Hamlet: Then is doomsday near! But your news is not true. Let me question more in particular. What have you, my good friends, deserved at the hands of Fortune that she sends you to prison hither?
Rosencrantz: Prison, my lord?
Hamlet: Denmark’s a prison.
Rosencrantz: Then is the world one.
Hamlet: A goodly one; in which there are many confines, wards, and dungeons, Denmark being one o’ th’ worst.
Rosencrantz: We think not so, my lord.
Hamlet: Why, then ’tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison.
Rosencrantz: Why, then your ambition makes it one. ‘Tis too narrow for your mind.
Hamlet: O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.
Rosencrantz: Which dreams indeed are ambition; for the very substance of the ambitious is merely the shadow of a dream.
Hamlet: A dream itself is but a shadow.
Rosencrantz: Truly, and I hold ambition of so airy and light a quality that it is but a shadow’s shadow.
Hamlet: Then are our beggars bodies, and our monarchs and outstretch’d heroes the beggars’ shadows.
Oil on canvas.
So I’m introducing a dear friend tonight to “28 Days Later” (2002). It is possibly my favorite horror film of all time, maybe even narrowly beating out “Aliens” (1986), “Alien 3” (1992), John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (1982), the Sutherland-tacular 1978 version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” and George A. Romero’s first three “Dead” films (1968, 1978, 1985). (Whenever “Star Wars” fans refer to their “Holy Trilogy,” I muse inwardly that those last three are its equivalent for zombie horror fans.)
My friend thinks it’s funny that I refer to “28 Days Later” as “my sacred cow.” I’ll be crestfallen if she does not like it, and I told her as much. And that’s weird for me … I usually don’t feel let down when someone doesn’t enjoy the same books, movies or music that I do. Not everything is for everyone. Art would lose its mystique if it weren’t subjective. If all art appealed to all people, it would lose all its appeal altogether.
Part of me feels, unconsciously perhaps, that “28 Days Later” is the kind of film that “redeems” the horror genre (even though no genre needs such redemption — if art is well made or if it affects people, then it’s just fine).
Most comic book fans of my generation can tell you how people can occasionally roll their eyes at their favorite medium. (Comics have far greater mainstream acceptance today than when I started reading them in the 1990’s.) For horror fans, it’s sometimes worse. Horror is a genre that is easily pathologized — and sometimes with good reason, because a portion of what it produces is indeed cheap or exploitative. I wish I could accurately describe for you the looks I’ve gotten when acquaintances find out that I’m a horror fan. They aren’t charitable.
“28 Days Later” and movies like it are so good that they elevate horror to a level that demands respect from the uninitiated. It is an intrinsically excellent film — it just happens to have a sci-f-/horror plot setup and setting. It’s beautifully directed by Danny Boyle, it’s perfectly scored and it’s masterfully performed by its cast — most notably by Cillian Murphy and Brendan Gleeson.
I remember getting excited about seeing “Day of the Triffids” (1962) for the first time. It was the early 2000’s, and the advent of DVD-by-mail services enabled me to hunt down all the various apocalyptic sci-fi movies I’d heard about as a kid — including a few that I’d only seen portions of, because I’d tuned in late. (The local video stores I’d grown up with had some of these films, but not all — and my interest in the sub-genre was truly exhaustive.)
“Day of the Triffids” was mildly disappointing. It was positively lethargic for an end-of-the-world monster tale, even if those monsters were slow-moving plants. (It’s a good bet that John Wyndham’s 1951 source novel did a better job with the story concept.)
I ordered this DVD through Blockbuster Video. Here’s a little movie industry trivia for you — Blockbuster briefly had a DVD-by-mail offer that was better than the one pioneered by Netflix. (You actually got more movies out of it, and you got them quicker.) But this was around the end of the prior decade; Netflix had already won the war for the home movie market, while Blockbuster was suffering its first location-closing death rattles. And the DVD-by-mail business model was itself becoming largely obsolete, anyway — the twin threats of Redbox kiosks and online movies saw to that.