How must it feel to turn into a Zombie and become the vicious, relentless beast of legend? To live purely for the slaughter of the living, killing them without mercy, is a terrifying prospect. And to do so without having the mental capacity to question your actions renders us fearful of these lumbering creatures of evil.
But as you stare at the festering wound on your arm, would you be able to recognize your final moments as a human, with ideals and dreams fading away, before they are replaced by a surging, unhinged violence which cannot be sated? The yellowed eyes see only the next blood-splattered meal, with humans only registering as just another food source. The expression changes from dislike to hatred to bloodlust as your loved ones scream in terror as you cross the appalling rubicon into Undeath. Your lips fold back, baring your teeth, as you advance upon friends and family but recognizing no one. The stiffening of muscle, aiding physical strength, contrasts markedly with the weakened brain, reduced to little more than pulp, as you claw your way towards your next victim, snarls escaping between your bloody lips.
To know you're infected with the Zombie Virus means a lingering death sentence, brought into effect as the incubation period is finally ended. Your eyes close and your last feelings of rage and fear are hopelessly confused. You feel sick with worry, shaking with the knowledge of what awaits you.
Your eyes snap open and a bloody grin creeps over your face. For a short while you lie there gazing up at the grey sky with its dark, brooding clouds and brief glint of sunlight. Your dull eyes are momentarily distracted by birds squabbling up in the tree tops before human activity finally rips you from your torpor. Your grin widens as you embrace a satanic call of the wild, mindless and fearless, as you struggle to your feet. Other corpses, also risen, stagger towards the terror stricken civilians while your clawed hand catches hold of a young man who struggles to break free but fails. Your eyes, relaying little to your destroyed brain, lock upon the subdued male who seems to have frozen in fear, accepting his ghastly fate.
Blood covers your mouth, with more trickling down your clammy forehead, as you feast on the glistening entrails of the fallen man. Bodies lie everywhere with ghoulish figures leaning over each one as they tear the flesh from the still-warm cadavers. Growls and snarling fill the air as corrupted bodies embrace the insanity of what is unfolding. The trees sway in the weak breeze, with their leaves whispering softly - a backdrop of normality while all else is chaos.
In the High Street, blood trickles into the gutter, some of it finding its way into a rusty grating in the road where it falls into the Stygian darkness. Standing in your bloody clothes you stare into a shop window and watch the TV screens with vacant eyes. The straggly meat of a consumed rat hangs from the corner of your mouth and you turn clumsily upon hearing movement behind.
You celebrate another death with a savage cackle while the town dies around you. Its shattered windows twinkle in the dying light as dusk closes in. Screaming merges with the car horns from wrecked vehicles; some are overturned, while others burn brightly with smoke billowing out from beneath crumpled metal.
A droplet of blood drips from your thumbnail and falls onto the face of an elderly woman, her face still caught in a silent, endless scream. Her shopping bags lie nearby with meals for one spilling out of the torn plastic. But you stare at this uncaringly, uncomprehendingly as you bite through her fingers one by one...
But how did this cataclysm arrive? Was it through a particularly virulent strain of rabies? Or, perhaps, a military experiment gone wrong? Given Man's track record of widespread inhumanity - even with our rational brains - it seems quite possible that if there ever is a terrible Contagion then it may well be because of a government's meddling in genetics. This prospect is extremely unsettling when one considers the fact that scientists are often reckless individuals only too eager to try out new drugs on an unsuspecting society. Today's test subject guinea pigs could be tomorrow's flesh-ripping Zombies eager for a taste of human meat.
So what about you, now you've transmogrified into a rabid killer?
You're now in the story as just another grotesque with a dead mask face overseeing the collapse of humanity. It's irrelevant to you how this started, and irrelevant to you how this will end.
"Zombies and their Enduring Popularity"
Do you fear the end...?
Given the enormous contribution the Zombie has given to the horror genre (books as well as films) - and the proliferation of soundtracks, mugs, T-shirts, board games et al - it’s quite clear that this particular form of Undead is driving all before it, and has been for some considerable time. In this article I’ll attempt to give my own reasons as to why this might be, and to ponder what the future holds for the relentless evil of the walking corpses.
