m. c. de marco: To invent new life and new civilizations...

The Daily Zombie, Episode 2: Fido

I’ve been wanting to see Fido (rated R for “zombie-related violence”) for a while. I was not disappointed in this cross between Shaun of the Dead and Lassie, although the reviews at Rotten Tomatoes were mixed and heavy with allegations that the movie is one idea stretched too far.

That one idea is the zombie control collar. In a technicolor alternate 1950s, space radiation raises the dead and the terrible Zombie War pushes them back down again. Like WWII, the Zombie War leads to peace and prosperity for the survivors, safe behind their chain-link Iron Curtain, with zombie maids, butlers, and gardeners for all. But whenever someone dies of natural causes or a tame zombie’s collar malfunctions, the traditional cheesy carnage ensues.

While superficially the story of a boy, his eponymous pet zombie, and its malfunctioning control collar, I think the movie is really about post-traumatic stress. Timmy’s dad seems to be your stereotypical distant 50s husband and father but his neglect stems from a horrible incident in the Zombie War, as does his obsession with paying for real funerals for his family—heads buried separately. He drives both wife and son into the stiff arms of their new zombie, Fido.

Their new neighbor, a famous war hero and ZomCon security chief played by Henry Czerny, is a sociopathic version of Captain von Trapp from The Sound of Music. Terminally misanthropic, he drags his family from town to town so they won’t get attached to anyone whose head might need some preemptive blowing off later—and that includes each other. When his daughter says “my dad will kill me,” she really means it. You get the feeling there may have been other siblings previously, but in the movie Cindy is a very well-behaved only child.

While Timmy and his mom seem to be relatively sane, even they as civilians are affected by the ongoing zombie cold war. Recess for Timmy consists of target practice. When his zombie accidentally eats a neighbor, Timmy is sorry but by no means traumatized. Nor does he seem to mind when the contagion spreads to more friends and neighbors. Perhaps most interestingly, Timmy never runs away from slobbering zombie death; he just turns his head and closes his eyes until some plot twist comes along to save him.

Mom, for her part, dispatches all comers with an appropriately feminine handgun and a very steady hand, even when they’re Timmy’s undead school chums. She attends the funerals or burns the bodies without shedding a tear. Her determination to have a normal life in the middle of a living hell is heartwarming yet deeply disturbing. Nor do the minor characters have any respect for life; a helpful neighbor provides a distraction at a critical moment by removing a zombie’s control collar, causing at least one death.

It’s the little traumatic details that make the movie: suspicion of the elderly who may die and come back as zombies at any time, target practice for ten-year-olds, overpriced head coffins, zombie milkmen, and of course the tiny signs of affect from the zombies, who—at least while their collars are working—seem so much more human than the living.