We live in time in which the Net can make someone (anyone) into a music star without even doing press, touring and getting the music heard by playing shows until you can’t stand up why should I be surprised that the zombies have literately risen to the forefront of the horror scene. Why do we see events like “zombie football” and “zombie walks” plus books, graphic novels, television series and of course a multitude of films.
The zombie as a horror archetype has been around much longer then the current craze has been in effect. The George Romaro original picture NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) along with its sequels have become the watershed for this craze. Zombies have been around in such pictures as WHITE ZOMBIE (1932) with Bela Lugosi and my personal favourite with the lurid title yet not a lurid film I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE(1943) Directed by Jacques Tourneur and Produced by Val Lewton. These pictures portrayed the zombie as a mindless creature doing the bidding of a master not the flesh eating beings we see now. The fear of the zombie was that you or your loved one would become a creature that would disappear forever not knowing who you were. Popular story is the zombie being closely linked with the practice of voodoo in which the belief the victim would work in sugar cane fields at night until they dropped again never to return to former life.
In World War 2, the men conscripted under the NATIONAL RESOURCES MOBILIZATION ACT or the NRMA who refused to “go active” were derisively called “zombies” both in Canada and overseas; Farley Mowat recalls in his volumes of war memoirs savagely disliking those who wore the uniform but refused to make the same sacrifices he and his brothers-in-arms were called on to make in Italy and North-West Europe. So how does all this bring us to the George Romero zombie idea?
I would like to continue with the reasoning out forth in the brilliant book THE MONSTER SHOW, A Cultural History of Horror by DAVID J SKAL. The book unfolds the idea that each monster archetype is the direct product of the current history of its time. Recommend you read the entire book for an interesting study.
I believe that the reason for the zombie being so popular with everyone is the it is a monster for “everyone”. It doesn’t come from the annals of history with lineage like the Mummy of the Vampire. It is not fabricated out of other part of bodies, appears under a full moon or a result of a potion. The zombie is monster that you don’t have to learn any background or have a particular garb. Zombies can be everyone and everything. “Instant gratification” for what you do without social convention without pretension.
The Zombie knows no age limit or sexual preference in fact it is the great equalizer of people. You can rich, poor, any body type, shy, an extrovert/introvert you get the disease or whatever is in the story and you become one. No hierarchy as in the Vampire such as a leader or other creatures only a common fountain head of a disease. The leaders are usually the unaffected humans being acted upon. Sort of anarchy against lawful behavior within a social framework. The ever present class system that “puts us in our place’ that some have in their lives by there appearance, family situation or monetary circumstances does not exist. When you are a zombie no one looks at your clothes. the car you drive or you home. Where it could actually inspire is an interest in learning make up, special effects, anatomy, art, graphic novel creation for a new generation of people from those that did the same from magazines like FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILM LAND and STARLOG MAGAZINE.
Zombies get to run a muck doing anything they want much like the people we see in the footage of riots or protests Zombies get to to eat all the time with out restriction in this world where what you eat, how you eat with proper manners. You can eat what you want without fear of gaining weight, making a mess, making a noise or fear of leaving something on your plate. You can also get to smash anything down that gets in your way without discipline.
Being a zombie in a ‘Zombie walk” or some such event means the person can be creative with their own appearance. Nothing is wrong when it comes to scars or mutilations except creative skill in applying and resources. You can tear any piece of clothing and it becomes a zombie costume. You get to do this and shuffle around with your friends grunting and screeching.
The Zombie is representative in our “consumer” society doing what it wants within a group yet still being an individual with one common goal of food. You even share a common mode of death (Shot to the head) with members of your gang. A”hungry vandal’ bent on running around the city or the world without care of time, space or obligation. Everything some people with an excess of responsibility, worry about their looks and weight in a regimented life of work or school with expectations for success. How could all that not appeal to people of all economic levels and statures even for a hour. Next time you see those hordes coming at you on the News or at an event remember they aren’t really lost souls just people letting themselves go which I believe is the universal appeal.