When There’s No More Room In Hell…

This is the first in a series of blogs about famous monster types from literature, film and folklore. I thought I’d start with a common creature that mostly appears in movieland: The Zombie.

"Anybody got a Band-Aid?"

As you all know, the name ‘zombie’ originates from Haitian and West African traditions of Voodoo (or Vodun, or Vodou), where a zombie (or zonbi, or nzumbe – thanks Wikipedia!) is generally regarded as a re-animated corpse, brought back from the dead to do the bidding of a practitioner. Some have argued that zombies are the result of pharmacological compounds, consisting of pufferfish venom among other things, but this is generally dismissed by the medical community. Although the word is linked to Voodoo, the creature appears in many different cultures, fulfilling different niches in folklore. The draugr (recently seen in Skyrim) are the living dead from Norse mythology that guard the burial chambers of heroes, while revenants are European spirits that return from the dead in physical bodies, mainly to pick on their living relatives or take revenge on their killer. The German nachzehrer (basically ‘devourer from the afterlife’) was linked to deaths from epidemics, predating recent ‘infected’ zombie types.

Zombies have gained popularity over the last few decades, mainly down to the stirling work of film-makers like George A. Romero, Sam Raimi and Edgar Wright (as well as the less stirling work of a veritable horde of others). There are a number of takes on the zombie, ranging from the shambling, groaning undead (the ‘classic’ movie zombie) to the sprinting and leaping ‘infected’ (the ‘new-wave’ zombie), but they all have a relentless hunger for human flesh – and often brains – in common. A zombie can be created by a disease, often spread by bite or other bodily fluid, by magic or by radiation, as well as a range of other possibilities, so it seems that the existence of zombies is of far greater importance than what caused them. In fact, this is often the case with these movies – ‘where did they come from’ is far a less important question than ‘how the hell do we get away from them?’

So why are they so popular? Why do they make such a good monster?

Well, firstly it is a force of numbers thing.

The queue for the new iPhone was getting out of hand

The idea is that there is an endless supply of hungry, angry, cannibalistic corpses. On its own, a single zombie isn’t that much of a threat – it’s slow and stupid – but they don’t tend to attack on their own. As the great bard himself said, “When zombies come, they come not in single spies, but in battalions”. And because they are technically already dead, it’s a bit tricky to actually kill them. In movieland, the destruction of the head is usually the way forward – sever the connection to the brain and the body will die. This leads to a series of cool special effects as zombie skulls are exploded across the screen in a variety of inventive ways and bloody showers of gore.

Of course, if the horde does get its hands on you, it’s a painful and violent death. We have an in-built horror of being eaten by something – it triggers a primal fear in us – and zombies are an embodiment of this fear. They keep coming. They have no remorse. They will eat you alive. It’s a predator/prey thing.

Om nom nom

Typical zombie films consist of a group of – usually mismatched – strangers banding together for protection as they try to find a safe place to escape to. This gives the film-maker good scope to include the frictions between the disparate characters as well as the stress from thousands of relentless killing machines bearing down on them. Themes of racism, sexual politics and growing up are common in these films, although the learning is often interrupted by someone’s intestines being pulled out through their anus, followed by hysterical screaming and a lot more running away.

The image of the zombie horde has lodged itself so firmly in the collective consciousness that the internet is full of sites dedicated to the creatures, from artwork to fan fiction, from (de)motivational posters to scholarly – and not so scholarly – articles on how to survive a zombie apocalypse. Even The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention has posted an article on what to do in the event of an outbreak of zombies in your town. Admittedly, its tongue is firmly in its cheek, but it raises some good points about general emergency preparedness.

Are you prepared? What would be essential kit for your zombie survival kit? Let’s see if we can get a definitive kit worked out.

6 responses to “When There’s No More Room In Hell…

  1. Great first post. Made me think that I can’t remember seeing a zombie craving brains since a Simpson horror special. Admittedly I’ve only been watching more recent zombie films.

  2. I’m on the board of directors in the Zombie Apocalypse Preparation group as their creative consultant, and I’ve illustrated two guides to zombie survival, which, as I’m sure you’ll agree, leaves me utterly unprepared for a zombie apocalypse.

    But it was fun!

    On a more serious note then, for a zombie survival kit you’re going to need first aid, water purifications tablets, knives, rope, tarp’, fire starting equipment and rations, lots and lots of rations. To while away the long hours of being holed up in your basement lair (you have got a basement lair right?) don’t forget to pack some entertainment, cards, drawing paper, family sized box of Kleenex. Also it’s a good idea to include light so candles and wind up torches that don’t require batteries are a plan. Toilet facilities won’t be great, so if you can get a chemical toilet prepared, all the better. Forward planning is what it’s all about people. You don’t want to have to wander the streets looking for the little boys room once the dead have taken over. Music should be headphones only and only ever wear one ear piece at a time, people who listen to their music too loud or who wear both ear pieces at the same time will die, FACT!

    • A basement lair? Are you insane? Trapping yourself underground with only one entrance (and exit) is a sure-fire way to be eaten. You need something with good sightlines, surely? And more than one escape route is probably a good idea (although it means more than one way in for the horde, of course). Is staying in one place the way to go, though? Don’t forget that zombies are totally single-minded and won’t stop just because you’ve locked the door. They are patient and will probably just keep hanging around trying to get in. Sooner or later they’ll succeed.

      First aid is a very good idea, obviously. Lots of painkillers, anti-biotics, bandages etc. Not much mention of weapons though. How would you protect yourself? Apart from keeping slow moving people in your group to act as a distraction/sacrifice!

  3. I have a survival plan, a brilliant one, I’m not sharing here as come the Zombie Invasion you will all try and get a piece of it.

    • But the only chance humanity has is to work together! And gather as many slow moving and stupid people around you as possible to use as ablative armour. But I didn’t say that last bit.

  4. The zombie is essentially wanting to satiate its base needs, but nobody has ever discussed with it what this lust for human flesh is borne out of. The compulsive bingeing on homo sapien entrails is no doubt transferance, what we really need to do is locate ourselves at a safe distance and ask these undulating individuals what is missing in their lives. Surely they simply want to be loved. And provided with jobs as trolley collectors at larger supermarket chains.

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