My first boyhood crush was on a dead man. He was a zombie named Quentin Collins, with eyes that pierced my gay soul and sideburns the size of the Florida peninsula. He stalked across my TV screen on weekday afternoons at precisely 3:30, when the series "Dark Shadows" introduced me to all manner of vampires, werewolves and ghouls.
Quentin was dreamy (literally, since he spent a lot of time staring into space in a zombie trance), and had a lonesome, lost quality I recognized but couldn't yet identify. I saved allowance money for the album ("Quentin's Theme" should be played at my wedding, or my memorial, whichever comes first), and replaced the Bobby Sherman poster in my bedroom for one of Barnabas Collins, the series' vampire star.
Zombies are deeply misunderstood, in my mind. They're frightening outcasts who serve as ideal stand-ins for things we fear or don't understand. Things like death. Or gay people. Or disease. Or getting a disease from gay people that could lead to death.
(Watch Video after the jump)
When Night of the Living Dead opened in 1968 as a cheap matinee feature in movie theaters, stunned audiences watched a group of terrified people in a farmhouse being attacked by the recently departed -- who wanted to eat their flesh. We met the ghouls, and they were us.
The film had a fatalism that was hard to believe for its time. Everyone dies. Everyone is shot or eaten. When Day of the Dead opened in 1985, zombies and their deadly contagion were forever associated with the growing horror of AIDS. It was a connection that took me many years to shake.
I just finished creating video segments for a stage production for Halloween in Shreveport, Louisiana of Night of the Living Dead. The show, is directed by my brother Dick, who is also gay (yes, I have a gay brother named Dick King. Insert your own joke here). The play also takes place in the farmhouse, and the action outside their close quarters -- the graveyard, the scenes in the basement -- is shown as video projections onto the set. It's a cool concept, actually, and allowed me to pay homage to the film by recreating its scenes as best I could.
Dick is remounting the production after a smashing run last year, during which my brother and I appeared on the local morning news -- I played straight man while Dick hammed it up as a hungry zombie gnawing body parts. It was hilarious but perhaps a bit gruesome for the breakfast hour.
For your guilty pleasure, here's a :55 second promo I produced for the production at East Bank Theater in Louisiana. If you've ever dreamed of visiting beautiful downtown Bossier City, home of the Horse Shoe Casino and plenty of Narcotics Anonymous meetings, there are zombies (live?) onstage calling your name...
Watching flicks like these as a teenager, it was never the killing that attracted me. It was the mysterious, gruesome, self-loathing monster. Here I was, in the midst of full pubescent hormonal freak out, with a body revolting against me and perverse carnal desires. I didn't just sympathize with the Alien and Pinhead and Freddy, I wanted to take them to lunch and find out how they managed to make it through the day.
Critics be damned, the recent remake of Clash of the Titans delivered the monsters (look! monster scorpions the size of Winnebagos!) and had its share of thrilling moments.
Consider Liam Neeson as Zeus, growling with magnificence as he commands "Release the Kraken!" No three cinematic words since "you complete me" have so enraptured my senses, and they are worth the wait. The Kraken gets unleashed and all manner of body parts start flying.
I stand by my gay monster metaphors, because the Kraken is just a lonely gay kid, too, lashing out for attention. You should have seen the stir I created at the 1977 Junior Homecoming when I arrived, the school's weird gay creature, wearing khakis tucked into platform boots Frankenstein would have envied. I relished in unsettling the crowd and seeing the jaws drop and the fingers pointing at the beast. No Kraken could have cleared the dance floor as fast as my solo disco moment, just before being chased to my car.
It's hard running in platform boots. I could have used some monster scorpions for backup.