Why Do We Love Zombies?
October 8, 2013
(2013 NostalgiaWeen opening)
NC: Hello, I'm the Nostalgia Critic, I remember it so you don't have to. Well, with the premiere of The Walking Dead coming back...
(Cut to footage of The Walking Dead.)
NC (vo): ...on AMC, people have been roaring with excitement. Or rather, moaning. (the zombies are heard moaning) Everyone's pumped up to see their favorite non-dead entities come to life and try to kill our main characters once more.
NC: Which, of course, has me asking the question, "Why does everybody love zombies right now?"
(Cut to footage of films with zombies, such as World War Z, Night of the Living Dead and Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video. "Danse Macabre" by Camille Saint-Saens plays throughout.)
NC (vo): I mean, granted, it's not like there was a time when zombies were not popular. It's hard to say where exactly the idea for them started, but many make the strong argument that it originated from...
(Cut to a shot of a statue of Gilgamesh and then a painting of Ishtar, with eyes glowing and hands in flames.)
NC (vo): ...Gilgamesh, when Ishtar promises she will let the dead go up and eat the living, and the dead will outnumber the living.
(Cut to a shot of the cover of the novel Frankenstein.)
NC (vo): Since then, there's been variations of this idea, from Frankenstein...
(Cut to a shot of the cover of the novel I Am Legend.)
NC (vo): ...to I Am Legend.
(Cut to an image of a painting of Jesus Christ.)
NC (vo): Hell, even Jesus is kind of a zombie.
NC: Just replace "eating brains" with "teaching love and forgiveness". (pause as his eyes shift left and right) It still works!
(Cut to footage of Night of the Living Dead.)
NC (vo): But the zombie archetype that most people are familiar with came alive in 1968 with Night of the Living Dead. Because of the film's success and long-lasting impact, people often look to this as sort of the bible of zombie stories. It's what they always reference when they want to do something zombie-related.
(Cut to clips of more recent zombie films.)
NC (vo): And indeed, it's hard not to see the similarities it inspired in future zombie projects. Zombies are often slow; they look like walking corpses; if you're bitten by one, you become one yourself; and they look to feed on the living for the rest of their days. Which, of course, makes you wonder how they procreate, seeing as how they feed on people and not just bite them.
(Cut to a shot of a person's stomach with a skull in it.)
NC (vo): I mean, does that lead to the person you just ate will become alive in your stomach, (the skull's eyes glow like a zombie and it starts moaning like a zombie) because technically you... bit... them... too...?
(Quickly cut to footage of the video game Call of Duty, in which President Kennedy learns from aids that the Pentagon has been breached.)
NC (vo): (slightly hasty) Regardless, the zombie formula has been established for a while.
President Kennedy (in the game): Zombies. Gentlemen, at times like these, our capacity to retaliate must be and has to be massive. (he pushes a button and a wall turns around, revealing a hidden arsenal of weapons) Gentlemen, lock and load!
(Cut to clips of more zombie films and other media.)
NC (vo): But, thanks to films and other media like I Am Legend, 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, and of course The Walking Dead, zombies seem to be everywhere right now!
(Cut to a montage of shots of the following: a DVD cover for Zombie Nation, a zombie TV show, a group of people at a convention cosplaying as a group of zombies, the video game The Last of Us, and shots of a zombie-themed walk.)
NC (vo): Movies, TV, conventions, video games, there's even a zombie walk that takes place in most major cities. Because if we won't raise zombie awareness, dammit, who will? I mean, apart from the zombies tearing you apart, but that doesn't count. So what is it about now that makes zombies such a hot topic?
(Cut to more footage of Night of the Living Dead.)
NC (vo): I'll be honest, I never found the idea of zombies that interesting or even really that frightening. So what was I missing that everybody else seemed to love?
(Cut to a shot of a female zombie with yellow/red-swirl eyes.)
NC (vo): Well, of course, there's the classic scare tactic in that something is trying to go after you, but, heck...
(Cut to a quick montage of other montage movie monsters.)
NC (vo): ...there's a lot of other different monsters that do that.
(Cut to a shot of a vampire.)
NC (vo): Like vampires. In fact...
(Cut to an image of a poster for Twilight.)
NC (vo): ...the vampire craze seems to be finally dying down a bit. (the words THANK GOD! appear in big yellow letters over the poster.)
