Where Are My Keys?

Movies get under your skin. The best ones are the ones you’re ready to dismiss but keep crawling back into your subconscious like roadkill that isn’t quite dead.

Having watched and come to admire these slow-burns (storing them with the other good stuff in the wine cellar) it’s not always easy to distinguish the ones that may not have grabbed you immediately. But the film that will always be the paradigm for me is Night of the Living Dead.

Zombies became my favorite cinematic creatures in the early 1980s. Something about cannibalism at that time was extremely taboo… and just what a nerdy teenage boy needed to shock others and rebel against society’s norm… like all good teenagers should.  

These days, of course, zombie cannibalism is available every Sunday night on AMC with The Walking Dead… a network cornerstone that used to be reserved for the likes of The Wonderful World of Disney, Lawrence Welk, and Hee Haw.

Zombies have lost their punch in some regards… the taboo one at least. It’s a concept I reflect upon obsessively that often leads me to other reasons why the sub-genre is so popular and appealing.

But that’s another blog post.

I saw Dawn of the Dead before Night of the Living Dead. It was before the film was available on video (circa 1982) and the only way to see it was as a “Midnight Movie” at the Kingston 4 in Knoxville, Tennessee. My “date” that evening was Kris Tetzlaff, who left abruptly at the movie’s start (when the afroed tenant bit chunks out of his wife’s tricep and shoulder), fleeing to the neighboring sanctuary of The Rocky Horror Picture Show or Monty Python and The Holy Grail.

Not me. I was riveted… and thus became my obsession with recently deceased cannibals.

Shortly after, I found Night of the Living Dead on videotape and was eager to recapture the breaking of my cerebral hymen AGAIN… this time from the comfort of my living room couch.

Not so much.

The print was grainy, the music was canned, the effects minimal, and most of the acting ridiculously amateur. How could this be a monument in history I wondered, when it left me feeling somewhat bored and deflated.

But then I couldn’t quit thinking about it. At night I would lie in bed and wonder… What if it happened right now? What would you do? Where would you go? Who would you align with? How would you survive?

That was the power of the movie… the concept. And clearly I wasn’t the only one because zombie-culture has inundated us ever since. The Italians vomited a slew of cheap knock-offs in the 1980s. Video games hit in the 90s. Rebirths and reinterpretations came in the new millennium with 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead, etc… all the way down to a weekly television show that has been on Sundays now for nearly a decade.

Did you notice I used the word zombie-culture?

I have digressed a little here. My point was to be about our concept… and why our podcast is called Johnny Has the Keys.

Some dude once said that Shakespeare wrote it all, and everything that followed was just a riff on something he had already written. This is not true. I can name several movies that do not remind me one iota of Shakespeare. Surf Nazis Must Die immediately comes to mind. 

But the concept that dude suggested is completely valid: There is nothing out there that is one hundred percent original. Somewhere—whether it be externally (in the case of film production), or internally (in the case of writing)—there are key elements that a story was either influenced by, or perhaps went on to inspire others. Sometimes both. The parallels are limitless… motif, metaphor, structure, effects, social commentary, humor, creativity… past, present, and future.

Did you notice I used the word key?

So yeah, we took an abrupt and hilarious whisper straight from the lips of catatonic Barbara in Night of the Living Dead—“Johnny has the keys”—and made it our own metaphor for these little connections between works that nerds like me and David obsess over.

I know we’re not alone. Everyone likes finding their keys. It’s a tremendous relief.

Join us.


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