Zombies

Heard this piece from The Why Factor on BBC World Service, all about zombies. It was the noise at the start that got me – this sort of clicking, vocal low growl. It was a little unsettling. But listening through, it got me thinking.

It seems that AMC’s The Walking Dead led this current phase of popularity, and while I thought that maybe the zombie was waining, it seems to still be going strong. Last year’s Zombieland 2 (which I still haven’t seen), popular games like The Last of Us, and the white walkers from HBO’s Game of Thrones all point to a strong showing by the reanimated corpse.

The zombie, and the wider horror genre, is a cyclical beast. While zombies have been en vogue starting from the October 31, 2010 airing of Days Gone By, the first episode of The Walking Dead, they were made popular first, and in their current iteration, by George Romero in his 1968 film Night of the Living Dead. Though Romero lost the rights to that film, it became a lucrative franchise for him as he created five more films in his Dead Saga. Dani Di Placido at Forbes wrote this history of the zombie legend following Romero’s death in 2017.

Before Romero, Americans knew of the zombie mostly from White Zombie, a 1932 film about a Haitian honeymoon with voodoo and raised corpses. The Haitian zombie wasn’t bloodthirsty – it was merely a resurrected person to be used as a slave by a sorcerer. Director Wes Craven revisited this aspect of the zombie legend in 1988’s The Serpent and the Rainbow. In A History of Zombies in America from NPR’s Rachel Martin and Rund Abdelfatah, the Haitian beginnings of zombies are explored in depth.

Through the 80s and the 90s, zombies got more of a B-movie treatment. Slasher films were the mainstay, with films like Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Sleepaway Camp following up on the popularity of 1978’s Halloween. The masked killer got a revamp in 1996 with Wes Craven’s Scream, ushering in a smarter, meta-version of the slasher film.

While the film industry wasn’t doing great with zombies, video games were killing it. The Resident Evil series, started in 1996 for Playstation, was immensely popular and eventually got its own film adaptations as well. Additionally, new life for the zombie came in the 2000s, including the 28 Days LaterShaun of the Dead, and the 2004-remake of Dawn of the Dead. In 2003, Robert Kirman began the long-running series Walking Dead for Image Comics, which would be adapted to television by AMC.

And books as well get the zombification treatment, with popular novels like Max Brooks’s World War Z, Stephen King’s Cell, and M.R. Carey’s The Girl with All the Gifts, not to mention the Seth Graham parody mashup of Jane Austen, Pride & Prejudice & Zombies.

So while I echo Romero’s sentiment that the zombie genre has become overrun in recent years, there is still plenty of material to pull from for a bevy of stories to tell about the living dead. I suppose horror, and its fan-base, is just waiting for the next resurgence – maybe it’ll be Universal Monsters this time around.

Further reading:

Jeopardy!

Watched the Greatest of All Time competition over the last two weeks – Ken Jennings, Brad Rutter, and James Holzhauer competing for $1,000,000. Which made me wonder about trivia challenges and the like.

I’ve liked trivial knowledge for most of my life. Reading a lot made that easy, and I seem to retain many facts, though admittedly some are easier to recall than others. (I have trouble recalling dates and years, and geography isn’t something I’m strong at.)

But who wins trivia challenges? In this Salon article, we’re told Jeopardy! isn’t about IQ. At least, not all of it. It’s a game show, so we’re relying on television drama and a buzzer that Ken Jennings called “a cruel mistress.”

But all the contestants know facts. Many may even know most of the answers. So where does IQ come in? Looking up the intelligent quotient, it’s “a number used to express the apparent relative intelligence of a person,” and from the Mensa website: “…it is an indication of how well one performs on mental tests compared to one’s contemporaries.”

If the average IQ is 100, and Mensa takes those of 132 or higher, where do trivia buffs fall on the scale? All over the place! According to Adam Holquist, contestants are split between “normal people” and super-performers. And on Vox, there’s a case to be made for the individual IQ score not really being predictive of performance.

So, yes, trivia buffs know a lot. But there are plenty of people who don’t play trivia games that know a lot too. And we all know a lot about something, even if no one is asking questions about those topics.

For a bit of fun, there’s a Twitter roast between the contestants from the GOAT shows highlighted on the Woman’s Day site.