(Cut to a shot of more zombies.)
NC (vo): So, in a way, I guess it makes sense that a similar fan base would want to find something along the same lines to gravitate towards.
(Cut to another shot of more zombies, all covered red with blood.)
NC (vo): And zombies are definitely more gruesome and more intense, at least in comparison to how both of them are recently portrayed.
(Cut to a shot of a person dressed as a vampire.)
NC (vo): You can show a vampire without blood and know he's still a vampire.
(Cut to a shot of zombies on The Walking Dead.)
NC (vo): But with zombies, you have to show the gore, no matter what.
(Cut to a montage of movies where the zombies are clearly oozing gore and blood from their bodies in some way or a severed body part of some kind.)
NC (vo): It's not a true zombie unless you have some body parts or something falling off, something disgusting. So, maybe that fan base growing up is looking for something more extreme and hardcore.
(Cut to a shot of a Fat Albert-looking zombie.)
NC (vo): There's also a lot of creativity that can be had with their design.
(Cut to an image of generic zombies, nearly down to their skeletal structures.)
NC (vo): At first, you may think, "No, come on, they all kinda look the same; they're just walking dead bodies, that's it."
(Another artwork piece is shown of more zombies, some more outlandish than others; one is wearing a trucker's cap, another looks like a clown.)
NC (vo): But really think about it: how gory can they be? What body parts are missing?
(Cut to a shot of a woman with half her face ripped off, revealing her bloody muscles and bone underneath.)
NC (vo): How much do humanity do you want to see left, or how much do you not want to see left?
(Cut to a shot of a Marvel Comic book, where various Marvel characters like Spider-Man are depicted as zombies.)
NC (vo): This is one of the reasons there's so much fan art of famous characters as zombies...
(Cut to another fan art piece, this one of a zombie Tony the Tiger.)
NC (vo): ...because the possibilities are just fun.
(Cut to footage of Zombieland.)
NC (vo): But another questioning flaw, from my point of view, is that zombies, by design, are not very interesting characters.
(Cut to a shot of a poster for Aaah! Zombies!)
NC (vo): There are exceptions that alter the formula like Aaah! Zombies!...
(Cut to a shot of a poster for Warm Bodies.)
NC (vo): ...and Warm Bodies, but for the most part...
(Cut to a clip of The Walking Dead.)
NC (vo): ...zombies are moaning, brain-dead vessels that only thrive on their hunger to consume the living. So there's not a ton of room for development.
NC: So with that said, what is it, character-wise, that draws people to them?
(Cut to more footage of these zombie movies, where the living are seen vainly struggling for survival against them.)
NC (vo): Well, zombies are one of the supernatural monsters where the focus of the stories and even the scariness is not based around the creatures attacking the people, but rather the people themselves. Zombie movies show what happens when everyday people are put in extreme apocalyptic situations. All technology and First World privileges are suddenly taken away, and whatever you are deep inside will slowly come to the surface. We quickly find out who's the survivors, the victims, the heroes, and the villains. Our animalistic tendencies and instinct for survival take over, and the battle, half the time, is not between the humans and the zombies, but between what we need to give up to survive and what we need to fight for to keep human. We ask ourselves, what will we do in these situations? Is it right to give up all kindness and survive with a cold heart? Or is it a world not worth fighting for and, even more importantly, not worth creating?
(Cut to a clip of Shaun of the Dead, where Shaun is aiming a rifle, point blank, at his reanimated mother.)
NC (vo): Would we shoot our own mother in the head if it meant saving yourself and others?
(Barbara snarls and Shaun fires his gun at her, blowing her head off.)
NC (vo): Jesus. This... This is a comedy, right?
(Cut to footage of Dawn of the Dead (1978).)
NC (vo): The setup naturally leads to a lot of commentary about society as well. George A. Romero, after hitting it big with Night of the Living Dead, continued to do sequels and reboots, most of them trying to put the zombies in different locations, seeing not only how different cultures of people will act, but also how different environments can have an effect on the zombies as well. Dawn of the Dead, for example, takes place in a mall, a world where people argue productivity and advertising have turned many people into zombies already.
Francine Parker: What are they doing? Why do they come here?
Stephen: Some kind of instinct. Memory. Of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives.
