…because 4's a crowd…
Vampires and werewolves are on the wane, and in their wake zombies are slowly shuffling to popularity. But where did this tradition come from? We take a look at George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, the first expression of zombies that created the cult-following. We consider the phenomena of the Zombiewalk, which has spread from its first inception in San Francisco way back in 2001. Finally, we examine how the tradition and tropes created by Romero have manifested in the zombiedom’s latest rendition, The Walking Dead.
Haitian immigrant stories abound in Louisiana about the dead reanimated through voodoo magic. Consequently, the first zombie movies reflect this Haitian origin, always with a puppet-master controlling the undead. It is interesting to note this particular monster leapt straight from folktale to screen, with no literary intermediary – to mixed applause. Then Romero came along to propose what would happen if the dead started reanimating en masse with no intermediary. His elimination of the puppet-master and insistence on on-screen violence fascinated people. This immediately set apart the following it gathered, which reveled and disgusted in the carnage presented on screen. Zombie movies preceding Romero’s performed all acts of killing and subsequent eating and raising of the dead safely off-screen. But Romero’s movie really brought the monsters front and center.
This highly visual aspect of zombie fandom is still prevalent today. For ten years, Toronto’s Zombiewalk has been a massive success, with thousands of participants creatively (and perhaps morbidly) displaying their future post-mortem state as they hunt for human brains. The walk has internationally spread to New York, London, and even as far as Indonesia. The proliferation of these walks shows the unabashed delight zombie fans take in declaring their loyalties. No other monster has such an outspoken following; even post-Twilight vampire fans keep their celebrations and parties firmly behind closed doors. But even before current popularity with TV shows like The Walking Dead, zombies were roaming the streets of Toronto as far back as 2003.
Maybe some if it has to do with the solidarity rampant through zombie movies and stories – among zombies. For while the humans almost always revert to basic survival mode, often turning on each other, the zombies themselves remain a unified mass. This is explored time and again in The Walking Dead, most memorably when Shane finally confirms his not-so-questionable loyalties by shooting Otis in the leg to survive the zombie mass himself. Zombie movies confront our greatest fear head on: when times are bad, we WILL turn on each other.
Perhaps this is why zombie gatherings most often serve as a vehicle for expressing any kind of ‘concern’ – political, environmental, human rights. It’s almost as if the fans want to prevent the inevitable by consolidating good will while they can. In fact, the charity and good will of zombie fans has become so pervasive and recognized, this is the monster group PETA and Greenpeace have turned to for their most recent campaigns. That`s why on December 21st, I’ll be hanging out with the zombie fans.
If you’re in or around Toronto, the TIFF Lightbox is having a Living Dread screening series. George A. Romero, who now lives in Toronto, will be introducing some of his most famous works. And on November 3rd, he will be talking about the movie that started it all, Night of the Living Dead, followed by a screening of the trilogy. Be sure not to miss it; we will see you there.