Zombies: The Dead Have Risen

Zombies as Monsters

Zombie apocalypse photo from Getty Images

Zombies are an example of cultural appropriation. Haitian folk religion should be offended. Horror fiction and gaming welcome them. They are the ultimate mass monster. They rock.

Horror literature does not necessarily need monsters. However, having a great monster enriches the reading experience. We previously looked at monsters in speculative fiction. Today we will look at one of the most popular horror creatures and monsters.

Vampires, werewolves, and ghosts are always popular. In recent years, zombies have become a phenomenon. And not just in literature, also on TV, comics, movies, and video games.

What is about zombies make them so appealing? Moreover, what is a zombie?

World War Z video game concept art

A zombie is a creature from voodoo, an Afro-Caribbean religion. A zombie is a resurrected corpse. If this sounds like necromancy, it is because it is.

Why would you want to resurrect a corpse is beyond me? Oh, yes, like an obedient slave. Except modern horror zombies are not happy doing house or farm chores. They are too busy hunting humans for dinner.

There is something sad about being a zombie. You are dead, you don’t get to go to the afterlife. Instead, you are resurrected to become some wizard’s servant. Sad indeed.

The Bitten, the Undead, the Infected

Infestation video game wallpaper

Zombies are victims that lash out to make new zombies. They are like a virus who seek hosts to replicate. No wonder modern zombies are more creatures of science than magic. Made by viruses rather than rituals.

Zombies are soulless corpses, without a will and yet, single-minded. To feed. They operate by instinct. Reanimated, resurrected, but lifeless.

If horror creatures were people, zombies would be that guy who always follows the crowd and never has an opinion. The one who cannot think for themselves. Whatever the group wants, he is cool with that.

Yeah, I know, boring.

As monsters go, they are quite boring. They move slow, they have zero charm or personality. In honesty, they make for uninteresting characters.

image: Pinterest

And yet, ever since William Seabrook introduced them to American readers in The Magic Island (1929) they have captured our imagination. Furthermore, George Romero‘s film Night of the Living Dead (1968) cemented the popularity of these monsters seeking to bite you.

Michael Jackson‘s Thriller music video made them cool. Who did not want to dance like a zombie? Is there another monster with their own musical theme or dance?

Nevertheless, beware the infected ones because like a religious fanatic, they only seek to convert you. And you do not want to become them. Who would want to lose their individuality to become part of a soulless mass?

Although I can see how they have become a critique of the soullessness of capitalism and modern mass culture.

The Walking, Decomposing Dead

Dying Light wallpaper from Picserio

What makes a zombie scary is the same thing that makes a ghost scary. You can kill a vampire or a werewolf under specific circumstances. You can drown or defeat a witch.

But how can you kill something already dead? You can’t. Just like you can’t kill a ghost, you can’t kill a zombie.

Consequently, despite being characterized as slow-moving and speechless, zombies make terrifying monsters.

image: AMC/TWD

  • First, they are already dead.
  • Second, they feast on human flesh (with a particular taste for brains).
  • Third, they are quite a gruesome sight with their blood-covered, decomposing bodies, and missing limbs.
  • Fourth, since they are walking corpses, you bet they smell awful.

Would you like to become one? Not me. I will rather be a vampire or a werewolf.

Moreover, zombie-centered stories are intrinsically about survival and coping with the aftermath of a disaster. No wonder so many video games and RPG campaigns use them. They force the player to fight rather than hide and be quiet.

Run, survive, or become a zombie. What a conflict.

Zombies as Allegory

Zombie wallpaper

Zombies are incredibly popular as indicated above. So popular, they even have their own holiday. Every February 4th is international Zombie Day. I am not kidding.

I will venture two hypotheses for their popularity in literature and other media.

On one hand, they are the perfect cannon fodder. Think about it. It is not politically correct or okay to shoot another human. With zombies, you don’t have that problem. They are already dead.

image: Pinterest

Despite not being a gregarious monster, they tend to attack in hordes. A few zombies you can defeat or outrun. Lots of them becomes a challenge. Strength in numbers.

On the other hand, zombies have become an allegory to the modern world’s anxieties. Whether is a nuclear war, climate change, economic collapse, et cetera, zombies seem to be front and center to our fears of societal breakdown.

The decomposition and decay of their flesh a visual metaphor to social collapse.

Modern Zombies

image: Concept Art Empire

Used to be zombies were magically created. These days zombies are the result of some type of ‘science-gone-wrong’ type of experiment (hence, the idea of zombie virus) or the result of some kind of apocalypse.

Modern zombies may not be personal slaves but they are just as terrifying.

In a sense, they encapsulate our natural fear of the dead, the other, and the stranger.

For a different and interesting take on zombies, read Max Brook‘s World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War (2006). There is a reason I listed them as one of the top ten monsters in literature. These are not monsters you want to face alone.

The Walking Dead Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC-TWD

There is also The Walking Dead TV show although the comic book is much better despite being black and white.

Zombies have become a staple of horror. Some would say oversaturated one. Here is hoping they do not overstay their welcome. Sometimes the dead just want to rest. In peace and underground.

Reader, are you afraid of these will-less, undead monsters? Or are you a fan? Are you ready for the zombie apocalypse? Share in the comments.


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February 2023