Zombies, Hollywood, & Poker

The public’s fascination with zombies is rooted in an underlying irony. Hollywood recycles genres every decade or so, which explains the influx of zombie-themed films. During the 1950s and 1960s, movie houses across America featured a plethora of B-flicks, including classic zombie films by Edward Cahn. In the late 1970s, low-budget filmmakers cranked out another batch of zombie flicks, many of which found a second life as home rentals in the 1980s courtesy of the VCR.

These days, all things zombie are kitschy again. “Zombieland”. “World War Z”. “The Walking Dead”. “28 Days Later”. “Shaun of the Dead”.

Zombies. Zombies. Zombies.

Zombies are everywhere, and I’m not talking about the lifeless geriatric ones you’ll see in Las Vegas hunched over slot machines. Nope. I’m talking about the rancid, flesh-devouring cannibalistic monsters that hunt down and devour the few remaining humans in a postapocalyptic world.

Although the zombie genre features the undead feasting upon the living, a deeper sociopolitical message is embedded in each film – that the real world is cluttered with dead souls corrupted by materialism, sucking out their life force and destroying every iota of individuality. In the parlance of our snarky times, the zombies represent “sheeple.” For those among us whom are enlightened, we must fear the herd because the herd of zombies will eventually eat us and infect us with their affliction.

What do zombies love to eat? Brains. Zombies eat human brains to eradicate intelligence. The zombies don’t think. They just consume. More. And more. And more. Talk about some deep symbolism there.

So where’s the irony? The sheeple love zombie movies. Zombie movies are subversive movies about sheeple. Therefore, the sheeple are really in love with movies about themselves becoming brainless monsters, yet their collective reality is too distorted to realize what is really happening.

Zombies are kitschy today; however, it’s a cyclical fad. This will all change in a couple of years when the public loses interest in brooding teenage vampires and other zombie-strewn dystopia. Eventually, the suits in Hollywood will move on to another genre to revive and recycle. In the meantime, I’ll tolerate zombie flicks, yet still snicker at the absurdity of their popularity as I eagerly await the return of erotic, campy women-in-prison flicks and Blaxploitation films. Seriously, when will they remake “Superfly?”

I often wonder if the American public will ever be interested in poker-themed entertainment again. Will poker be recycled? Can poker, during online prohibition, once again become a centerpiece of popular culture? Unless one of the Kardashians starts banging Phil Ivey, I doubt the sheeple will give a damn about poker.

During the gravy years of the glorious poker boom, it was hard to keep up with the over-saturation of poker programming on the boob tube. Even with a thousand cable stations, there still isn’t a 24-hour poker channel in America. That omission is stunning, but the bean counters in Hollywood only care about the bottom line. The current bottom line is that only hardcore poker enthusiasts and degenerate gamblers will watch anything related to poker. Sure, the WSOP on ESPN might attract a small stream of curious non-poker people, but until Americans develop an appetite for more poker programming, we won’t see any new shows – because PokerStars and Full Tilt are no longer funding new and existing entertainment projects.

I have a brilliant idea that I revealed to a studio exec during a recent lunch meeting in Burbank. Here’s my three-second pitch: washed-up celebrities playing poker.

Think about it. Who wouldn’t want to see a bloated David Lee Roth check-raise a strung-out Dustin Diamond (aka Screech from “Saved by the Bell”)? Wouldn’t you want to see an angry Vanilla Ice go on mega-tilt and hurl chairs around the set after getting sucked out by Corey Feldman?

Here’s another mind-blowing pitch: a Vegas-based reality show comprised of bankrupt former child stars that live at Panorama Towers and receive daily tutorial sessions from Matt Stout and Tony Dunst. The former child stars compete in a weekly tournament in which the winner gains immunity and a free comp to the Bellagio buffet, while the rest of the child stars argue incessantly over which one of them gets kicked out of the Towers. Former Hollyweird child stars binging in Sin City is 100 percent pure comedy gold. Think about all the juicy B-roll you can shoot while following them around hustling paid appearances on the Strip to take photos with white trash tourists, then blowing their per diems on an overpriced 8-ball that they scored in the parking lot of Olympic Gardens from a one-eyed pimp named Rummy.

Or better yet, here’s one more high concept pitch: lock up eight D-list celebs in a penthouse at the Palms, feed them booze, pills, and enough speed to keep the entire state of Wisconsin up for a month, then film the ensuing surreal train wreck as the schwilly D-listers attempt to play low stakes PLO. We’ll hire Gabe Kaplan and Gary Busey to do the color commentary and have Shana Hiatt conduct sideline interviews with hysterical celebs after they get bitch-slapped by the chick who played Six on “Blossom.”

Ah, just call me cynical. We’re waiting on a ghost train. Poker’s gravy train arrived at the turn of the century and then abruptly departed the night before the UIGEA was tacked onto the Port Security Bill. The gravy train, fueled by online poker rooms’ quest for domination, may never return in my generation, which is why I spend many of my waking hours writing up half-baked pitches so I can justify scoring a free lunch at Mo’s with desperate development execs seeking the next big reality show.

OK, I have one last brilliant pitch: strip poker featuring cocaine-addled 20-something-year-old starlets and botox-riddled, over-the-hill cougars. Meg Ryan has not cashed a big paycheck in a while, and everyone knows Lindsay Lohan is looking for work.

Paul McGuire is the author of Lost Vegas and Jack Tripper Stole My Dog.

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February 2012