“When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth.“
-George A. Romero (Dawn of the Dead)
Each of us has seen horror movies and read horror novels in their lives and with them, we have become familiar with iconic monsters and villains that filled them. Names such as Dracula (Bram Stroker), Frankenstein‘s Monster (Mary Shelley), Cthulhu (H.P. Lovecraft), and many others. With each of these iconic monsters, they have periods of popularity, where their appearances in mainstream culture emerge and almost immediately spikes before dropping off in obscurity. As of right now, the ‘hot’ monster of the month would have to be everyone’s favorite corpses, zombies.
What is a Zombie and Where do they come from?
For the few people who aren’t familiar with zombies, they are depicted as the humans and animals that have been resurrected from a diseased state either through biological or supernatural means. When they are reanimated, they become mindless monsters that cannot be reasoned with or conversed with. They only want to do one thing and one thing alone, eat the flesh of the living, especially the brains of the human, hence the commonly said “Brains!” Their strength is through their seemingly endless numbers as being bitten, scratched or being in contact with the zombie virus will turn you into the undead. The only way to kill them is to put a bullet through their heads or to burn them.
Zombies are not a recent creation, though a creature that has existed for well over a thousand years. It can be debated that the origins of the zombie can be seen in the Epic of Gilgamesh, where he tried to find the means for Enkidu to come back from the dead. Though the idea of people being resurrected from the dead would have to come from Icelandic/Norse culture where the zombies were called afturganga or ‘again-walkers’. These would have some intelligence as well as supernatural strength, which would be the near opposite of modern zombies. Later in history, zombies would appear in Haitian culture through voodoo, which is a combination of tribalism and Christianity. In Voodoo, a person can be turned into a zombie through rituals and would be under the control of the sorcerer. They would be mindless, but they would still remember some aspects of their former lives. Authors such as Mary Shelly and H.P. Lovecraft would write stories that would help cement the idea of zombies being people being brought back from the dead.
In cinema, one of the first zombie movies would be the 1932 movie White Zombie with actor Béla Lugosi and it depicted the Haitian zombie archetype. It wasn’t until the release of the movie Dawn of the Dead by George A. Romero that the idea of zombies being flesh eating creatures became an established part of the zombie mythos. From there, zombie movies continued to grow in popularity as movies and books came out that garnered success and praise.
There have been several re-imaginings of the zombies in recent history such as zombies retaining intelligence such as Bub in Day of the Dead (Featured image. Isn’t he adorable?), increased agility and movement like in the movie 28 Days Later and popular video game Dying Light, and mutations such as in the game series Left for Dead. Each of these has given their audiences something different that give them something new to fear.
The State of Zombies Now
In 2015, zombies have become a staple of mainstream entertainment as movies such as Warm Bodies fill the theaters, more video games introduce enemies that are zombified, and books and comics feature the undead as either the protagonist or the antagonists. With TV shows such as ‘The Walking Dead’ and ‘iZombie’, the undead creatures have become more popular than anyone could imagine as endless merchandise, products (Chia Pets Walking Dead), and images emerge. But the question is, are zombies played out?
Well, in the past, there have been several monsters who have had their own fads that have captivated the masses before dying into obscurity. With the release of the Twilight books/movies, everyone became fascinated with vampires and werewolves. So, with that fascination, everyone tried to cash in on it. Twilight was stamped on everything that could be sold and people bought it. Eventually, the idea of trying to replicate the success of Twilight through television came into being as several shows tried to capture the essence of Twilight. Shows such as True Blood and The Vampire Diaries were created and tried to cash in on the vampire fad. While they became moderately successful, they began to over-saturate the mainstream culture and people were becoming tired of seeing nothing but vampires.
Enter Robert Kirkman, creator of the graphic novel The Walking Dead who introduced everyone to a continual story about survivors who tried to live through the zombie apocalypse as well as their own personal drama. It was and still is critically received by fans and critics alike, which would eventually garner the attention of producers who saw financial potential in this. The Walking Dead would soon become a television show on October 31, 2010 and everyone fell in love with it (Though personally, I can’t stand how much they deviated from the comics now). Much like the vampire fad, everyone would begin slapping both Zombies and The Walking Dead on everything that could make a profit. Though this is showing recently that the zombie fad is beginning to dwindle as there is a declining interest in the lovable flesh eaters.
Is there any hope for the continuation of Zombies?
Truthfully, though the portrayal of zombies is declining over time in current culture, they will always be a staple of any lover of horror. With each generation, new depictions of the undead creatures emerge giving us new ideas of what they could be and what could happen. Robin Becker has shown us that zombie could have a sense of wit and intelligence that outmatches humans in her book Brains! A Zombie Memoir, Andrew Currie would show that zombies could be loving and protective creatures with his film Fido, the process of a person becoming a zombie over time can be shown as a sad and dramatic film with movies such as Maggie, and game developers would show that zombies could undergo mutations that would make them stronger, faster and more bestial in nature in games such as Resident Evil and Dying Light. It is the opinion of this author that while zombies will go through periods of popularity like any other creature, they will always have a place in our hearts.