“When there is no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth…” (Dawn of the Dead 2004).
I chose the modern zombie for my evaluation because of the sheer intensity of which is displayed in films such as 28 Days Later and Dawn of the Dead. Their insatiable appetite, hording, endless athleticism, in most cases having their only weakness being great trauma to the head, and need to spread their disease to the population; zombies are the most volatile and frightening monster that I can think of. With the modern versions of zombies appearing in Dawn of the Dead, I would easily rate this monster a 4.5 (out of 5) overall. With inspiration from the ‘Godfather of the Dead’, who was George A. Romero, Zack Snyder directed the 2004 horror film, Dawn of the Dead. Romero’s 1978 version truly set the standard for what the zombie apocalypse would become in film, and the few years following the 2004 version, it further raised the bar on how truly frightening the genre would become. While the movies would lack in a lot of the ‘jump-scares’ and unpredictable elements, the zombie horror genre had become an interactive one, giving it horror in its own way, leaving long-lasting images of ‘what if?’.
It’s 2004, and you’re in the sixth grade. Your dad comes home from one of those fabled video rental stores, and upon his arrival, you look at an ominous, yet subtle cover of a DVD, bearing the silhouettes of a large group of people walking with the sun in the background, obscuring the faces, and large words plastered Dawn of the Dead. At the time, I only figured that zombies were the ‘pet rocks’ of the horror genre, disregarding them as slow-walking and boring monsters whose purpose was to fulfill an insatiable appetite that could easily be ended by a protagonist’s strike that took little effort and calculation. The DVD my parents played on our boxy and classical JVC-brand television left me arrogantly expecting calm walks in the park, believing that a protagonist with a gun could easily mow down the seemingly countless, slow undead. The Man Comes Around, by Johnny Cash plays with an intro. With the subtle music playing with a series of shocking news clips within the movie, the legendary country singer utters biblical and apocalyptic references within the lyrics. The calmness of the music is paired with images of pandemonium and the unknown, bringing me to a rude awakening. My arrogance towards the classic versions of the undead quickly turned into fear, as the final lyrics were sung for the intro:
“And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts. And I looked, and behold a pale horse. And his name that sat on him was death, and hell followed with him.” (The Man Comes Around, Johnny Cash, 2002)
My arrogance towards zombies truly preceded me when I was a kid, but this movie left me with nightmares. However, as frightening as they were to me after understanding Zack Snyder’s vision of the 1978 same-named classic by George A. Romero, the same fear piqued the curiosity of personal storytelling, leaving me to spend hours at home and in class, writing about hypothetical apocalyptic events with myself and my friends as the protagonists of a zombie apocalypse. The movie itself revolves around a diverse group of survivors, seeking refuge in an empty mall. While their resources are plenty, they also understand that there are only finite provisions that would only prolong a seemingly inevitable death, realizing also that they also die and reanimate after being bitten by one of the infected. They have to find a way to defend themselves and figure how to escape the hell that has suddenly invaded their lives.
“Fear of the Monster is Really a Kind of Desire” (Monster Culture (Seven Theses), J Cohen) is one I found to be relatable with the idea of embarking on challenges regarding a hypothetical apocalypse where the undead has conquered humanity. I believe the fascination is similar to the feeling of gambling, where you’re given a series of possibilities, where every choice leads to survival or inevitable death, and where the survivors inherit the Earth, where you’re only restricted to your own wit and strategies of survival. The movie felt claustrophobic, but not in the same way that I felt watching other iconic horror films, such as Friday the 13th or Halloween, where there was truly no running from masked monsters, such as Jason, Freddy, or Michael. Although they are equally deserving of respect, the reason that Dawn of the Dead has such a strong impact is because the scenarios give a fighting chance for the individual watching the movie, and brings an interactive imagination, where the world is the playground, rather than just Elm Street or Camp Crystal Lake. Instead of remaining a linear story, we realize that it becomes a long series of ‘what would you do?’ scenarios.
