I went to see World War Z a couple of days ago as this season of guilty pleasures heats up.
And I have to admit, I came away feeling pretty queasy.
If you haven’t seen it, this is the Brad Pitt creature-feature, about one man’s quest to save us from ravenous, mindless neighbors.
This flick freaked me out, and not because I can’t handle a little alien invasion, or a creature from a black lagoon.
Here’s the context. Fifty years ago — almost exactly — it was still possible to make a film like “Zulu,” the 1964 war epic that pitted a doughty band of British heroes against swarms of black-skinned savages.
It’s kind of sickening now, right? The spectacle of mounds of dead black men, mowed down by starch-collared white soldiers, is enough to put you off your popcorn.
But apparently we still hunger for the “other” in our entertainment, yearning for a horde of barbaric enemies that we can hate guilt-free. Maybe it’s in our DNA? A throwback to a tribal age?
Hollywood gratifies this bloodlust again and again, often putting the monsters of the silver screen in black face to drive home the point.
Here’s a scene from Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” that is said to have been modeled after that bloodbath from “Zulu.” This time, the black men have been replaced with black-skinned “orcs.”
Note the pale-skinned Downton Abbey-vernacular elves, the tough, square-jawed Anglo-Saxon humans, even the Nordic dwarf. All arrayed heroically against black-skinned horrors swarming like ants.
Which brings us to “World War Z.” This movie is two ticks more politically correct. There are white zombies as well as black zombies.
In this monster movie, the “other” is offered up more generically. It is the mob, the unthinking mass of human beings, the mindless horde.
But in this new, more color-blind creature-feature, we are still treated to the spectacle of a walled Israel defending itself against swarming, senselessly violent invaders.
In a time when Israelis and Palestinians are literally glaring at each other across towering high-tech walls, already dehumanizing each other in heart-breaking ways, those scenes were particularly jarring.
Again, I don’t doubt that Hollywood is merely gratifying some primal urge in all of us. An urge to test ourselves and the virtue of our culture against the gnashing, grunting strangers who lurk in the dark.
We yearn for someone we can hate guilt-free, whom we can slaughter without remorse.
In one scene near the end of “World War Z” we are treated to an image of a stadium where a mob of creatures is being lured to their deaths — an image apparently taken from a drone.
As the horde swarms in, a missile strike flares, turning the screen crimson.
We few, we happy few. This time we’ve mowed them down from the sky, our collar still properly starched. And only a little shame to go with our latest fix of adrenalin and carnage.