I have written before of our love of the game Plants Vs. Zombies. Well, I recently wiped the drive on our game machine and upgraded to Windows 7, which meant reinstalling, and rediscovering, a bunch of games we hadn’t played in a while. Plants Vs Zombies in particular has gotten a lot of replay this last week. The game really has a great sense of humor. For example, one of the types of zombies that start shambling across your lawn is the Dancer Zombie, instantly recognizable as Michael Jackson. He has the power to summon Backup Dancer Zombies repeatedly, and is, therefore, a particularly dangerous zombie. He even has his own spotlight and theme song.
So, yesterday, I’m bustling about the yurt, Luc is playing the game, and Sophie starts doing a perfect version of Dancer Zombie’s dance, which is, of course, directly from Michael’s famous dance moves in the Thriller video. You know the part with the claw-hands up on each side, the march, the up-on-the-toes move, moonwalking… I was laughing so hard—she has a remarkable physical-mimicry ability. I started doing my own pitiful version and singing, “Thriller! Thriller night!” But she, having only seen the game, didn’t know the song.
What? How could she not know that song? I mean, of course she doesn’t know that song, she’s five years old, for heaven’s sake, but that song, and its video, was so HUGE when I was growing up! I was in the eighth grade and I remember looking at a friend’s copy of the album (albums! made with vinyl!) with the double spread of Michael in that white suit. Whatever happened to him later in his life/career—at that moment in time, I thought he was just terrific.
So, it simply wasn’t possible for Sophie to not know Thriller. “Girl,” I said, “I’ve got something you have to see.”
Ten seconds later, we’re youtubing “Thriller” and there is super-young Michael with the movie-within-a-movie bit, and that crazy red jacket. Sophie says, “Hey, his jacket is just like Dancer Zombie’s jacket!”
“No, dollface. Dancer Zombie’s jacket is just like Michael’s. Michael came first.” I tell her about my pre-teen friends and I singing “Thriller” and “Beat it” and doing the moves, watching the videos, making our hair big, wearing shoulder-pads…those were the days, right?
Then, on the laptop, Vincent starts his monologue and the zombies start crawling out of the graves, and at first it’s hilarious because it’s just like the game. But then, wow, I had forgotten how freaky they looked, how gross the make-up, how piercing the girl’s screams…. woops. Too late now. “Um, is this too scary?”
“No!” says Sophie, but Luc, who had come over to see what this was all about, is looking nervous.
“When this came out,” I said, “everyone was amazed at the make-up, how real and scary it looked. I wonder what it was like to be one of those actors they hired to play a zombie and to get all that weird make-up put on?” And I’m watching them, Luc particularly, to see if he’s getting too spooked. He looks fascinated, but a ten-car pile up is fascinating, too, and maybe you don’t need to see that when you’re four, right?
“But how do they make it look like blood is running out of their mouths?” says Sophie.
“I don’t know, must be something that doesn’t taste too bad to the actor.”
“I bet it’s chocolate,” says Luc, watching, thoughtful. “Chocolate looks like that if you leave it in your mouth until it melts.”
Gross. But true. “They came up with how to put on this zombie make-up and they made rubber bits and glued them onto the actor’s faces to make it look like they have those lumpy faces and they put them in old muddy clothes—”
“It’s all make-up?” says Sophie.
“Yes. The actors look like normal people when they wash it all off.”
Shocked, Luc says, “It washes off?!”
He’s so relieved! “Yep.” I figure, take the scare-power away by revealing the illusion, the man behind the curtain. Also, the pause button helps.
We all watch some more.
Then here comes the zombie who’s arm falls off, remember him? “Look! His arm fell off, just like in the game!” says Sophie.
“If there were zombies in our yard,” says Luc, “I would use a Hypnoshroom on them.” That’s a weapon from the game.
“Good,” says I. “Got to have a zombie contingency plan.”
“The zombies are slow,” says Sophie, “why don’t Michael and the girl run away? Why do they just stand there and wait for the zombies to get them?”
“Good question. You know, I think the idea of zombies is kind of scarier because they’re slow.”
Luc says, “Well, the Michael zombie seems faster. If you hypno the Michael zombie, then all his back-up zombies get hypnoed, too. I’d put them back into their graves with a hypno and then I’d put a zombie watch-dog to guard it.”
But then Michael and the dancers start doing the dance—that famous dance!—and the kids go nuts! Sophie jumps up, copying the moves, Luc is jumping up and down on the bed. “It’s the dance! It’s just like the game!”
Pause button again. This required immediate costumes.
Paul’s tie, an old t-shirt, one shoe (zombie’s always have one shoe), and of course, the claw-hand up on the side dance move.
Luc decided he would be a zombie fighter. Sophie ran to get him a helmet, “Because zombies are only interested in your brains. So that’s the thing you need to protect.”
See his Whammer Hammer? Good for whacking zombies. I love how they work out whatever they are thinking about, by playing it through. A good life strategy.
Sophie says, “I’m trying not to blink because zombies don’t need to blink because they are already dead.”
Luc says, “Sophie, I wack you in slow-motion and you die.” He wacks her. She falls slowly to the floor, and he says, “I hit you and you died. You fall down and stick your tongue out.” Sophie sticks her tongue out.
I turn the video back on and we watch the conclusion where the girl is all scared, but then, psyche! it’s all a dream…or is it?
Luc looks worried again. “Do you think he was really a zombie, Mommy? Or was it a dream?”
“I think the writers of this zombie story meant for it to be unclear. They make you feel all safe when Michael wakes the girl up and everything is normal, but then they scare you again with the freaky yellow eye thing. I guess they thought that was a better ending, more spooky.”
Now he looks thoughtful again. “I don’t think, in that zombie story, that the zombies can get on the roof.” Which they can do in the game.
“I think you’re right.”
“If I was writing a zombie story, I’d have Michael be a normal person in the end.”
How cool that he keeps giving himself power over the zombies! First by being a zombie fighter, then by killing a Sophie-zombie, then by rewriting the story so it ended the way he wanted it to end. “Sounds good,” I say. “I like that ending.”
Sophie says, “I’m not a zombie, but I am going to perform as a zombie on tv. Mom, I need make-up. And chocolate.”
And Luc says, “Can we watch it again?”