2004: That zombie baby from that Dawn of the Dead remake was creepy, but awesome!
2018: Oh god no…
I enjoy doing a thought experiment as I’m watching/playing horror movies and games. Like I imagine what many normal human beings tend to do, I like thinking about what my chances of survival would be if I were the one trying get out alive. It’s just me messing around, done for a laugh, and it helps me get into the story. When I was single, as well as married without children, I could envision myself potentially making it through to the end, or at the very least getting pretty damn close. I still have fun doing this for the most part, but after the birth of my child, I’m noticing I’m having a growing unease when I watch/play certain kinds of horror stories. Adding the kiddo to the mental calculus makes everything more difficult and emotionally taxing, and takes away one of the reasons why I like the genre.
I can still watch slasher films and their ilk without much trouble; it’s the ones that deal with an extinction level threat, like a outbreak of a deadly disease or a good old fashioned zombie apocalypse, that make me uneasy now. With a villain like Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees, the murder spree is limited to a small area. Granted, you REALLY don’t want to be in that area unless you don’t mind being eviscerated or bashed against a tree while you’re still in your sleeping bag, but at the very least it is contained in one spot and once you’re out of it, it’s over.
A pandemic scenario like what’s in 28 Days Later or the Dead Space series does not give that piece of mind. The infection does not stop spreading once it’s released, and unlike slasher antagonists, it knows no boundaries and will kill anything in its way, including babies. As a dad, this lack of restraint gives me the jibblies, as I now get a newfound level of stress in what used to be one of my favorite pastimes. Instead of a fun “what if” bit of daydreaming, it’s now much more worrisome.
Imagine, if you will, the aforementioned zombie apocalypse happens tomorrow, and everyone is trying to make it out in one piece. Right at the outset, my spouse and I are at a severe disadvantage by having a small child. It’s no fault of their own, but having a kiddo makes us easy zombie chow:
- They don’t know when to be quiet.
- They don’t keep a regular sleeping schedule.
- They tend to wander off without a second thought.
- No amount of explaining the situation will make them understand what’s going on and they will still do the same life-threatening behaviors over and over again.
They are adorable and lovely, but young children will scream at the top of their lungs over the most trivial things while trodding through the woods on their own if you’re not careful, forcing you to run after them in an insomnia-induced fog to keep them safe. Zombies in a 100 mile radius will be shambling towards us and gnawing on our tasty, tasty brains in no time, guaranteed. Don’t get me wrong; much like Lee from the The Walking Dead would do for Clementine, I’ll protect my baby from a whole horde by myself if I have to.
It’s just that children will make post-apocalyptic life that much more difficult. Clementine has the benefit of being old enough to learn how to defend herself and become a capable person pretty quickly, while my kiddo doesn’t have that kind of adaptability at the moment. Realizing that I’m no longer a good candidate for survival is a bummer for sure and takes away from the joy of thinking about these things.
What’s a bigger bummer, though, is the mental stress of imagining what would happen should I fail to protect my family. To illustrate this, let’s look at the first Dead Space, you’re introduced to this charmer: a lurker.
A lurker is a necromorph that arises from infant corpses. This is what my beautiful, sweet child would horrifically transform into in a matter of seconds after being butchered in front of my eyes. As soon as the transformation is complete, it would try to brutally kill me and everyone else nearby. The same can be said about that zombie baby from Dawn of the Dead if it had the strength, mobility, and teeth to do any real damage. Just writing those sentences made me a little queasy. These innocent youngins who can’t possibly defend themselves not only die gruesomely, but then are reshaped into nightmareish murder machines. The emotional strain to prevent their death would get to me, and I think it would lead us to ruin. Envisioning that scenario just overwhelms me with dread, and I start feeling guilty for failing to protect them and letting this horror befall them. This is a sense of guilt, mind you, that is based on a something that can’t and never will happen.
In what used to be a fun thought experiment on how I would fare in an apocalyptic universe, I now experience a level of anxiety that makes want to stop watching and playing this subgenre of horror. I know that this is all ridiculous and over the top, but my dadness is now preventing from fully embracing it. Do any of you out there do these kinds of mental exercises when you’re watching a horror movie or playing a game? If you’re a parent, have you ever experienced this kind of dread?