(Cut to footage of Shaun of the Dead.)
NC (vo): In Shaun of the Dead, it actually takes him a while to realize that a zombie attack has even happened. Most of the people are so drunk or tuned out of their own world that it's hard to tell who's actually still living in it.
(Cut to another montage of zombie movie clips.)
NC (vo): But like I said before, the one factor that never grabbed me personally is that I never found zombies scary. I mean, don't get me wrong, I see why others can find them scary, the gore and obviously being chased by something, but just slow-moving moaners who seem pretty easy to fight off never seemed all that frightening.
NC: So, all character study and commentary aside, is there anything about zombies that's really pushing the envelope in terms of how to be scared?
(Cut to footage of The Walking Dead.)
NC (vo): In my opinion, this is where something like Walking Dead really shines through. Yeah, you got all the scenes where they're running away from the zombies, shooting them in the head, all that fun stuff. But in a couple other scenes, you see our main characters talking, and once in a while, you'll see a zombie or two just walking in the background. After a bit, the main characters don't even notice them, and half the time, they're not even addressed. They just sort of walk along their merry way and never even glance at them. Some could consider these kind of humorous moments, and at times, it kind of is. But then it hit me. This is why zombies could only really be scary in a medium like Walking Dead. Seeing as how it's a TV series, so much time has been dedicated to it that they have gotten used to it, so much so that they don't even try to acknowledge them. And you realize that you've come to grips with the idea that you live in a world that is always trying to get you. You can never fully be safe, you can never fully let your guard down. And this is something that only a long period of time can pull off.
(Cut to footage of World War Z.)
NC (vo): This isn't like a movie where you have an hour and a half to two or three hours to establish the characters and the scares and all.
(Cut back to Walking Dead.)
NC (vo): This is a show that's still going on. And because we've been with these characters for so long and followed their journeys, we understand them acting so casually to something that in any other environment would obviously not be ignored. But we also know if we wait too long or let our guard down at just the wrong moment... Khkhkhkhk! You'll never get that moment back. And with all the various reactions to all the various characters dying, you feel the loss, you feel the hopelessness. And that's a different kind of horror than a monster just chasing you. It beats you down, and it slowly eats away at your humanity, to a point where you really do question what you're fighting for and if it's worth fighting for anymore. It's a different kind of terror that takes good acting and careful writing to pull off. And shows like Walking Dead do exactly that.
(Cut to footage of Night of the Living Dead.)
NC (vo): So I guess that does make zombies unique, because it's one of the few scary creatures, where the scares aren't immediate; they have to be earned through time and patience.
(Cut back once again to Walking Dead.)
NC (vo): This is something I've never really thought about until I started watching this show. And after realizing it, I did suddenly have a new appreciation for zombies that I didn't before. Not the idea of fighting the terror, but getting used to the terror, letting it slowly destroy whatever kind humanity you have left inside you; let every bad situation just build on top of each other, like every one zombie can suddenly build on top of each other.
NC: So, like any subject matter, there's always gonna be...
(Cut to an image of the poster for Night of the Living Dead.)
NC (vo): ...good ways of doing it...
NC: ...and there's gonna be...
(Cut to an image of a poster for Zombie Strippers.)
NC (vo): ...bad ways of doing it.
(Cut to another montage of zombie media, such as Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video, World War Z and Shaun of the Dead.)
NC (vo): But it's made clear now that the reason zombies are so popular is because we love the possibilities of it. Our media has opened up more and more to giving characters time to develop, especially in our TV shows.
(Cut to shots of the following...)
NC (vo): Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Mad Men...
(Cut back to the montage of zombie media.)
NC (vo): We're all about characters right now. And these zombie apocalypse stories, whether we realized it at the time or not, are actually great outlets for it. We're seeing the fun, we're seeing the creativity, and on top of it all, we're seeing the scares. So whether this is just a fad or something that will last 'til the end of time, there's no denying that there's something fascinating, creepy, and just downright entertaining about zombies.
(Cut back to the NC, who now looks like a zombie himself, his eyes are rolled up, and his glasses are hanging off his right ear; he makes moaning sounds that, according to subtitles, translates to his usual sign-off: "I'm the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don't have to." He slowly gets up and walks away like a zombie, moaning all the way.)