A History of Horror #1: Zombies

"They're coming to get you, Barbra"

It's been three weeks since the downfall of civilisation. You've been holed up in an old farmhouse with your two best friends, living off canned food from the pantry and anything you managed to grab from the supermarket on your way from fleeing the city. Gary hears a scratching sound at the front door. 'Could it be them?' he ponders. Suddenly, several arms break through the window and drag Catherine outside. The door breaks down and dozens of the mindless corpses begin filing into the house. Gary pulls out his trusty revolver and begins shooting at the invaders. Six shots later and he's out, but their numbers do not dwindle. He's pulled into the crowd, as are you. You've just fallen victim to the Zombie.

Although often regarded in the modern form of flesh-eating, shambling demons, zombies have remained a part of our culture for hundreds of years. Beginning in Haitian folklore, a zombie is an animated corpse that is raised through magical means, often associated with voodoo. A bokor (sorcerer or witch) uses necromancy to revive the corpse, and the zombie remains a slave of the master, having no will of its own. This type of creature can be seen in early horror movies such as White Zombie (1932) and I Walked With A Zombie (1943).

In fiction, the idea of reanimated corpses dates back further. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818) and H.P. Lovecraft's Herbert West - Reanimator (1922) are early examples of zombies appearing in literature. The modern archetype was popularised by director George A. Romero in his directorial debut, Night of the Living Dead (1968), which features zombies as slow-moving, braindead monsters that hunger for human flesh. While largely a critique on '60s American culture, such as international Cold War politics, domestic racism, and consumerism, Night of the Living Dead paved the way for the zombie to become a staple of modern horror movies. Romero's two follow-ups, Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Day of the Dead (1985) were massively influential on the genre.

AMC's The Walking Dead has proven to be a successful horror TV series featuring zombies.
The rules of the genre stay very consistent across most texts; to kill a zombie, you must hit it in the head with a weapon. Guns are preferred, but a blade doesn't need to be reloaded. The stories typically involve the "early onset hysteria" of such an outbreak occurring; characters will typically have a problem accepting the situation and may experience shock, panic and even denial about it. The story then follows a small group of survivors for weeks or months into the apocalypse, showing how they come to terms with their new life in wake of the crisis. The authorities typically respond to the threat a lot slower than its rate of growth, allowing the hordes of zombies to grow into extreme numbers beyond containment.

Other films that remain key entries to the genre include: 28 Days Later (2002), about the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse in the United Kingdom; The Evil Dead (1981), which also popularised the "cabin in the woods" trope of horror; The Return of the Living Dead (1985) and Braindead (1992), two comedy movies that put a lighter spin on the genre, and Zombi 2 (1979), an unofficial sequel to Dawn of the Dead that influenced a lot of Italian horror cinema in the 1980s.

Zombies have also become massively popular in the video game platform. Being able to kill hordes of slow-moving ghouls with a surplus of overpowered firearms is a desirable form of escapism. Some of the first games to capture this were '80s releases such as Realm of Impossibility (1984) and Zombi (1986), but it was Resident Evil and House of the Dead (both released in 1996) that brought the zombie action genre to a 3D platform. The influence of these hyper-violent undead shoot'em-ups carried over into the 21st century with such games as Killing Floor (2005), a wave-based shooter where players defend themselves from hordes of zeds; Dead Rising (2006), an open-world beat'em-up set in a shopping mall; Left 4 Dead (2008), a linear shooter developed by Valve, and Call of Duty: World at War (2008), a World War Two shooter that included a Nazi zombie mode as a gameplay bonus. In more recent years, zombie games have embraced the survival aspect of the genre, with games such as Minecraft (2010), Project Zomboid (2011) and Day-Z (2013) allowing players to explore an open-world environment while also stocking up on supplies in order to survive the apocalypse.

When you realise how screwed you are.
Zombies are one of the scariest horror monsters because of their ever-increasing numbers coupled together with the never-ending determination to eat your brains out. While you need to rest at regular intervals, they will never stop as long as they know where you are. Do not be fooled by their weak composure; they'll get you eventually...

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