If you find yourself "jonesing" for your Walking Dead fix, and if Sunday night seems just a little too far away, then this post is for you. Keep in mind, however, the following important points:
1. You are not alone.
The show is a juggernaut. It is the hottest television program among 18-49 year olds throughout the entire country, and it has kicked the you-know-what out of stalwarts, like Sunday Night Football, on more than one occasion. Why this is the case is the subject of much debate. For the purposes of this post, that debate is irrelevant. Just know that you can make it until Sunday. I know you can. I'm a doctor.
2. Themes that are central to The Walking Dead have shown up in mainstream and art house films with increasing regularity, and also of course pre-date the show itself.
That's because these themes are nothing new. The Walking Dead hardly has a monopoly on existential concepts like self and other, or religion or how icky it is to see decomposing flesh.
I must also issue this disclaimer:
This list is not -- in fact could not possibly be -- exhaustive. My goal is to get you ready for Sunday night with some stuff that you might not have seen. In the spirit of shared ideas, please do write me comments for alternative suggestions. The idea is to spread the wealth of our iterative knowledge. We can all play this game. Just, and I'm begging you here, no spoilers.
So, arranged as a function of thematic content, based on Eastern Standard Time, and taking into consideration the limited hours of the day, as well as my desire that you spend at least some time going to the bathroom and being with your family (and, hopefully, not concurrently), let's get started.
THEME 1: Are you really you?
It feels a bit like cheating to start here. This is the grand theme of the whole show, so, to some extent, we could build our entire list around this theme only. Still, there are other ideas worth parsing separately from this central issue, so let's give the whole identity theme a unique and primary place in our cannon.
Martin -- 1977, 96 minutes
9:00 a.m. to 10:36 a.m.
This movie is first for all kinds of reasons. For starters, it is a non-zombie film created by the creator of the modern zombie. George A. Romero's vampire movie Martin is perhaps the best horror film you've never seen. Once you see it, you'll count it among the best horror films, period. The crippling uncertainty of defining yourself regardless of how the world might peg you is taken to both beautiful and terrifying new heights in this gem. Because there quite simply wouldn't be a show called The Walking Dead if not for Mr. Romero's formidable imagination, and because Mr. Romero played with the now accepted tenets of the zombie trope in settings far afield from the zombie story, you owe to yourself and to the zombie genre to watch this film. But plan ahead. You'll probably have to visit the library or a local video store to find a copy. Because of distribution issues, the movie is hard to come by in a streaming or downloadable format. That trip to the library is worth it. Trust me.
Honeymoon -- 2014, 87 minutes
11:00 a.m. to 12:27 p.m.
OK. Not the most original horror flick, and, like lots of horror flicks, it gets a bit derivative. But when your derivatives are drawn from movies like Evil Dead 2 and the transformative horror of Cronenberg's The Fly, you're in good company. Find me the newly married couple that hasn't wondered if they've each married who they think they've married. How well do you really know this stranger with whom you've committed to spending your life? I'm telling you, this movie can get under your skin, even if you've seen different versions of it about a thousand times before.
The One I Love -- 2014, 91 minutes
1:00 p.m. to 2:31 p.m.
This one is sneaky. I still debate with my friends whether it is most appropriately categorized as horror, or comedy or both. I find the movie incredibly unsettling, and I can't stop thinking about its ability to play with the metaphor of the idealized partner, versus the one that you end up with. Plus, Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss are fantastic. It's a high-brow movie that feels more like a staged play, and I challenge anyone who is coupled with anyone else not to feel just a bit uncomfortable as the movie moves towards its inevitable finale.
THEME 2: The Terror and Paradoxical Exhilaration of Increasing Isolation
The Kings of Summer -- 2013, 95 minutes
3:00 p.m. to 4:35 p.m.
This is not a horror movie, but it could be. If things went just a teeny bit differently, the protagonists in this film could end up in some pretty awful circumstances. I include The Kings of Summer here because it captures so well the excitement I've heard people express when they discuss the survivalist ethos that would necessarily characterize a zombie pandemic. We'd have to break down this towering infrastructure that we've come to take for granted, they say. We'd have to live off the land! We'd plant beans! We'd raise pigs! Sound familiar?)
These ideas are particularly attractive to adolescents as they separate from their parents and forge their own identities. That's why some of our most iconic stories are about just getting the hell away. Why does the image of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn simply floating down that river hold up so well? You could add zombies to the story, and Huck would still have a good ol' time.
Ravenous -- 1999, 101 minutes
5:00 p.m. to 6:41 p.m.
I adore this film. There's definitely some comedy here, but it is also at times absolutely terrifying. You'll get your share of guts and hunger, all in the remote regions of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the mid 1800s. There's no modern infrastructure, and there's no one to hear you scream. Think Ridley Scott's Alien in a particularly gory Western. After all, we're getting close to 9:00 p.m. It's time to break out the guts and cannibalism. You can really only hold out for so long.
Theme 3: What Don't I Know? Who's Running This Show?
Coherence -- 2013, 89 minutes
7:00 p.m. to 8:29 p.m.
Okay. It's not really fair for me to put this movie so late in the line-up. I know of no one who has seen this film and then not gone right back to the beginning to watch it again. The production is sparse and riveting, again more like a play than a movie, and the lines are reportedly entirely ad-libbed. To use a bit of vernacular, the themes and the authenticity of the otherwise outlandish story utterly screw with your mind. You'll question the very meaning of existence after seeing this movie, and if you let your mind wander, you'll find your way into the existential maze of religion and an honest reckoning with all that we just plain don't know.
Now you have 30 minutes or so until the premiere. That's plenty of time to take a shower and get ready. Grab a bite to eat and settle onto the couch. Rick's gotta get out of that cattle car somehow.
Steve Schlozman is the author of the novel The Zombie Autopsies which has been optioned for adaptation to film by George Romero.