By David Templeton | July 5, 2005

Dr. Hugo Pecos has just witnessed the high-concept, stomach-churning gore-fest that is George Romero’s Land of the Dead. Being a renowned expert on zombies, one who was worked to eradicate them from the streets and cities (if not the movies) he has a few issues with the film. He is ready to state, completely on the record, that the latest in Romero’s popular zombie series is deeply troublesome, as it is jam-crammed with factual distortions and dangerous zombie misinformation.

That said, it’s still kind of cool.

“For entertainment value alone, I would give ‘Land of the Dead’ about three stars out of four,” says Pecos, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, “but I’d only give it two stars for educational value, mainly because it gets so many of the facts wrong. Zombies’ capacity for learning has been proven to diminish rapidly after they are infected and transformed, unlike what happens in ‘Land of the Dead,’ where the zombies have started to evolve intellectually and are beginning to learn how to use tools and guns, though they do use them rather badly. Still, none of that is really possible because of the serious degradation of a zombie’s deteriorating brain. In that sense, the movie is misleading, and might cause people to become more fearful of zombies than they really should be.”

Obviously, Dr. Pecos takes zombies very seriously.

As explained in elaborate detail on—the tongue-in-cheek website Pecos erected four years ago as a kicky tribute to the “now-decommissioned” Federal Vampire and Zombie Agency—zombies and vampires were once a major health threat in America, which saw a terrifying increase in American vampire and zombie attacks until the FVZA was formed in 1868 by President Ulysses S. Grant. The highly amusing, well-conceived, insanely clever site has all the “facts,” from detailed descriptions of vampire and zombie biology (did you know that the zombie virus was originally spread by ticks?) to the successful development of a zombie vaccine in 1911. There’s a photo of RFK in the White House rose garden announcing the imminent extermination of all vampirism (a premature pronouncement, it turns out) and even a report on Andy Warhol’s little known attack by a Factory vampire. In person or on the phone, Pecos, who will gladly swap vampire and zombie stories over his active on-line discussion forums—and maybe sell a sexy FVZA baseball cap or “Got Zombies?” T-shirt along the way—comes off exactly as described on the site: a slightly elderly, cordially reserved professor with a lot of hard-won knowledge to share, and more than a few no-nonsense opinions. As for “Land of the Dead,” in which post-apocalyptic city-dwellers John Leguizamo, Simon Baker, and Dennis Hopper fend off a hoard of angry, tool-waving, justice-seeking zombies who are as capable of committing compassionate zombie euthanasia as they are hungry for steaming human entrails, Pecos insists the premise is just not credible.

“Immediately after infection, zombies lose a lot of gray matter,” Pecos says. “They simply cannot regain any lost brain function. Zombies are frightening, yes, but in reality they are not formidable adversaries. They just sort of stagger toward you, till they get shot in the head by some guy with a rifle. And yet movies like this one always invent reasons to make people believe zombies are more resourceful then they are, and that there could be some widespread zombie outbreak. In ‘Land of the Dead,’ outside the walls of the city, out in the suburbs, the zombies are pretty much running the show. Historically, zombie outbreaks are usually very self-limiting, and even in our worst-case scenarios, it’s quite unlikely that we’d ever see anything on the scale of ‘Dawn of the Dead’ or ‘Land of the Dead’.”

I feel safer already. Thus comforted, I now have a few meaty Land-of-the-Dead-inspired questions for the good doctor.

“Are zombies actually distracted by the sight of fireworks, as they are in the early part of this movie?” I ask.

“Yes,” Pecos replies, with authority ringing in his voice. “Zombies have a strong reaction to certain stimuli, sounds in particular, which is why a chainsaw is a very effective weapon against zombies, because of the loud motor. So fireworks would definitely prove distracting.”

“Do zombies ever get full, because in movies like this one, they seem to have unlimited stomach capacity?”

“Zombies do get full, of course they do,” Dr, Pecos says. “But that doesn’t mean a full zombie isn’t still dangerous. Zombies are sort of like bears. When bears have stuffed themselves with enough salmon, they’ll keep catching fish, but they’ll only eat the eyes and the brains. Just like zombies. When there’s fresh food around, they keep eating, but if and when they get full, they’ll just eat the brains and leave the rest, because brains are the most nutritious for them.”

“According to your records, how many zombies currently exist in the United States?”

“People ask that a lot,” the doctor replies. “I would have to say that at the moment, there are zero identifiable zombies in the U.S. It’s been a long time since there was any confirmed account of a zombie in the states, even in areas with swamps and warm climates, where zombies have been known to be common. As for vampires, worldwide, I’d put the number at less than 500. That’s just an educated guess.”

Finally . . .

“Is it wrong to feel sorry for a zombie?” I ask. “Because in ‘Land of the Dead,’ where the military uses them for target practice and promoters pit them against people as carnival attractions, I kind of felt bad for them.”

“It’s not wrong, it’s human,” Pecos assures. “You have to remember that they had a life before they were afflicted, they had families and loved ones, hopes and dreams. Zombies are tragic, and they deserve our pity.”

David Templeton takes interesting people to interesting movies in his ongoing quest for the ultimate post-film conversation. This is not a review; rather, it’s a freewheeling, tangential discussion of life, alternative ideas, and popular culture.

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