Zombies–What’s the Big Deal?

When I was a child, I wasn’t really into scary movies.  To be honest, I couldn’t even bring myself to watch Creepshow with my older siblings.  The kid from Pet Semetary freaked the hell out of me and for a while I couldn’t bear to walk down our long rural driveway at night.  The first game that I played in the survival-horror franchise, and undoubtedly the one that got me hooked was Resident Evil 2.  I picked up the game when I was in the 6th grade for the Nintendo 64.

To make a long story short, I never made it to the Police Station that night.  Remembering those horrifying creatures crawl over me and strip the flesh from my body kept me awake many-a-night.  And also, I couldn’t move!  The controls were all screwy and I fumbled straight out of the gate!  Even when I finally got a handle on it, I remember fondly doing a 180 when I heard the shuffling of undead’s footsteps, or bolt when I heard the distinctive hiss of one of those sonofabitch Lickers.


Luckily enough it’s something I’ve grown out of.  Looking back I can see that it was pretty irrational—they’re make-believe monsters; reanimated corpses brought back by some strange mythos or science-fiction virus.  When I had finally bested the streets of Raccoon, I was proud to be the only girl in my class who had survived.  Apparently others were afraid too?  Well that didn’t make me feel so bad.   But even after all of these years, the curiosity remains—what the hell made zombies so scary?!

Perhaps it was the fact that I was only 12 years old when I first picked up anything of the sort?  Video games were just starting to make the leap from fun play-thing to serious mind-fucking stuff.  People actually looked like people, places looked dark and spooky, and noises…actually sounded like real stuff!  There has to be something deeper to it, or else zombies wouldn’t be in everything now, would they?  What about zombies attracts us so much?  And in the whole ‘I’ll buy this game/watch this movie cause there’s zombies in it’…not the other kind of attract….

It might surprise you to know that the origin story begins far before the Voodoo origin.  The undead, hungry for human contact, blood or flesh appear on historical artefacts as old as the Epic of Gilgamesh (2150-2000BCE).  The Epic of Gilgamesh describes creatures under the control of the goddess Ishtar, who threatens to raise the dead and have them feast on the living.  One Thousand and One Nights also references a family of ravenous ghouls, hungry for human flesh.

The origin story that more people are familiar with is the Voodoo origins, where in which a person could be enslaved with no will of their own through the use of drugs and ‘bokors.’

The two of those origin stories alone are enough to make your skin crawl, wouldn’t you agree?  Two very different kinds of fear—being feasted on by the recently departed, or actually becoming a mindless, soul-less being with no will of your own—doomed to do the will of another for all eternity?  One of the most scarring things that came out of RE2 was the files, reading of how everyday people turned into some sort of monster–or how they weren’t going to let that happen to them.

“We might be the last people alive in this city, and we’re definitely not going to be turned into zombies!!!”

According to some experts on the subject (what, you didn’t think that zombies had experts?) the fear of zombies actually goes much deeper than the basic ‘zombies are monsters and therefore are scary’ theory.  Some of the earliest zombie movies in the West emerged during the Great Depression, just before another World War.  Times of definite uncertainty, times of fear.  And monster stories have always had a mimicking other uncertainties in life, other fears, personified into a some sort of monster (vampires’ immortality and the romanticism involved might say something about our fears of being alone). Zombies offer a blank slate for us to project our fears onto—be them natural disasters or unchecked scientific pursuits, or (as I grow older I fear myself) the daily grind, being forced to do the work of someone else because it’s what’s expected of you.  Because there is no real traditional lore to accompany the zombie, the creative license with said material is bigger than ever.

And of course on the surface, zombies very easily convey one of the most basic fears of all.  Andrea Wood of Georgia Tech says “We see the process of decay as it happens right before our eyes.  They are this kind of perverse manifestation of humans’ desire for immortality gone awry.”

Max Brooks, author of the Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z concedes that zombies are a safe way to deal with those fears,“It’s safe to do something like a zombie walk—it isn’t so fun to do a Swine Flu walk.  If at a party you bring up how you’d survive a zombie attack, you’d be the life of the party.  But if you say ‘What would you do if super-AIDS came to America?’ you’d clear the room.”

Rightfully so, I sure can’t imagine any parties that I’ve gone to where we discussed super-AIDS.  However, how many of us can say that we haven’t gotten ourselves into a conversation or a thought-process of how we would survive the zombie apocalypse?  And of course there is the whole concept of the Zombie Apocalypse…we say it as if it’s definite, like we know it’s going to happen, it’s just a matter of time.  Do we discuss vampires this way?  Or werewolves?

Most of the time in zombie games and movies, humans really don’t stand much of a chance against the undead onslaught.  Every movie or video game leaves a handful of survivors.  The odds are horribly stacked against them,  or else what kind of a game would that be?  It almost always ends the same way though–the end of human kind as we know it.  Depressing.

Are you prepared?

We’ve already heard what experts have to say, so what do regular Internet Joes have to say?  Cruising the FB forums and other means of quickly finding information that I need, I found a few interesting comments.

“Zombies scare me because although they are just a bloodthirsty creature, they take their form from innocent victims.  Your mother, babysitter or son could be there one minute, then after you the next.  I think the thing that scares me the most is the psychological struggle of realizing
that this person you love is no longer there, and that in order to survive, you have to kill them.”

“Because they do not behave in the most basic fight/flight response of every other living being.
They will continue to destroy themselves/be destroyed in order to have a chance to kill you.”

That’s some pretty deep stuff (thanks to the Night Zero FB group).

So at RoH,  the zombies that we’re most familiar with are of the pixelated variety.  They’re blocky, they have set behavioural patterns, and they’re showing up just about everywhere as of late, either as your friend or your enemy.  War shooters have zombie modes, there are more and more generic zombie shooters,

Okay, so maybe zombies have always been a little bit campy?  And who can really blame them?  It’s hard to keep a serious face when you’re being used to peddle the evils of mass-consumerism?  Some of them can be absolutely horrifying, but others?  Others are just downright adorable.

D’aww, I just want to hug it!  Aaah!  What is this burning goo shit?!

One wonders however that if all of this excess attention the physical remains of the dearly departed is getting is making them less of a threat?  Is the campy chibi-like zombie rubbing off on the grotesque variety in the wrong way?  Are zombies becoming less and less scary as time goes on?  Were the zombies in L4D or Dead Rising really all that scary?  Does the zombie mode in Call of Duty make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end?  If Resident Evil 4 and 5 replaced the semi-sentient Ganados and Majini (which–ironically are more in-line with the ‘traditional zombies’) with the traditional slow-moving, bitey zombies of Resident Evil’s past, would the game have been more frightening?  Or maybe it’s just time for the zombie to go into a semi-retirement?  Maybe take a back-seat to shadow people and space monsters, evil mitochondria or some other evil parasite?  Or physical manifestations of psychological traumas in our minds?

Not vampires…they’re just not scary anymore…seriously—they’ve turned into fake blood drinks and romance flicks.  Maybe that’s where zombies are headed?  God, I hope not.  Who the hell wants to make it with a corpse?

…Forget I asked.  Let’s never discuss this again.

Either way, here’s to you, rotting corpse.  You might not be as frightening to me now as you once were, but I know that someday you can scare the hell out of my kids?  Besides, we’ll always have Raccoon City.

While you’re here, why don’t you check out the forums?  Brand new, just waiting for you to leave a comment or start a conversation!  Come on, you know you want to!

With files from CNN, Wikipedia

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