There is nothing sexy about zombies. They are the basking shark of horror—slow moving, often strangely docile, mouth permanently open and ready to consume anything that happens to get in their way. Zombies are not in touch with their emotions, they’re not very fast, so won’t be chasing you through the streets, and they’re not likely to be sulking about their “undead” state, unlike the vampires currently in vogue, because, as the evil Captain Rhodes of George A. Romero’s 1985 movie Day of the Dead yells: “They’re dead, they’re fuckin’ dead.”
Yet never has there been a greater appetite for zombies than at present. Hollywood studios have been fighting over the rights to books such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and two weekends ago, Zombieland was the No. 1 movie, opening to an unexpected $25 million—it placed second only to Couples Retreat this weekend, and has now grossed around $48 million. Who would have thought that Woody Harrelson battling the walking dead would top Bruce Willis as an FBI agent chasing down dodgy proxy human robots in Surrogates?
Click the Image to View Our Vampires vs. Zombies Gallery
Meanwhile, thousands of miles away from Hollywood, a zombie movie made for a mere 45 pounds (around $70) has also been getting headlines. Colin, the directorial debut from Welshman Marc Price, was the surprise hit of Cannes, and at last week’s Raindance film festival in London, the film premiered to a packed house. Shot on a five-year-old Panasonic mini-DV camcorder that broke during the shoot only to be replaced by a 10-year-old version, the film, named after the director’s father, is told from the confused perspective of a zombie as he shambles through suburbia, and has already become something of a cult classic among horror fans, despite having not yet been acquired for distribution in the U.S.
All of this is to say that there is currently an insatiable appetite for slow-paced rotting flesh. Which is strange, because there is nothing desirable about zombies—you are never going to want a zombie boyfriend; perhaps as the perfect, drooling quasi-guard dog, as seen in Shaun of the Dead’s “Undead Ed,” but never as a lover.
So what is it about zombies? Arguably, they are the perfect interchangeable metaphor for everything from Nazis, to consumerism, to the loss of individuality, to the collapse of civilization, to the impending doom of swine flu, and most recently representing mindless bankers, stumbling around and feeding on whatever fetid bad debt they can, however unsavory it later turns out to be.
Unlike other more glamorous monsters that always come across as a little too chiselled, the zombie is the reassuringly accessible underdog—often vulnerable, powerless and alone, but also blissfully unaware.
Unlike other more glamorous monsters that always come across as a little too cool and a little too chiselled, the zombie is the reassuringly accessible underdog—often vulnerable, powerless and alone, but also blissfully unaware. Theirs is a condition that is far closer to that of the human being than we would like to admit, and it is perhaps for this reason that zombies will always have resonance in times of social and economic upheaval: We start losing our jobs and homes, and before long we’re all completely lost, left to shamble around mindlessly until someone takes pity on us and shoots us in the head.
But where the zombie is the Everyman, the vampire is now the harder, stronger Übermensch, and everyone wants to be a, to use the True Blood term, “fang-banger.”
Somewhere between Nosferatu and Edward Cullen, vampires ceased being terrifying and became desirable—seamlessly moving from horror to mainstream. Now it seems as if no drama is complete without at least one reluctant vampire and a bit of blood sucking: There’s True Blood, of course, which has been huge for HBO. And now over on the CW, The Vampire Diaries, which follows the exploits of a teenage girl torn between two (surprise, surprise) vampire brothers, premiered last month to 4.91 million viewers—more than any other series opener in the network’s history. Gossip Girl better introduce a vampire character pronto.
But nothing can really compete with the Twilight saga. Next month will see the release of the second installment, New Moon, with Robert Pattinson back, once again, to leave an entire generation of teenage girls dreaming, come Monday morning, that the brooding boy who sits at the back of their chemistry class is in fact a tormented vampire—and is in love with her. This truly marks the end of the age of the jock.
Which is why we need zombies: to remind us that not all monsters look like Robert Pattinson, and that the vast majority of mythical creatures would make useless boyfriends. That silent loner who ignores you at work or at school? Just another jerk. Vampires will always be far more trouble than they’re worth—so if you need a fix of horror, avoid fang-banging, stick to zombies, and give the nice guys a chance.
Venetia Thompson is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Spectator. Her memoir, Gross Misconduct , will be published in February by Simon and Schuster UK. She lives in London.