Sparkly vampires are so last year: Zombies are knocking their fellow legions of the undead from their pedestal.
From zombie walks being held in cities across the world to television shows, video games and numerous books hitting stores, people’s fascination with zombies is spreading like a plague. “Zombies have the upper hand,” says University of British Columbia film studies professor Ernest Mathijs, whose specialities include horror and fantasy.
“Zombies are a kind of ingredient you can add to any cultural product and make it look slightly different,” he explains. “It will turn it into a funny parody of contemporary cultures, and somehow that appeals to cultures across the globe.”
The idea of zombies originally came from the voodoo culture in Haiti. The word “zombi” was used to describe a brainless slave laborer raised from the dead by a bokor, or sorcerer.
The now-familiar modern zombie was popularized and turned into a phenomenon in 1968 by way of the unexpected popularity of director George Romero’s low-budget horror classic “Night of the Living Dead.”
Gisele Baxter of UBC’s English department, who specializes in gothic culture and post-apocalyptic fiction, says Romero’s film took the horror genre one step further. “Romero was influential in spawning everyday horror that doesn’t deal with mad scientists or externalized threats, but deals with threats we associate with nightmares, personal threats and very primal fears,” she says. (See page 14 for our chat with the legend himself.)
The audience identifies with zombie stories because people today are fascinated and fearful of the possibility of an apocalypse, while the metaphorical possibilities and themes inherent in zombie stories also appeal to modern filmmakers because they can experiment with notions of what people would do to survive in a kill-or-be-killed world.
These undead know no limits, even invading classic literature with “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” which is being adapted into a film. “When you think of ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ the last thing you think about is zombies,” Baxter says. “The juxtaposition of these immensely different things really fascinated people. Then it spawned a lot of copycat titles, which is very impressive because people found the energy and imagination to do anything with these titles.”