Zombies: A Dead Reckoning on Their Popularity

“We are all infected” ~ Rick Grimes

Zom-bie [zom-bee] noun: undead creatures typically depicted as mindless, reanimated human corpses with a hunger for human flesh.

The notion of zombies is part of Haitian folklore with the belief that, through magic or poison, a sorcerer can make a person fall ill and appear to die. After the family buries the body, the sorcerer retrieves the person, who is alive but held in thrall in a zombie, or “zombi”, like state.

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Zombies made the leap from Haitian religion to American entertainment in 1932 with the film White Zombie staring Bela Lugosi but then started to pop up more in horror flicks over the next few decades, frequently in keeping with the Haitian voodoo theme, until George Romero’s 1968 Night of the Living Dead.

night of living dead - Zombies: A Dead Reckoning on Their Popularity

Our fascination with the undead is beyond amazing. Why is it that you can basically put zombies in anything today and literally millions of people will watch it or read it?

Some theories suggest one psychological reasoning for it is that it could be simply because of the boredom, loneliness, and emptiness that are in every part of our lives—work, marriage, family, daily routines or how we can struggle against living an “undead” life—and do so with some success; so we find ourselves having something in common with the zombies and can sympathize with them. Other theories suggest that they are a metaphor for communism or for national socialism, consumerism, a way of describing terrorism, a way of talking about AIDS, or the idea that zombies represent the sexuality of teenage boys.

Whatever the reason, none of the theories about zombies explains their appeal entirely; and maybe the reason zombies are so fascinating, so popular, and so frightening is that they capture an ungodly fear of the dead, the unknown. The unknown of what really happens when we die. To be in limbo forever feeding off the living, never to be at peace or at rest.

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Now let’s imagine that your son, daughter, mother, or father became undead. Could you bash them in the head? Splatter their brains out all over just to save your own life? Or would you keep them tied up and love them regardless, feeding them unsuspecting victims that came along your path, unbeknownst that they were about to become dinner just so you didn’t have to slaughter the people you love?  Whatever your choice, it’s maddening, and the mere thought of either is one reason why the idea of zombies and the zombie apocalypse is so intriguing yet terrifying.

And while we are on the subject, why is it that we find zombies so terrifying? Well, some researchers actually spent six years investigating this back in the 1970’s. They called it the “uncanny valley” theory. This theory suggests that the reason we are scared of zombies is because our brains have trouble processing the image of something which is so similar to a human, but isn’t quite human. When we see an image of a zombie, normal processing mechanisms do not apply themselves, which causes the unsettling effect “when people want to like a near-human face, but realize something is wrong.” The closer to human form a monster is, the more disturbing we find it and the more we fear it.

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I personally find that this makes sense because the undead are not pretty to look at at all. In fact they are so disgusting that we turn away and can’t stand the sight of them. How many times have you been watching “The Walking Dead” (scariest zombies hands down) and had your heart rate and adrenaline shoot up experiencing that feeling of terror and that sense of doom? It’s the reason you put your hands over your eyes or put a blanket over your head for “protection.” That feeling that happens every time we become frightened and we either like this feeling or we don’t (the “excitation transfer process”). Either way, it’s a sort of high, and who doesn’t like an adrenaline high once in a while?

Whatever the reasoning, we love zombies movies, video games, books, and beyond. And the best part about anything zombie is the kills.  Romero once said that to him, “Zombies are very much like like the coyote from the Road Runner cartoons.  It’s always fun to see how they are killed.”  Face it, brothers and sisters of horror, we don’t really watch zombie movies to root for the heroes. We sit and wait for them to get torn to bits by the shambling hordes of the undead.

Our society is hooked on zombies and can’t seem to get enough.  We look forward to when “The Walking Dead” comes back on so that we can get our Sunday zombie fix.  We look forward to the next big zombie movie or zombie game, and that’s okay because like zombies crave brains, we crave all things zombie.

So let us know in the comments why you love zombies and also your favorite zombie kills of all times.

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Written by Trisha Chambers

Wife, Mother, horror movie junkie, writer, blogger, and all around goofball! Will work for Martini's and Pizza.

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