We’re all familiar with the term “overnight sensation”. You know, someone who we’ve never heard of before that, all of the sudden, meteorically rises to fame. Think Justin Bieber. Of course, this really isn’t the case. Typically the average overnight sensation has been toiling away in ambiguity for years before they explode into the public consciousness. The pantheon of monsters is no different. Case in point, the Zombie.
From a popular culture perspective, the zombie has been around for years. Bela Legosi starred in the very first cinematic incarnation of the genre, 1934’s magnum opus, White Zombie. Unfortunately, unlike its contemporaries: the Wolfman, Dracula, and Frankenstein, the zombie just never caught on. Personally, I think it had something to do with their whole persona. One, you could only become one if some voodoo master put a curse on you. Since very few of us travel to voodoo infested locales, this made the zombie kind of inaccessible to the average guy. The wolfman, hiding in plain sight, could be Stan, the guy next store, who gets a little freaky every 30 days or so, but some voodoo infected, shambling, bug-eyed brain-eater? C’mon let’s get real.
The zombie was also the most transportationally challenged of all monsters. Dracula could change into a bat and fly, the invisible man could drive, but the zombie was about as mobile as the Mummy. How did the mummy get around anyway? His tomb was always in Egypt and unearthed by these classy British people who returned to their manors in England after the immediate excavation site carnage but, somehow, the mummy would show up later in the picture… at their house. How did he get there? Swim? Was he the guy next to you on the plane? This is the same type of conundrum that you have when you try to explain why the Hulk always has those purple shorts handy. And if those shorts fit the Hulk, how does Bruce Banner wear them under his clothes without anyone noticing—“put on a little weight there, Dr. Banner?” But I digress. The zombie, like the mummy, could only walk about a mile an hour so how come folks didn’t just run away? Of course we all know the answer to that one. The girl in the high heels always falls down and is too paralyzed by fear to get up. So while she’s laying on the ground screaming—and everyone in the theater is telling the hero to leave her since there’s other fish in the sea—he goes back, and he and the girl fall into the zombie’s clutches, and then no one is having a good time.
Due to the voodoo induced requirement and their reliance on balance challenged victims, the zombie relished in relative obscurity for years. New monsters came and enjoyed their time in the sun despite their own idiosyncratic drawbacks. The Creature From the Black Lagoon for example. Menacing yes, but you had to go to the Black Lagoon (wherever that was) to run into him. Even creatures from outer space had their run. How pathetic was that? Here we had the good old zombie right here on Earth and we still had to import villains, like the Thing, to scare the crap out of us. Talk about your illegal aliens.
Then just as the zombie was about to be relegated to Saturday Late Show obscurity, he becomes the ghoul de jour. Incredibly, this is a case of a monster adapting to the times. Other monsters just haven’t been able to make the leap. Admit it, unless you’re a thirteen year old girl, do you really want to see a vampire and a werewolf mope around because the heroine can take only one of them to the prom? Of course not, you want to see some serious fanging but since these new and improved versions of our classic horror friends can’t bring it anymore, in steps the zombie.
No more voodoo, now anybody can become a zombie no matter who they are or where they live. Undoubtedly, this diversity and level of socio-economic equality appeals to the times, but I think this latent success is due to the fact that these guys can do some (literally) serious brain eating and gut munching. Isn’t this really what we want from our screen fiends? And the zombie has been unshackled from the limitations of its competitors. Sleep all day and come out only at night or the full moon? Not these guys. They are truly 24-hour party people. Easy to kill? I think not. They’re already dead and scoring enough head shots to stave off a group of these rampaging marauders isn’t as easy as you might think. This fact alone opens up a whole new area to contemplate in ammo clip limit discussions, but let’s leave politics out of this. They’ve also overcome their transportation issues. I just saw the trailer for World War Z—with Brad Pitt no less– and the zombies were sprinting. Now that’s progress.
Obviously the zombie has earned its success, but I think, more importantly, we can all learn a lesson here. Patience, perseverance and hard work do in fact pay off. Sure we all start off as White Zombies, but if we just hang in there we can all reach our own Brad Pitt moment.