Zombies stalk the streets, from Alabama to Alaska

By: Justin Nobel | Date: Mon, August 3rd, 2009

A ragtag mob with ashen, blood smeared faces and darkened eyes roamed downtown San Diego two weeks ago, flailing their arms, searching for brains. They were zombies, on a zombie walk to promote Woody Harrelson’s much anticipated film, Zombieland, due out in October.

Zombie walks are a relatively new phenomenon. Their increase is linked to the recent surge in the popularity of zombie films and may be a result of modern society's separation from the death process, says Erik Zempel, of the Zombie Reporting Center. (Photo courtesy of Erik Zempel)

Zombie walks are a relatively new phenomenon. Their increase is linked to the recent surge in the popularity of zombie films and may be a result of modern society

The first such walk was about ten years ago, according to Erik Zempel, co-founder of the Zombie Reporting Center, one of several websites that tracks zombie films. Three years ago, nearly 900 zombies stalked the Monroeville Mall, outside Pittsburgh, setting a Guinness World Record. So far this year, zombie walks have occurred in dozens of states, including Georgia, Arizona, Illinois, Idaho, Alabama and Alaska.

“I think if we as a society were more involved with the death process and the funeral process these sorts of themes might never come up,” said Zempel.

Americans have been physically distancing themselves from death for the past century, he argues. The more we distance ourselves, the more popular zombie movies seem to become.

“It seems to me there is a fear of dead bodies and perhaps 100 years ago that wasn’t so,” said Kempel.

The economic recession may also be partially responsible for the recent pulse in zombie walks and films. This year’s selection includes: “Mud Zombie”, a Brazilian film in which zombies emerge from the mangroves and overrun a tiny fishing village. “Dead Air” reveals what happens at a radio station the night zombies created by a chemical terrorist attack storm the city. “Gallowwalker” is a zombie western, shot by Wesley Snipes and “Samurai Zombie” is a Japanese film about old samurais that return from the dead to stalk a family on a hiking trip in remote mountains.

“Pathogen” is a zombie flick written by a 10 year-old and “Zombie Girl” is the documentary about the making of it. “Le Horde” depicts an epic battle between corrupt cops and gangsters the night of a zombie outbreak and “Dead Snow” is a highly buzzed about Norwegian film that tells the story of eight friends at a remote cabin who discover Nazi zombies frozen in the snow.

The first Zombie films were in the 1930s, and focused more on mind control than hordes of blood thirsty half-dead. The most well-known film from this era was “White Zombie”, released in 1932, in which a man resorts to voodoo to transform a beautiful woman into a zombie so he can scare off her lover and woo her himself. The story takes place in Haiti, and draws heavily on Haitian vodou, which has roots in West African beliefs and practices.

It wasn’t until the 1968 film, “Night of the Living Dead,” directed by George Romero, that the zombies in movies developed a mad craving for human flesh. Romero actually didn’t call his nightmarish figures zombies, but that was the name that stuck, and the genre under which his film and the many it inspired came to be known.

Zombie films remained popular through the 1980s and lost ground in the 1990s. They have now returned with a vengeance.

With the increased popularity comes a more diverse fan base, said Zempel. The idea that zombie fans are all macabre goths obsessed with death is inaccurate, said Zempel.

“They really cut across a wide cross-section of the U.S. population,” he said.

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