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Zombies and the Undead

Movies such as Dawn of the Dead and Resident Evil continue to scare viewers showing how much interest is still attached to the genre. Zombies are a public darling and each movie that is released has near-instant cult appeal, no matter how many new faces there are or how the acting stands. If there is groaning and dragging and eating of flesh, the box office booms. What Hollywood shows us in the usual one-acre-off approach to a topic. To get factual, we pretty much have to rely on HBO. Movies just are not the real story on zombies; no armies of darkness dragging useless legs down some shadowed path.

Zombies are the stuff of real life nightmares. The West Indian term jumbie for walking ghost; or nzambi, Kongo – dead person’s spirit, it’s clear most languages have a way to describe the walking dead. Zombies are reanimated corpses, without the ability to speak or make decisions or judgments, although once again Hollywood is bypassing the decisions thing. (Rather like vampires having babies, but that’s another article). Some believe zombies have been used by sorcerers and evil priests as armies of darkness. Many in the practice of Vodou claim to be able to raise zombies, but other than stories from the shadows and tales told to keep kids in their beds, not too much is actually known about them.

The raising of dead tissue is believed by some to be the result of rituals and magic, with a ton of superstition tossed in. Others consider the theory that a recipe survives; one of herbs and other things that cause a chemical response from tissue and muscle that has already started to die. Still another theory talks about another herbal preperation that puts a body into such a deep state that the heart and breathing are all but undetectable by laypeople. The body is convincingly dead and can be “reanimated” with drugs and kept in a stupor appearing zombie-like.

There is a passage from the epic of Gilgamesh that tells us that even in the middle ages, zombies were a consideration. ” …let the dead go up to eat the living!” This shows the common belief that “revenants” walked the earth in the form of skeletons. Fighters and champions returned to avenge theirs or their kings’ deaths. The concept of zombies is world-wide and found in nearly all cultures. Most have dark myths and folklore that include the walking dead.

George A. Romero resurrected zombies and shoved them back onto the screen with the Dead Series (Night, Day, Land, Diary, Dawn) Zombies have become one of the biggest box office draws in Hollywood. Movies with an epidemic and bacteria theme are creating zombies as fast as movie-goers can keep up. Resident Evil and 28 Days Later tell the zombie epic from a different view point and work just as well as the old stand-bys. The infected walking dead can tear up human flesh just as fast as those from the old voodoo tales.

The concept of zombies and flesh eaters gives license to nightmares of epic proportions for some people. Suspending disbelief is difficult because of so many occasions in history where the telling of the tales seem so very real. Like all myth and folklore, there is likely a grain of truth somewhere buried in the tales. That is what gives zombies the creep factor they so richly deserve.

© 2013

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