One of the things I constantly have to remind myself of is the historical context. I’m reading White Zombie: Anatomy of a Horror Film by Gary D Rhodes. For me, White Zombie with Bela Lugosi is hugely racist, but in the book and comparing the role of African-Americans at the time, it was actually quite good with racial issues. I cringe for the heroine, Madeline, and all the men slobbering over her and wanting to dominate her, but this was an extremely different time for gender too.
Romero’s movies can be the same, although in a lot of cases, Romero did it deliberately. What a sook Barbra is! At least Fran learns a few things about survival, and Sarah is quite capable and intelligent, even in the face(s) of death. Later and later, with Re-Animator and the sequels, men seek to dominate women again, to say little of the nude women of the Italian zombie movies.
It’s most likely been the same throughout history, asking ‘What were they thinking?!’ of earlier generations. But that’s precisely what we have to ask. What were they thinking? What was the historical context? What was the panic of the time? What were the key events that influenced people? There’s always debate over the conscious and unconscious inclusions or exclusions – what is the extent of the influence of events on authors, such as WW1 and Tolkien (Tolkien and the Great War by John Garth is one I’m interested in 🙂 )?
I just bought a new book (always!), an anthology of zombie stories throughout the 20th century and including some of the most famous authors in the genre, Edgar Allen Poe, Lovecraft, Stephen King, Richard Matheson, and then some not so famous. The first is from W B Seabrook, the one considered to be the author that brings zombies into the US – and then the world’s – consciousness. Researching the context is not quite enough, but being aware of your own expectations, bias’ and assumptions when it comes to critiquing the historical.