The subjects in the title are actually supposed to be two different topics. Take it as you will.
Subject the first: Today was May Day, time for a unique tradition here at the UofC. As legend has it, the statue out in front of Pick Hall was designed in such a way that on noon on the first of May (international workers' holiday) the sun causes the statue to cast a shadow in the shape of a hammer and sickle. It was cloudy last year, and a few years before it, so the crowd at the statue today at noon was pretty good. They dispersed pretty quickly, though, allowing me some prolonged time to gaze and ponder the sight. Was there a hammer and sickle? You tell me:
Well, it was fun anyway. Now, ZOMBIES.
At some point in the not-so-distant past, I developed an attraction to zombies and the zombie mythos. I am certain this attraction relates to my fear of horror movie-style zombies. Like most irrational fears, I know for a fact that zombies, in that sense, do not exist and cannot exist. This knowledge does not comfort me. I almost managed to comfort myself by saying that if zombies did come, I would be warned by distant screams of terror first and so could appropriately barricade myself. Of course, this is all silly. Even watching the delightful parody Shaun of the Dead freaked me out enough to keep me awake. I only recently made a break-through on the front by reading Max Brooks' World War Z--I read it at night before bed, and if I was going to get to sleep at all I was going to have to get over the dread of rolling over to find myself face-to-face with one of hungry living dead.
While I have always been attracted to the idea of horror, horror films, haunted house, and the like, I've seldom acted on these urges and when I have it's been unfulfilling. I yearned to go to the haunted house at Disney World but spent the entire ride with face pressed against my dad's shoulder. Hay rides at halloween were terrifying and not really in the fun way, or they were terribly boring. The plan to go with a friend to a haunted house during middle school turned into her mom taking us shopping at the mall. The horror film genre offers me little, in general, other than a casual interest in its prolific nature: just go to the video store and walk along the new releases wall and you'll find that about half of the movies there are horror flicks (and probably really crappy). Discounting classic older horror films (both A and B-worthy) I've only seen a handful of (modern) horror movies: House on Haunted Hill; The Haunting; The Blair Witch Project (I made sure to watch it during the day but it was actually just horrifically annoying). And based on what I've seen, I have little desire to seek more out.
So there must be something special about zombies. Though a little unconventional for the genre, I loved 28 Days Later, and I adore Shaun of the Dead, even though I've never yet seen a Romero zombie flick. What is it with these guys?
I am certainly not the first person to question the nature of the zombie and our fear of it. We aren't just afraid of our brains being eaten. Zombies don't just consume humans--they also turn us into them, and that's terrifying. I think it comes down to what Brooks drives at in his fictional history World War Zombie: zombies challenge our humanity.
Aside from literally possessing the bodies of people we maybe used to know, they lack everything that distinguishes humans from, well, non-humans. In some senses, they specifically lack something that makes people weak: fear. Zombies do not feel fear. You cannot intimidate a zombie by threatening its life, its family, its country, its job. They can't be tortured; there is nothing you can do to make a zombie give in because it has nothing to give up. A human without fear might in some cases be considered courageous--this is not the same thing, and if there are humans who feel absolutely no fear, then I expect you would have doubts about considering them human. This lack of fear is not strength; it is simply an absence. So, it's not exactly that zombies remind us of our own weakness--they don't possess our weaknesses.
"The living dead" is almost a misnomer, because can they really be said to be alive? They aren't mortal, and except for an apparently insatiable hunger and locomotion toward that end, they don't really possess any characteristics of living things. "Reanimated corpses" is a more accurate term, though I do admit it doesn't have the same drama.
Another aspect of the terror of zombies is origin: wherefore have the dead risen? Hellish curses, viruses, biological warfare...the less you know, the more terrifying the experience. Admittedly, Robert Rodriguez's current film Planet Terror is not supposed to be a good movie, but it is intended to be a good bad movie. For me, though, the actual zombies in Planet Terror are far less striking than just the sheer gore the movie contains. We get the explanation for the zombies pretty right away, and we watch people turn (and ooze and drip, etc), and it lacks the horrible mystery. And the experience of coming to grips with a loved one who has been infected isn't explored at all; in this film, everyone pretty much understands that a zombie should be a dead zombie, no matter who they used to be (or the person the zombie used to be was someone who was trying to kill you when they were still human, so you want them dead no matter what). Anyway, I didn't see Grindhouse for a great zombie film.
Mm...I think I have typed myself out for the night. Hopefully I will write more on this later.