Wednesday, October 9, 2013


Zombies took a chunk out of my brain and staked a place in my heart when I was seven years old. I never fully recovered. With my parents out of town, I snuck into my three older brothers’ horror movie marathon featuring George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, Stephen King’s Cujo, and Hitchock’s Psycho. I vaguely remember Psycho being black and white and people screamed a lot. Cujo had a big dog  I thought was cute and barked a lot. But zombies eating hot-dog-link entrails on lawns and slurping up brains like Big Gulps in malls scarred me in ways that forever changed me, ways that left me the (functionally unhinged?) dude I am today.  

When my parents came home a few days later, I was still crying. Never managed to stop bawling the whole weekend. My brothers, immediately busted, furthered my misery by jettisoning me from their illicit movie loop. My dad kind of shrugged at the whole thing. Mom was pissed. Partially because kids’ pristine, developing minds should categorically not be stained with gore and slaughter, but mostly because I wasn’t sleeping, which meant she wasn’t sleeping. Every night for three straight months I had nightmares—living dead eating people, chasing me, nibbling at me—from which I’d wake screaming and sweating. The frequency of my adolescent zombie-mares gradually diminished, but every time I’d be down to maybe four or five of them a year, I’d compulsively watch another terrible 80s zombie flick: Lifeforce, Night of the Comet, Return of the Living Dead, etc.. It was like I was re-living the trauma to understand the trauma.

So I could kick its undead ass.

Which ultimately worked. At age eleven, tired of being afraid to sleep one night, I said, “alright zombies, bring it on.” Zombies aren’t real. They can’t hurt me. OOOMMMM. I repeated it like a mantra, all the way into my dreams. Where the zombies were waiting. They attacked. I shot them in the head. Ran. Shot more in the head. Ran more.  They caught up to me. And… the dream re-set. Dream harm was no longer possible. The rules had been changed. I changed them. When the zombies tried to grab a hold of me, it was like when you accidentally did something to the bad guy on an old video game that wasn’t programmed to handle your forbidden move, so it would game-over you to the beginning level. I woke up. Victorious! It was a turning point. Maybe I’d never lose the zombies completely, but no longer would they bully me. I’m down to two zombie-mares a year, at age 37.

I’ve nurtured my visceral adolescent terror of zombies into a deep adult appreciation of  all they stand for. I’ve probed my psyche to understand what it is that draws not only me, but millions of others like me to living/walking/un-dead fandom. The obvious checklist is, well, too obvious to satisfy:
  • Fear of death – check
  • Fear of being eaten (by something dead or undead, animal or otherwise) – check
  • Fear of waking up after death not in heaven, but nose deep in someone’s intestines -- check 

None of those, as one or in total, can explain the pop culture zombie phenomenon. Millions are shelled out for zombie books, movies, and video games. But why? Something that attracts such a devout cult fandom from across all walks of life must draw its psychological power from a far deeper source than surface-level fears. Indeed, our love of zombies is more than just flesh deep.

Zombies are our fear of aging. They are age eating our faces, our bodies, our brains. Our hope. Zombies are the injuries that won’t heal, the wrinkles that don’t smooth, the life-rut that’s never climbed out of, the opportunities that stopped coming, the unrelenting solitude, the memory and intellect slowly being chewed away by time. Zombies are the fear that we’re beyond redemption, the doubt that we’ll meet our potential, the hopelessness for a better future--because there is no future, you’re a zombie, a bone-sucking zombie, and this is how you’re doomed to walk for all eternity, stuck forever in that uniform society forced over your ears even as you kicked and screamed, “But I want to be a rock star, not a mortgage broker!” Zombies are Miracle on 42nd Street without the miracle, just a dead-eyed slog through one broken dream after another as your belly and butt turn to porridge and your 40-yard-dash gets timed with a sun dial, until one day you think a girl is hitting on you at the local bar until she calls you “sir,” and calls the pathetic schlump beside her, “dad,” and the pathetic schlump says, “Dude, I haven’t seen you since high school graduation! You still need a job at my brokerage, bro?” Becoming a zombie is the ultimate failure.

Beating the zombies, however, is the ultimate achievement. Be it by fire or bullet to the brain, annihilating a horde of zombies and staving off the zombie apocalypse is to prove that you are alive in every sense of the word. You have your own mind and values and dreams. You have vision and will and determination. You are better than the wave of undead flesh coming to claim you, as it’s claimed so many around you, because you refuse to give up even when you’re hopelessly outnumbered and down to your last bullet and improvised poleaxe. You won’t fall, get chewed up, swallowed down, and excreted out (wait, do zombies defecate? Hmm…). That’s why it’s so important to nuke those bastards. Beating the zombie apocalypse means beating the mundane, banal life that seems to be collapsing upon you. It’s about life in its grandest sense.

Please post your favorite zombie flicks, books, vids, one-liners of all time. TV series will suffice, but please highlight your favorite episode, if you have one. For me? Favorite zombie line of all time is Return of the Living Dead’s, “Send. More. Cops.” 


  1. I loved an old Simpsons Treehouse of Horror where they did a zombie episode. The zombies swarm around Homer, grunting "brains ... brains..." but they can't find a brain in him so they leave him alone. It's also the episode where Homer shoots the zombie Shakespeare, whose "dying" words are "is this the end of zombie Shakespeare?"

    1. I remember that episode fondly. Was that the same one where Homer found Bernie munching on someone's leg, but Bernie wasn't a zombie, just wanted some free grub? And I vaguely remember a zombie George Washington.