This week I talked with an old classmate, Tracy Tidwell, about zombies. In high school, I never really knew he liked horror movies as much as he does. Strange the things you find out so many years later.
Tidwell is a TV Production and Technical Theatre teacher at Opelika High School in Opelika, Alabama. For those unfamiliar with the geography of the state of Alabama but are acquainted with its football teams, Opelika is the city next to Auburn where the state’s other football team plays. He has been a horror movie buff since the age of 5 when his parents let him watch Poltergeist.
Zombie films became a fast favorite after watching the remake of Night of the Living Dead. The love of the genre also comes from Tidwell’s fascination with apocalyptic fiction and films. He feels that zombie films and stories capture the feelings of desolation that apocalyptic fiction is predicated on. With zombie movies being like apocalyptic film, he says, “[I]nstead of being alone, there are these dead things that make it more challenging to survive in an already impossible situation.”
With so many zombie movies and stories in the world today and more being written and created every year, Tidwell thinks there are still some good zombie stories being told. He points to television shows like The Walking Dead as a litmus test proving “the subgenre is alive and well.” He does believe, however, that zombie fiction and film are beginning to mix the horrific with the comedic. “Shaun of the Dead was able to make me laugh and is still a film about a friendship and love. It’s both scary and hilarious at the same time,” he said. Tidwell says that he feels the low-budget quality of a lot of zombie movies and some of the subgenre’s reliance of straight horror is making many of those pieces of fiction fall flat.
With that being said, Tidwell has some other opinions about his zombies. He prefers them fast and victims of a viral infection like in 28 Days Later, which he states is his favorite zombie movie. “I went to see 28 Days Later, which was being shown on the Quad lawn by Auburn University’s student organization. It blew me away and was the first fast zombie films I can remember seeing,” he recalled. “We got there just as the opening scene played, and so I felt lost as far as the plot was concerned, and the next thing I knew, I’m seeing a singular figure wake up in a hospital equally lost as to what had been happening around him. It mirrored my confusion and made a powerful connection.”
Tidwell also stated that he likes a zombie world where there are two kinds of zombies co-existing in the same place. He said that fast zombies are “alive and victims of a virus” and that the shambling zombies are the reanimated corpses of dead fast zombies. His favorite zombie book series The Morningstar Strain brought this grim zombie worldview to his attention. “Unfortunately, the author died before he completed the series, so I’ll never know how it ends,” he stated. He prefers flesh-eating zombies over those who seek out brains, stating that brain-eating seems “campy and goofy,” but he also finds the fleshing eating “a little thin” as well.
As a teacher, Tidwell says that he has discussed the previously mentioned film 28 Days Later when teaching about planning a production and how music can set a scene. He further stated he discusses other zombie films when talking about subgenres.
There is nothing like a teacher who appreciates a good zombie movie, except maybe a teacher who is a zombie. The last time I checked Tracy wasn’t trying to gobble down any brains, but I wouldn’t put it past him.