“It’s Sense & Sensibility & Sleestacks Now” The Max Brooks Interview, Part Two

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AT: As Mel Brooks’ son, did any of your dad’s work get you interested in horror?

MB: No. If anything, it was a detriment when The Zombie Survival Guide came out. People didn’t know what to make of it so they would say, “Well, he’s Mel Brooks’ son. Mel is funny. And, he wrote for SNL. That show’s funny. He’s being funny.” Plus, SNL had just won an Emmy. So add in “Emmy-winning writer.” I can take about as much credit for winning that Emmy as my father can for winning World War ll. We were both on the winning teams when it happened, but that’s about as far as it goes.

AT: It’s still a great accomplishment, but it’s almost got to be separate.

MB: Exactly. Yes, he is my dad. Yes, I wrote on SNL. But no, I did not mean to be funny. I did not sit in a room in a room for a year, typing away, thinking, “Wow, this is funny!” I thought, “Okay, what if they come up the stairs? What if I run out of bullets? What about water? What about food?” That’s how it worked.

AT: My hope is that in 200 years, someone finds a copy of this book and just shockingly wonders what the hell happened.

MB: That’s the goal. The goal was literally, that if you didn’t know zombies were fake and you picked up this book and read it you would say, “Oh, now I’m ready.” I do the same thing in my self-defense lectures, play it straight. I walk in and go, “This is what I do.”

AT: While writing a column, I once had someone tell me that zombie lore was offensive to traditional Haitian culture. Have you encountered anything like that?

MB: Well my zombies, the Romero zombies, are technically not zombies. Technically, they’re ghouls. “Zombie” means something completely different. A zombie means someone who has been zombified, and those zombies are totally harmless. They’ll mow your lawn. If you go the spiritual route, they have been literally raised from the dead to serve you. If you go back to the old movies, White Zombie and I Walk With A Zombie, they’re not flesh eaters, they work on a sugar cane plantation. They’re cheap labor. They just happen to be dead so you don’t have to pay medical.

And if you notice, in Night Of The Living Dead they never say zombie. They didn’t say zombie until Dawn of the Dead, once. Just once.

AT: They didn’t really say “zombie” until the early 80s, right?

MB: Right, until Day Of The Dead came out. Then, Return Of The Living Dead came out and almost killed the genre. It killed it for about 20 years. It did for zombies what the 60s Batman series did for The Dark Knight. It drove it so far into campville, that it was a long time digging out of that hole.

AT: I haven’t seen Survival Of The Dead yet. Have you?

MB: Oh yeah. He’s still got it. It’s still got the social commentary. If you watch a Romero zombie movie, your instinct should be: “What’s wrong with you assholes? Get your shit together.”

AT: I thought the island was a really interesting locale.

MB: Yeah, you’re on an island. There should be no problems. Except, there are problems. And that’s what Romero always does. These people have it within their means to survive, but because they’re weak and human, they screw it all up.

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