Impact of… One of the scariest short film in modern horror history: Zombie by Thomas Caruso
Imagine a video camera sitting in a non-descript room. The man sitting before it through insane eyes, a twisted smile as well as a casual but structured posture is quietly dangerous. He is recording his thoughts, plans and story, wanting you to know after his dreams come true, why he would do this. Released from a facility and under house arrest, he is a prisoner only to those who can monitor him from a far, otherwise he plotting and learning. His name is Quentin P and we only have a slight idea what heinous things he has done before his video journal entries have started. Staring into the camera lens during each solitary entry, his focus is precise and you are the only witness. His obsession so palpable, his mind so fixated on his routine and sole purpose in life… to capture his zombie. Who is a zombie? What could that mean? As you watch each moment of this short film, it becomes so clear and so scary that the zombie might be you…
For brilliant and well respected author Carol Joyce Oates, readers and peers understand her edgy, powerful and dark storytelling during her long and impactful career. “Zombie,” which was adapted from a full length novel and brought to terrifying life as a short film in 2010 was directed and co-produced by Thomas Caruso along with co-producer, writer and actor Bill Connington.
For me, this is the scariest short film to ever be produced. To understand how this short film impacted me, I go back five years to the first time that I watched “Zombie” as part of the horror film festival “Shriekfest”. I had no idea what to expect with this short film but knowing that the term zombie had become something of a generic and overused term within horror. I sat down and witnessed one of the most disturbing and realistic portrayals (with next to no special or practical FX/makeup or blood) of a serial killer unlike anything I’d seen before. It brought back childhood fears and he was not a Freddy, Jason, Leatherface or Michael, he was as real a person as you could imagine next door. I thought about Gacy, and of course Dahmer who this short film and source material had influence from. It impacted me so greatly because of three well-crafted aspects in the film. Location, cinematography and of course the character of Quentin portrayed by the talented Connington.
In a short film like this where the monster is the main focus, you might find side players or cattle to fill in the lineup, up the body count or build relationships. Not a chance as Caruso, Connington, Oates and crew knew how to adapt the micro aspect of this book showing you insight into a madman. Now think back for a minute to what you visually think of as a monster… “Last House on the Left” or “Maniac” or “Henry”? Connington’s brilliance and impact came in the fact that Quentin P was as mild mannered, controlled and obsessed in the most mundanely dangerous way.
Wearing a casual outfit, a very thin face and body, combed over hair and a bit oversized reading glasses, you simply shake knowing the reality of that man could be anywhere and can blend in the light or dark watching. Through the darkness, Quentin tells you, shows and shares with you the evil he has been waiting to release with his habit… his obsession… his zombie. Within that series of monologues, you learn that his face is just a mask with the real devil showing through his eyes, pronouncing his words and twisting in his smile to bait, hunt, capture and insert his will on his zombie. With such a character, you forget everything else but the dialogue, motive and presence put forth by Connington. The location, soundscape and intimate camera work gets lost in the terror and tension that is roping around your neck pulling you into the spider hole of a neighborhood that again could be the one you live in. The normalcy, the mundane reflect so well in the buildings, streets, residents and Quentin’s layer he is resolved to call home. The score blends into the heartbeat as each moment goes by, a new set of ideas and steps are revealed and achieved with the camera focus causing the illusion of it just being you and him. With that final straight razor gaze, the walls of the neighborhood draw in on you. Before you know it, your breath releases and you realize the screams are not from him but his zombie now caught in the web of the spider Quentin is. As you close your eyes and realize what has happened, your soul darkens a bit watching this true portrait of serial killer brought to life from a book. Watch if you dare “Zombie” right now!
I know it has never left me, will it impact you the same?