It’s past midnight. You get off the metro and walk out the door. You encounter a pale-skinned corpse covered in wounds with blood dripping on the floor, dressed in ripped clothing, messy hair and an axe to boot. The poor creature is mumbling, grumbling and walking towards you. You want to freak out, you scream and turn around, but guess what? A mob of possessed nobodies begin to encircle you. Your legs start to shiver, you scramble in fear. You find yourself in a dead end. Where do you go?
And cut! That’s a wrap, folks.
That’s a common scene you find in your average horror film and let’s face it, there seems to be a huge demand lately for our dear friend,
the zombie. The question is why are they so popular and so beloved?
“Zombies, they’re everywhere,” said Donato Totaro of Concordia’s Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. Totaro is a part-time film studies professor and editor of the online film journal Offscreen.
He explains that zombies have been around for a while and spanned various waves of popularity.
“Cinematically, zombies go back to the ’30s. The first wave weren’t like the bone eating, bone crunching ones we know now, but more to the voodoo, witchcraft and slavery kinds,” said Totaro.
He explained that zombies trace their roots back to Haitian Creole culture, where people allegedly used witchcraft to possess one’s physical body.
“The dead are brought back alive as slaves. They’re the working class monster, the anti-establishment monster. They’re the allegorical exploitation of the working class,” said Totaro.
The most recent wave, Totaro says, spawned from director George Romero’s horror film, Night of the Living Dead. Released in 1968, the plot centers on a group of people seeking refuge in an abandoned farmhouse from an invasion of dead corpses.
Totaro attributes how director Romero orchestrated this adrenaline-induced fear of getting eaten by a walking corpse as a defining moment for the mass popularity of zombies today.
To further understand this phenomenon, I spent a day immersing myself among thousands of walking corpses— sort of.
The annual Montreal Zombie Walk was held on October 19th at Place Des Festivals. People strut their creepiest zombie costume outdoors and gather to walk together through the streets of downtown, to the delight of bystanders.
Walking along with five thousand undead beings was a dream, or in this case, a nightmare come true. Their bodies were caked in chalk-white makeup, faces smeared in cornstarch-diluted red blood.
As I endlessly followed these undead creatures, I bumped into Alex Marotte, a spectator taking photos with his friends. I also discovered that he was a hardcore zombie enthusiast.
“Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of zombies. Unlike most children, I didn’t get scared at all … I was so excited about being a zombie. I wanted to eat brains, raw brains,” said Marotte with a laugh.
Marotte credits the ‘80s horror punk band True Sounds of Liberty for his immersion into zombie culture. Ironically, T.S.O.L. music was featured in the 1985 film Return of the Living Dead, a film which was also one of the many spin-offs from director Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.
He also explained that a good part of ‘80s music was zombie-oriented, from music to album covers and even music videos. Does Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” ring a bell?
So why do people love zombies? Going back to Totaro, he elaborates on this fascination with the walking dead.
“Look how they’re dressed, very poorly, ragged. They’re the stereotype of the working class person,” said Totaro. “[These are the] modern people we can relate to, … not appreciated by the elite, but by the disenfranchised.”
In essence, zombies represent the attack of the masses. They’re the low-class monsters, compared to more socially elite creatures, such as vampires.
“I love the whole thing, like what’s not to love? Everybody’s having a good time getting together with it, all united in death. It just blows me away,” said Marotte.
Photos by Mallika Guhan: