Zombies (Modern Ideas)

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Area(s) Reported: Worldwide & North America: United States: Hollywood
Date(s) Reported: 1968 to Present

In 1968, an American movie called Night of the Living Dead created a new monster. In the movie radiation from an exploding satellite somehow reanimates the recently dead, who then shamble around the countryside in great packs searching for human victims to eat. Worse still, anyone bitten by these monsters also soon becomes a shambling, man-eating monster! The only sure way to stop these human creatures is to destroy their heads.

Night of the Living Dead spawned numerous sequels and imitators; this new ‘living dead’ monster had sparked something in the popular imagination of movie-goers worldwide. These new monsters came to be called “zombies,” after the monster of the same name told of in Haiti, where it is said that magicians can resurrect dead people to act as mindless slaves.


But this new type of ‘zombie’ is depicted as far more aggressive than the Haitian zombies, because they need to eat living human tissue to survive (many modern stories specifically claim zombies need to eat brains). Given that anyone bitten by these ‘zombies’ is doomed to soon become one also, these monsters seem to have a lot more in common with the older European tales of human-like entities that spread disease collectively called "Plague Bearers."

Initially in the 1968 movie, the zombies looked like normal people with pale skin... but as the movie progressed, the zombies became uglier and more horrific as more and more of them continued to shamble even after receiving wounds that would have near-killed a normal human. The zombies were impervious to pain and seemingly unaware of when they had gaping wounds or broken limbs; they just kept chasing human victims. The creatures also seemed immune to fatigue, never stopping to rest; so, though slow, they would eventually wear down any victim they followed. As the zombies wandered, they formed into large packs as many began chasing the same victims, never fighting one another... each simply following the instinct to catch and eat any living thing they could. Soon human survivors were surrounded by great crowds of the monsters, far more than they could ever possible destroy.

The zombies had no memory of their former human existence, and thinking they might remember a loved one and hesitate to attack was a deadly mistake to make. A young girl named Karen was bitten on the arm by a zombie before she and her parents took shelter in the basement of their house. Unaware of what the effects of the bite would be, her parents desperately tried to care for her as her condition got worse and worse, until she apparently died. They were too grief stricken to defend themselves when she sat back up and attacked them...

The Zombie Apocalypse

Since the 1968 release of Night of the Living Dead, sequels and imitators of the movie have built upon the original premises to present a nightmare world in which normal society has failed due to the overwhelming presense of the zombies. In this vision, the zombies are an ever present danger that has prevented the routines of life and support; electrical plants cannot be safely maintained, grocery stores no longer receive shipments and wouldn’t be safe to acquire food at, and cars are useless because gas and gas stations are no longer supplied. People survive by being tough, banding together, and searching for safe places that the zombies can’t reach them.

In these so-called “zombie apocalyse” stories, often the zombies are only a background part of the tales... the real problems arise from the survivors and how they treat each other and other bands of survivors. Battles within the groups of survivors to determine who’s leader, as well as distrust of other groups while coveting the supplies and resources they’ve gathered, create the real threats; for these are the problems that expose weaknesses in humans that could make them drop their guard against the ever present hoards of zombies. The only real hope of survival in these movies seems to be the possibility that the zombies themselves will eventually have to die off, so to speak; since they don’t eat each other, and they are running out of living beings they can easily pick off, the hoardes should eventually starve and disappear.

Though this all sounds dire, some newer movies and stories have started to offer another possible solution to a zombie apocalypse situation... a cure. If becoming a zombie is caused by some sort of transmitable disease, as implied by being bitten to become one, then it also implies there may be a way to cure the disease. In this view, zombies never truely died; they just had a change of behavior and memory caused by a disease... which is a basically different idea from the original Night of the Living Dead film, and which takes the edge off of the horror of what a zombie is.

Scenes of zombies eating humans in what is essentially cannibalism is shocking; and being surrounded by an endless enemy that cannot be defeated, only avoided, is disheartening... but zombies present greater horror yet. Having to kill a loved one to protect yourself, and always wondering if it could have been avoided; doubting your own decisions while desperately trying to protect people you have to constantly watch and suspect of possible turning to attack you... or worse still, losing all that makes you feel human as you yourself become the threat that will kill, and eat, those you hold most dear.

Dearly Departed...

See also: The Plague Bearers
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  • Night of the Living Dead (movie), 1968 Black/White, directed by George A. Romero.
  • Passage of Darkness: the Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie, by Wade Davis, 1988 The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill & London. ISBN-10: 0-8078-4210-9
  • Zombie Survival Guide, by Max Brooks, 2003 Three Rivers Press, New York, USA. ISBN: 1-4000-4962-8
  • "The Walking Dead (TV Series)," page in the Wikipedia website, viewed 6-20-2016. Online: Click here!
  • "Warm Bodies (film)," page in the Wikipedia website, viewed 8-14-2016. Online: Click here!

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