, is there?  You could just be like, "Guess I'm going to go live in the not-shitty forest next door."

It needs to be something sturdy and nearly-indestructible; something that is far easier to run away from than it is to fight.  This is why vampires don't work so well - sure, they could kill lots of humans, but all we really need to do is hunt them during the day with a shitload of wooden stakes.  That's comparatively easy.  Ditto werewolves and mummies and goblins and all the other generic monster hordes.

Ideally it would be something that calls into question the purpose of rebuilding society, but not something that totally prohibits it.  And the more personal the threat, the better.

When you look at those requirements, it becomes clear that the two best scenarios for an apocalyptic movie are nuclear war / fallout and zombies.  Not coincidentally, that's pretty much all we ever get.  And since our generation grew up without the news constantly telling us that somebody's about to push The Button, why wouldn't we flock to zombies?

So the challenge is clear.  We need a good alternative, but zombies are a hard act to top.  Can we come up with a better apocalypse?

I don't necessarily have a good answer for that here.  It's something I've been working at - believe me, as a writer, I'd love to have the brilliant and influential idea that creates an entirely new subgenre of horror and/or science fiction - but I just haven't come up with a Eureka! moment I can sell.

In the meantime, I put the question out to you.  What do you think?  Any good non-zombie surrogates that do all the same things as zombies without being boring as hell?