It wasn’t long ago when audiences packed theaters for vampire-themed movies. Much of that popularity came from young readers devouring books like Twilight. How quickly trends change. With the new release of the film World War Z this summer, zombies will all but secure the top spot as the new vampires.
How did this happen? For this edition of Monday Mayhem, my series devoted to all things crazy and insane, I’d like to explore the rise of the zombie from a knuckle-dragging goon to a sophisticated eating machine.
Disclaimer: If anything my regular readers know about me is, I’m a zombie purist. I’m a huge fan of George A. Romero, the father of modern zombie behavioral science. Have that in mind when reading this post, since I’ll probably offer my opinion on more than one occasion—or not.
At one time, vampires ruled the earth. Bookstore shelves couldn’t keep up with the insatiable demand to carry the latest and greatest vampire series. Every Halloween the most popular costumes had to have fangs and pale white makeup kits. Theaters featured vampires making dinner meat out of humans, vampires killing werewolves, and vampires falling in love. Topics on radio shows included: Whenever you hear thunder, do you wonder if vampires are playing baseball?
What happened to the vampire?
Zombies are what happened to vampires. Just like their genetic makeup, zombies crept into mainstream popularity and are now eating away at every form of media. The movie Warm Bodies is the latest entry to the genre, which film critics loved as the zombie equivalent to Twilight. The steady growth of zombie fandom hasn’t relented one bit either. Shows like The Walking Dead and In the Flesh have captured the imagination of viewers everywhere. Sites devoted to the undead have sprung up throughout the world. Commercials have even gotten in on the act. Zombies apparently love BMW, Ford and Doritos.
How did this all happen?
In the 1920s, H. P. Lovecraft wrote a short story called Herbert West—Reanimator. Inspired by Frankenstein, Lovecraft’s mad doctor believed he could bring life back from the dead, which he did. The caveat being the creatures reanimated came back as starved cannibals, killing and eating everyone in sight. Sounds familiar, huh?
In 1954, Richard Matheson wrote I Am Legend. Although devoted to vampirism, the common story elements with modern day zombies are evident. A virus infects humans who then infect other humans with their bites. In the 2007 movie by the same name, Will Smith fights dark seekers, which blurs the lines between vampires and zombies even further. Although never spoken of as vampires, if one were to view dark seekers simply by their behavior, one would think they are zombies (feed off humans, affected by a virus, etc.).
However, it wasn’t until 1968 when director George A. Romero released The Night of the Living Dead that zombies became what they are today—single-minded eating machines. These are the same zombies featured in the show The Walking Dead (born from the dead, crave human flesh and will die with a blow to the head—as I’d written in my post The Three Commandments).
This gradual escalation of zombie popularity has yet to abate. Once we see a full-scale acceptance of the zombie genre, that’s when a true zombie apocalypse will have taken place.
Have we seen the last of vampires? Do you think someone will write about a family of zombies?