They’re shambling across our TV screens, through books and even (if you’re particularly unlucky,) down the streets of your city. Before you head for the bunker and start popping your anti-virus pills, don’t panic. Zombies and all things decaying just seem to be our favourite crazies of the day. They seem to be a universal trend right now, with different countries bringing out their own versions of the zombie horror genre. For example; in England there’s ‘Shaun of the Dead’, in France they have ‘Les Revenants’, in Italy ‘Zombie’, in Spain, ‘REC’, in Korea, ‘The Guard Post’, even Canada have their own version in ‘Fido’ and ‘Pontypool’. They seem to be infecting every aspect of popular culture across the globe; there really is no escape. I fancied exploring the underlying cultural reasons for our fascination with all things undead.
The typical Zombies of the movies are reanimated corpses, typically depicted as mindless and bloodthirsty, with their only aim to find and eat human flesh and in some films, particularly human brains. They’re usually created as the result of a pandemic illness, some mysterious virus that spreads through infected blood, other times there is no given cause for the condition. So how can you avoid this terrible fate? Well, you need to avoid being bitten, scratched or having an open wound come into contact with a zombie, as this is how people become infected. According to the movies, there’s only one gruesome cure for stopping the infection and that’s amputation of the affected limb, and sometimes even that drastic step isn’t enough! Don’t worry though, zombies are relatively easy to kill, (apparently). The one sure fire way to make sure the walking dead never walk again is to destroy the brain. However, it’s worth taking into account the type of zombie you’re dealing with. If you’re monsters take after the zombies from the film ‘ 28 Days Later’ or the sequel ‘28 Weeks Later’, you’ll need to move quickly! This series presented us with arguably the scariest version of the zombie, they can run just as fast as human beings and are much more hostile than the beasties in most zombie thrillers.
So it’s fair to say that the zombie craze is well and truly here, with new series’ like ‘The Walking dead’, blockbusters like ‘Resident Evil’ and console games like ‘Dead Rising’ it would be hard not to notice how popular they’ve become. The Walking Dead in particular has had a huge impact and is the hottest new series on television. The star is Sherriff Rick Grimes, who wakes up in hospital to discover everything around him has changed and ‘walkers’ now roam the streets. He sets out to find his family and endure this dangerous new world along with a group of survivors who look to him as their leader. They struggle to cope with members of their group becoming infected and encountering other survivors, who are sometimes more treacherous than the zombies. At the beginning of series 1, Rick discovers his wife, son and best friend Shane have survived the attack and have formed a tentative friendship with a disparate group of people.
And it seems these series’ have whet out appetite for zombie fuelled chaos and we’re keen to find the next big thrill, with December 2012 having the highest number of hits for ‘zombies’ on Google since 2002. We even have a World Zombie Day, the second Saturday of October every year.
So, when did our obsession with the walking ‘undead’ start? There is some debate over the first zombie film ever to be made, many acknowledge it to be Victor Halperin’s ‘White Zombie’ in 1932. However the film that really sparked our interest and probably the most famous zombie film ever made was Romero’s ‘Night of the Living Dead’ released in 1968. In it, a group of people barricade themselves inside an old farm house in an attempt to survive the night as zombies roam the land outside. Since then, there have been a wide variety of Zombie films and books.
There are a huge number of theories as to why zombies keep reappearing as a fashionable trend. The most prominent theory is related to social disorder and dissatisfaction with the society we live in. It’s been suggested that the rise in popularity of all things zombie is the general public expressing fears about poverty and economic instability in zombie form. For example, Clemson University professor Sarah Lauro says the sudden obsession with zombies is a common trend, and follows our frustration with the political and economic aspects of our culture.
When interviewed by Associated Press she stated, “We are more interested in the zombie at times when as a culture we feel disempowered,” “And the facts are there that, when we are experiencing economic crises, the vast population is feeling disempowered. … Either playing dead themselves … or watching a show like ‘Walking Dead’ provides a great variety of outlets for people.”
Lauro suggests that during these times of poverty and unemployment, we go into ‘survival mode’, doing what it takes to get by and we recognise something in these films and books that mirrors our own struggles in everyday life. Finally, it’s also been said that it’s possible that these films appeal to us because the zombie masses represent the disillusioned working classes. Film director Andy Edwards put forward the theory to Channel 4 News that “Zombies are the working class equivalent of the vampire, vampires are more aristocratic.”. “Individually they have no power, but it’s the mass that gives them power.”, zombies represent a collective generation of alienated people. So zombies seem to be our preferred ‘baddie’ of the moment! And what’s all the more terrifying is that they’re not monsters from another world, they could be anyone! They’re our friends and neighbours, even strangers you pass on the street.
If you’re really intrigued by the concept of a zombie outbreak, you can test your abilities and learn how to deal with the end of the world at ‘Zombie Boot Camp’ for £76 in Worcestershire in the UK. You and a team of friends make up a ‘Riot Squad’, you are given a storyline to follow, equipment and combat training and then taken through a realistic Zombie outbreak scenario. If you’re ready for a challenge and don’t mind being scared stiff, you can try ‘Zombie Boot Camp After Dark’ for a scarier experience.
Some fans are so dedicated to the genre that they dress themselves in gore and take to the streets! The idea of the Zombie Walk began in California in 2001 and since then the idea has spread all over the world. In October of 2011, over 3000 people dressed as zombies to walk through Brighton city centre. Sarah Lauro points out that displays of dissatisfaction such as these Zombie Walks, isn’t always a conscious expression of that feeling of frustration.”If you were to ask the participants, I don’t think that all of them are very cognizant of what they’re saying when they put on the zombie makeup and participate,” she said. “To me, it’s such an obvious allegory. We feel like, in one way, we’re dead.”
This idea is supported by the thoughts of the interviewed ‘walkers’. The BBC asked a few passing zombies at the walk in Brighton why they decided to do this, their reply was, “For fun! Why do people go walking, or why do others jump out of planes? We like our fun on the ground, with make-up”.
Only the true die hard horror fans might have something called a ‘zombie plan’, what to do when the dead rise! Some of the top tips given in ‘The Zombie Survival Guide’ by Max Brooks range from treatment of people infected by the zombie virus to behavioural patterns of the monsters. With this book you can learn to; Recognise the hourly progression of symptoms: ‘Hour 8: Numbing of extremities and infected area, increased fever [103-106 degrees], increased dementia, loss of muscular coordination’, choose the right weapon: ‘A section of lead pipe will work for a single encounter but is too heavy for those on the move’ and defend your home against zombie attack: ‘A ten-foot cinder-block wall, reinforced with steel rods and filled with concrete, is the safest barrier in both class 1 and class 2 outbreaks’.
This guide also tells you what to expect from the infection, ‘Solanum [ the virus] is fatal to all living creatures, regardless of size, species, or ecosystem. Reanimation, however, takes place only in humans. Infected animals expire before the virus can replicate throughout their bodies’ and how the zombie’s senses are changed after reanimation, ‘There is no question that zombies have excellent hearing. Not only can they detect sound- they can determine it’s direction’.