There’s no denying humans love zombies. For years, they’ve battled vampires as our favorite brand of undead. Some say zombies, albeit in their staggeringly slow speed, are finally surpassing the likes of Lestat and Edward Cullen to reign supreme. After all, Zombieland (2009) was the first zombie flick to make more than $100 million and was the highest-grossing zombie film of all time– that is, until World War Z brought in $540 million from the Box Office in 2003. And while Season 8 of The Walking Dead dropped in viewership by 33%, there were still 11.4 million people tuning into the premiere. Last year, there were nine zombie series on TV, in fact, if you count “Game of Thrones” (we do) and nearly 200 zombie films produced from 2010-2018.
Here at The Horror Dome we’ve got plenty of zombie costumes that are terrifyingly hideous to contemplate – and a lot of fun to wear! Sometimes we wonder what this fascination with zombies says about us -- or says about you, for that matter!
Zombies Reflect the Horrors of Slavery
Today’s zombies bear little resemblance to their predecessors. “White Zombie” (1932) is considered the first feature-length zombie film -- based on a book, “The Magic Island” by William Seabrook. Not many modern renditions go way back to the historic roots of zombie folklore.
As a world traveler and journalist fascinated by the occult, Seabrook traveled to Haiti in the 1920s to study this mysterious voodoo Catholic missionaries hoped to stamp out. There he visited the Haitian American Sugar Company where he met four slaves. “The supposed zombies continued dumbly at work,” he recalled. “They were plodding like brutes, like automatons. The eyes were the worst… They were in truth like the eyes of a dead man, not blind but staring, unfocused, unseeing.” What he was referring to was the horrors of Industrialist American sweat shops operating in full swing at the turn of the Century.
The word “zombie” comes from nzambi, the Kongo word for “soul.” West Africans were carted to Haiti by the Spanish in the 1500s and the French in the 1600s. Much of our zombie folklore can be credited to Haitian voodoo, where it is believed those who died from unnatural causes linger at their graves, at which point they could be revived by a witch doctor who would keep the “zombi” in a bizarre state between life and death as a personal slave. For a dead guy, it could be a decent trade-off – a life of toil versus becoming worm food underground. Some zombies worked as healers. Others could feasibly be used to commit treacherous acts like murder.
In the early 1980s, Canadian Field Biologist Wade Davis traveled to Haiti in search of an alleged “zombie drug” that could bring people back from the dead. There were multiple reports of people appearing before family and friends years after their own funerals. Davis uncovered evidence of secret societies formed by escaped slaves who went on to stage successful revolts that would secure the land’s independence from French rule in 1804. These societies controlled specific territories and maintained order through the threat of “zombification,” a form of capital punishment worse than death, where individuals were stripped of their dignity, free will, and independence. Those who caused trouble for their families through thievery, abandonment of children, or other crimes were poisoned by fugu-fish (which caused them to appear dead), buried alive, later dug up by voodoo priests, and forced into slavery. When it comes to zombies, truth is stranger than fiction!
The Zombies Are Us
Why not just ask the master of zombie horror films, Night of the Living Dead Director George A. Romero, what he thinks about the staying power of the undead? “I… have always liked the monster within idea,” he once said. “I like the zombies being us. Zombies are the blue-collar monsters.” They’re the working stiffs. They’re the ones who never saw the virus coming, and now they’re just along for the ride. They’re not aware they’re zombies. They’re just caught up in the plight for survival. Who can’t relate to that?
He wanted to cast light on the way humans react, fail to react, or react stupidly. “I’m pointing the finger at us, not at the zombies,” he said, adding: “A zombie film is not fun without a bunch of stupid people running around and observing how they fail to handle the situation.” When you think about modern horrors – chemical warfare, superbugs, terrorist attacks – are we not similarly unprepared?
Over time, we note zombies progress from Romero’s comedic troupe of bumbling undead to a faster, scarier, post-9/11 brand of contagion like those in 28 Days Later. Older films focused on individual heroes with bleak outcomes, while newer versions look at how we might band together to defeat the plague. Often, this means, forsaking those you once loved (who are now “the enemy”) and embracing those who may be completely different from you, but are stuck in the same miserable situation. In a time marked by fears of mass migrations, this wave of social sympathy seems particularly relevant.
"Zombie movies all used to end, in that era [the 1960s], with that feeling of incredibly bleak hopelessness," explains Sarah Juliet Lauro, a zombie scholar at Clemson University. Now, she says, "The zombie 'ethos' has expanded into these kinds of live performances – zombie walks, zombie runs, humans-versus-zombie tag on college campuses. [The new millennium is] where zombies pivoted from being a tool of lamentation about a society we're stuck in to being a way of imagining our own mastery [as a group] over the worst."
Zombie Films Are A Cinematic Wonder – Violent, Gross, and Funny
As a genre, zombie films have a lot to offer viewers. They’re all violent, but some lean more toward gory, while others are more comedic. Cult classic “Dead Alive” (1992) by Peter Jackson was described as “the goriest film ever to be made.” To give you an idea – in one scene, lawn mowers plow down the undead at top speed, with blood and limbs splattering gallons upon gallons of blood and gore everywhere.
Day of the Dead has aged well, even by modern standards, with plenty of cringe-worthy moments where half-dissected zombies rise again and men are being ripped apart limb from limb. Tom Savini proved his mastery of special effects, without a doubt! From eye-gouging (Zombie Flesh Eaters, 1979), to pediatric cannibalism (Night of the Living Dead, 1968), to vomiting up entrails (City of the Living Dead, 1983), zombie films are as gross as they come. Did we mention they’re also campy and funny? From Evil Dead to Shaun of the Dead, this brand of zombie film is still thriving.
Get Your Zombie Costume and Zombie Animatronics from The Horror Dome
Maybe you like to imagine what you’d do in a post-apocalyptic zombie world. Would you be the Doomsday Prepper hero? Surely, you wouldn’t be one of those morons who leave their kids alone, fail to shoot the transforming zombies, and who run around screaming when they should be shooting. Or maybe you’re fascinated by the real-life historic ties to Voodoo and slavery. Perhaps you sympathize with these hapless ghouls. You might even recognize some of your coworkers or fellow commuters in the faces of zombies. Then again, it could just be that blood, guts, gore, and gooey skin scares you silly – and you love that.
No matter the reason, The Horror Dome has the goods on your zombie obsession, whether you’re looking for a frightful Halloween costume or animatronic zombies for a professional display. We won’t judge your love of zombies. We love them too!
Lots of further reading on all things zombie:
- Mental Floss – Memorable Quotes From George Romero
- Forbes – The Walking Dead’s Season 8 Premiere
- PSU – 10 Frustrating Things About Zombie Movies
- CNN – Vampire vs. Zombie Popularity
- Harvard Magazine – Zombie Files
- VOX – Zombie Political History
- Smithsonian Mag – Zombie Movies Are Never Really About Zombies
- Timeout – The Best Zombie Movies
- Flavorwire – Most Horrifying Zombie Death Scenes