As described in this site’s introduction, the unconvincing, blue-faced shuffling dead of the 70s’ movies occasionally provided an interesting glimpse into the potential of this creature type. Roll the clock on to more recent years and the viewer is rewarded with the wonderfully rendered prosthetics of series such as the Walking Dead. Close ups of Zombified faces are detailed enough to send shivers down the spine, while the sight of rotting teeth slicing into bloody entrails reveals a godless world that humankind could eventually inhabit.
I think the Zombie works on different levels. Firstly it’s an allegory which is linked to dementia: when a person no longer recognizes his or her loved ones and might even turn violent with them even though they’re attempting to ease the stricken person’s last few years on this earth. Some horror films have dealt with this and the scenes can be surprisingly disturbing, such as when a wife no longer sees her partner as a husband anymore, but merely as meat to be ripped apart. The fact that Zombies cannot be bargained with or convinced to stop partially mimics the awful downward spiral of diseases of the brain.
Another reason for the Zombies’ successful career is more obvious - that they represent the end of the human species and embrace the gory, blood-crazed existence that continues afterwards, and this challenges one of the last great taboos: death. We humans are terrified of shuffling off our mortal coil and, as a result, the prospect of cheating mortality in whatever form - however rudimentary - captivates us. As people age, their thoughts must inevitably turn to their own demise (on occasion) and they wonder when the fateful act will happen and whether the lurid stories of white tunnels and angelic voices are true. And then, possibly, come the ideas of cheating this process and considering if it’s feasible to continue with life even if it’s without a pulse.
Would you want to live after your human death if it meant ripping the flesh from those still in possession of a functioning brain? In the lucidity of a moment’s contemplation perhaps not, but if in a weakened state with the possibility of the end fast approaching and when deals with God have fallen through...then perhaps the answer would then be a hesitant “yes”. So the lust and zeal many of us have for life would possibly lead us to take our meat undercooked if it were possible - and in so doing convince us that we had cheated the inevitability of death. I also find it thrilling to think that several bullets punching through my chest wouldn’t stop me; that the unpleasant grin creeping over my face wouldn’t lessen as my leathery, blood-caked hands still reach out to the terrified human I’d soon be feasting on. There’s something quietly awesome about this: to cheat death; to shrug off the knowledge that every human life will end this way and then rise again without a beating heart - is a lessened form of the divine.
Zombie fans get this idea, I’ll wager: that there’s something after our last breath which waits for us...
The majesty of Undeath.
Another reason for the Zombies’ success is that over the last few decades many different writers, artists, and directors have brought their own ideas to the party thus ensuring the genre remains flexible. This means it’s able to move with the times thus making sure that the Zombie concept is always relevant. As each new generation experiences the cold embrace of dead flesh, this builds a creative friction, just as two seas meeting smash against each other in spouts of violent foam and force.
Of course, the original idea of the Zombie came from Haiti and Africa, and generally within the sinister grip of Voodoo. Many of these Zombies were villagers reduced to vacant slaves by black magic or the application of various substances which dulled a person’s will to resist. According to ethnobotanist Edmund Wade Davis, toxins from the toad Bufo Marinus result in producing numbing agents and hallucinogens, while Puffer fish have toxins that cause paralysis, depress respiration, reduce circulatory activity, and cause a victim to believe he’s floating over his own body. As a result, it’s easy to see how this state of affairs mutated as the legend of the Zombie spread, and the idea was then adapted by writers and other creatives who adjusted the folklore for their own varied projects.
It seems there’s plenty of “life” left in the Zombie genre (sorry, I couldn’t resist that) considering the other different types available to the crazed musings of writers and directors. There’s Atomic Zombies (created by chemical or radioactive contamination); Necromantic Zombies (created by black magic to reanimate the bodies of the dead); Viral Zombies (created by a contagious virus that infects the living and turns them into Zombies following the rapid onset of death) - the list goes on.
It seems the Zombie is here to stay - and not just because its own twisted DNA makes this possible, it’s also because these snarling, vicious forms are wanted by fearful audiences all over the globe.