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Have We Reached Peak Zombie?


Uuuuuuugrh. Raaaaaaaah! Ugh. Unh.

That, my friends, is the sound of the villain of the year — heck, of the past decade. Nameless, mostly faceless (because their faces are chewed off) and shambling en masse, zombies are everywhere. They’re the subject of existential angst on The Walking Dead, misfit romance in Warm Bodies, and soon a big-budget blockbuster starring Brad Pitt with World War Z. Once, zombies were a threat reserved for exploitative B-movies. Now they’re getting all high-brow. So when is this zombie bubble going to burst? When have we reached peak zombie?

The zombies began to rise, not from the dead, exactly, but from a long dark slumber, with Danny Boyle’s 2002 film 28 Days Later. The director’s “fast zombies” make for much better action sequences than their shambling predecessors, and the grainy-real digital film style made waves in Hollywood (and launched a thousand imitators). But more importantly, the movie wasn’t just a horror flick. Roger Ebert called it “an intriguing study in human nature.” People who didn’t like horror movies saw 28 Days Later anyway, and the film entered pop culture with a vengeance, as did its zombies. The next year saw a remake of Dawn of the Dead, as well as Simon Pegg’s Shaun of the Dead. Zombies were off and running.

28 Days Later

Zombies make a great threat because they’re people, but not quite people. They’re soulless, speechless — all Id and no Ego. They violate our basic human rule that once someone dies, they’re gone. In that regard, they’re not so different from those other undead creatures: vampires. We’re coming off quite the vampire phase in popular culture, and one which I’d gladly see put to rest. The past could of decades saw a rise in vampires who did more talking than biting, more emoting about their immortality than actually drawing any blood (Angel and Twilight, for example, although both can trace their bloodlines back to Anne Rice’s influential 1976 novel Interview with the Vampire). It’s cool to think about the alternative consequences to being undead — it makes for terrific human drama. But, after a while, we have to hit a reset button. Vampires need to be fanged killers who stalk the night, not just sexy dates for angsty teens.

The same goes for zombies. While the first appearances of zombies – or “walkers,” “lurkers” or “biters,” if you prefer — on The Walking Dead were terrifying beyond belief, now the big scares come from the living, not the dead. In the trailer for World War Z, Pitt’s character is faced with a wall of zombie bodies that looks cool. However, the frightening thing about zombies is that you — just you – could lose your humanity in the span of a heartbeat because of a bite or scratch.

There’s a point, however, when zombies stop being zombies and could be just about anything we find frightening — aliens, robots, grandmas wielding sacks of nickels. If we don’t focus on what makes zombies scary, interesting and disturbing, then they’re just a big wall of bodies. The more these movies explore our humanity by exploring what’s inhuman about zombies, the longer I’ll keep watching.

Otherwise, wake me up when we get Teddy Roosevelt: Zombie Hunter. I want a front-row seat to that one.

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  • doctoraquaman

    I think zombies will stop being interesting when zombie stories start getting bad. Right now, Walking Dead, Zombieland, and Shawn of the Dead are really good stories, with or without zombies. In fact, my wife, who is usually not that much into zombie movies, like all three of the stories I mentioned above.
    I think what makes them work, especially the stories above, is that they are not just about zombies eating people. The zombies are background characters, and the real characters are ordinary people and how they deal with all of this. I would go as far to say that the best zombie stories are about something more than the walking dead. Shawn of the Dead is about an idiot boyfriend who learns to be worthy of the woman who just dumped him, and the zombies are just a backdrop to all of this. As long as these stories are written with this in mind, I really do not see people getting tired of zombies.

  • johnmarinville

    If zombie stories were about zombies, they’d get played out pretty quickly. But though it may sound odd to say, the thing about zombie stories is that they aren’t really about zombies; they’re about the characters.

    The zombies are just a part of the setup, a parameter of the environment in which the characters live. Just like the rules of magic are a part of Harry Potter’s environment or gravity is part of the real-world environment. But zombie stories about how characters deal with the unique stresses of their environment, and that’s endlessly fascinating to potential readers and audiences.

    That’s why zombies have been such a durable theme, and that’s why they continue to play well despite being everywhere! There’s now even a zombie baseball league, complete with merchandise for 8 city-based teams and fictional sports stories about games during the season. (I’m actually looking forward to it:

  • Choos

    It’s only natural that monsters get a but humanised when they are super saturated via mediums like TV, movies and comics. Hope everyone is watching the brilliant In the Flesh series!

  • Nodonkeyfan

    When you see a zombie your really seeing a democrat , er zombicrat. “hand another clip Carl!” mindless walkers just looking for a free meal!

  • batGRRRl4ever

    Everyone knows that the true mindless zombies are Fux “news” viewers.

  • numberthirty

    Does anyone except me get the feeling that Anna’s articles look a whole lot like Graeme’s?

  • Kitty

    Democrats?? More like a Republicans.. The Mindless Majority

  • Vizator

    I don’t remember all the articles about vampire overload, but I keep seeing all this stuff about zombie overload. Weird.

  • Vizator

    Haha, take it political why don’t you? Speaking of zombies, I think it’s funny how people say “Faux News” but can’t actually give any specific instances. Both sides have problems and both sides drink their respective parties’ koolaide. That said, most democrates DO seem to want handouts moreso than republicans…

  • batGRRRl4ever

    Um, sweetie, here’s what we’re talking about. Viewers of Fux “news” have been proven to be more ignorant of world and national affairs over viewers of other news outlets (there was a study done). Further, it is in fact the reddest right-wing southern states that take the biggest in what right-wingers call “federal hand-outs”, another insoluable fact. But of course, a Fux “news” viewer never let’s facts get in the way of what they are spoon fed by Roger Ailes right-wing agenda propaganda network.

  • numberthirty

    I didn’t see being a Republican stop a whole lot of Republicans from voting for and taking the bank bailout money.

    You’ve just got to question your assumptions. If you think Democrats are for handouts, why don’t Republicans push for an end to oil company subsidies? They are certainly a handout.

  • nljnwklw

    Yeah, I said as much a week or two ago around the time she posted another inane article. I guess the other, more depressing, possibility is that she simply emulates his pointless, pontificating writing style to try and manufacture hits. I guess it’s becoming easier to avoid these based on the rhetorical-question-titles that should tip us off beforehand.

  • Vizator

    Hmmm “sweetie”, last time I looked all of the blue states like New York, Illinois and California were the ones with the highest unemployment rates while red states like Texas had the lowest. And where is this proof you mention? MSNBC? CNN? The rest of the liberal media which is everyone except Fox News? Yeah, they are all real “fair and balanced”. Your bias is bleeding through in a very bad way. But like I said, you keep drinking that koolaid precious. I’ll keep being skeptical of BOTH sides.

  • batGRRRl4ever

    Do you actually pay attention to anything you read? I didn’t say anything about unemployment in my previous comment, my statement was about welfare, WIC, and food stamps, or what the right call “federal hand-outs”. You can go practically anywhere for these facts and figures, like any MSM network would bother with statistics. Numbers can be skewed depending upon at times if a questioner is biased, but some numbers are just statistically non-biased in their sheer number, and those numbers are proven out in red states that take welfare assistance.