The Vampire-zombies of “I Am Legend”

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The vampire-zombies of I Am Legend mark the beginning of the apocalyptic urban zombie theme, in which an intrepid individual or small group of individuals are paired against a seemingly endless population of antagonistic human undead. The undead of Legend exhibit qualities of both the traditional vampire and that of the modern zombie: They have fangs, possess some level of awareness and social capability and are averse to sunlight, yet they also appear in groups, have a diminished mental capacity, and look similar. The ambiguity of these beings is very important in connection to Kristeva’s theory of the abject, as well as Cohen’s thesis of category crisis. Robert Neville suffers hugely in his solitude, while seemingly human beings roam around outside, calling his name and taunting him. He’s also tormented by his uncontrollable attraction to the female vampires, further blurring the lines used to categorize the monsters. Assigning the vampires as either human or monster is impossible, just as is assigning them as either living or dead.

The homogeneity of these monsters is also notable, making individual characteristics of the central hero especially significant. This is clearly seen in the film version, in which the hyper-whiteness of the vampires contrast with Will Smith’s character Robert Neville. This is also paralleled by the zombie/black hero dynamic in Night of the Living Dead, for which Legend was the main inspiration. The comparison between the distinguished black protagonists of these respective works and the indistinguishable and homogenous white zombies allows for ample commentary on the fear of same-ness that zombies evoke, especially in the 1950s/60s context of these works.

SOURCES

CLASEN, MATHIAS. “Vampire Apocalypse: A Biocultural Critique of Richard Matheson’s i Am Legend.” Philosophy & Literature 34.2 (2010): 313-28. Print.

Khader, Jamil. “Will the Real Robert Neville Please, Come Out? Vampirism, the Ethics of Queer Monstrosity, and Capitalism in Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend ?” Journal of homosexuality 60.4 (2013): 532-57. Print.

Lauro, Sarah Juliet, and Karen Embry. “A Zombie Manifesto: The Nonhuman Condition in the Era of Advanced Capitalism.” Boundary 2 35.1 (2008): 85-108. Print.

McAlister, Elizabeth. “Slaves, Cannibals, and Infected Hyper-Whites: The Race and Religion of Zombies.” Anthropological Quarterly 85.2 (2012): 457-86. Print.

Weinstock, Jeffrey Andrew. “Vampires, Vampires, Everywhere!” Phi Kappa Phi Forum 90.3 (2010): 4-5. Print.

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3 responses to “The Vampire-zombies of “I Am Legend”

  1. I like that you tied back to what we learned in class about Kristeva’s theory of the abject and Cohen’s thesis of category crisis to analyze the vampire-zombies hybrid. I also appreciate your linking the vampire-zombies to the concepts of individualism and race and their portrayal in films like this. I can relate to your monster because of mine, Dr. Freudstein’s neither dead nor living status and his hybridity of a mad scientist turned zombie.

  2. I like the commentary about the homogeneity of the monsters. This is also something that we saw in 28 Weeks Later, and we discussed how that was an issue prevalent in the zombie movies of the Vietnam era (such as Dawn of the Dead). There is definitely a connection between the sociological and political influences of an era and the sort of monstrosity presented in media.

  3. It’s interesting how the zombies are depicted in this movie especially when compared to the movie 28 Weeks Later. In 28 Weeks Later, the zombies appear more human-like than in I Am Legend. This blurs the line even more between normal and infected.

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