Folklore involving the undead have been a massive part of most cultures since the beginning of documented civilization. Burial sites of some Greeks were found to have had large rocks pinning their bodies down, with the intent of preventing the dead from rising. Practitioners of Voodoo have also been known for creating toxic concoctions that would give a patient the appearance of being undead, though they do not resemble how we would see zombies in modern popular culture, nor would they be decomposing. (History, 2017). For a long time, we’ve endured the fear of the undead, also being mentioned within Biblical texts, but none of those mentioned in history have been shown to be what modern culture represents zombies as. Many also believe The Bible to have been a source for the imagination of the modern undead we see in movies in the 1900s. With the surge of zombie enthusiasts appearing in the wake of 28 Days Later, Resident Evil, Dawn of the Dead, and many other modern zombie horror films, many have taken to fan fictions, video games, and Halloween YouTube mob pranks. The craze is understandably one of the most mischievous, but the psychological horror that comes from the idea, not just the movies, have been one that has created much fear of the undead from many. Though the craze has died in the 2010s, I still believe that the most frightening monster this world would ever witness would be the modern zombie we see in the aforementioned movies. The intensity and profane levels of mindless cannibalism and violence, coupled with a pathogen that infects others, as well as their unsuspecting and never-ending athleticism makes them one of the most formidable monsters in the history of entertainment. The only reason I gave modernized zombies a rating of 4.5 out of 5 was simply because zombie movies themselves are not all that frightening to me. Although these films are not scary at first, they leave a sense of despair and hopelessness. If the dead were to walk the Earth, it would be easy to say that we’d all be doomed, and while it would be the end of civilization, the survivors would be the fortunate who inherit the Earth, if the undead eventually die. What would you do if you woke up to this chaos?
Cohen J. Monster Culture (Seven Theses). Print. 1996.
Jeffrey Cohen goes in-depth with how ‘monsters’ are in human society, explaining the different ways monsters are integrated with us in culture. How it plays on modern fears, desires, and perception are some few examples he explains in regards to how we’re affected, and how we see ‘monsters’.
History of Zombies. National Geographic. YouTube. 2015. https://youtu.be/i12Hdo1q0I8.
Since civilization has existed, zombies have played a role in history, referenced biblically, as well as in modern culture. The way we view zombies in modern society is far grimmer than what we viewed in earlier history. This video gives us a good look at the history of zombies, and what life we’ve given them in popular culture.
Snyder Z. Dawn of the Dead. Movie. 2004.
George A. Romero’s remake of the 1978 horror brings a modern perspective on the zombie apocalypse, maximizing the fear and pandemonium with a heightened intensity, with zombies that are far more violent and explosive in their actions than we’ve ever seen. Zombies that can run, have unheard-of strength, and a dead-end story that leaves the ending up for grim interpretation. This is the zombie apocalypse we fear the most.
Vervaeke J, Mastropietro C. Zombies in Western Culture: A Twenty-First Century Crisis. Cambridge Open Book Publishers. eBook. 2017. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=1548737&site=ehost-live
Modern film-making has spawning countless kids to write stories, creating the award-winning series The Walking Dead, and leaving us almost romanticizing the apocalypse, despite how awful it would be. Why is the zombie apocalypse so appealing?
Drezner D. Metaphor of the Living Dead. Social Research. Vol 81, Issue 4. 2014.
Zombies have become huge in modern society, again spawning popular works, and bringing work back from the vaults of George A. Romero, “The Father of Zombie Film”. With this academic research, we look into the similar aspects of the zombie apocalypse, and how similar it is from how we might look at modern politics, culture, and society as a whole.
Khan S. Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse. CDC Public Health Matters Blog. 2011.
As just a parody, the CDC is one of the many government organizations that have created a hypothetical guide on what to do in the event of a zombie apocalypse. They cover a lot of the history and methods on how to maximize your survival with basic supplies and tactics.