Ever have a nightmare that pits you against a menace with unfathomable sadism? Your heart races, you look for an exit that can’t be found, reach for a weapon you can’t grab, cry for help when no one can hear.
Then you wake up—sweaty, heart pounding, alive, safe. You’re invigorated. The pending day’s problems seem not so bad. At least you aren’t in that nightmare anymore.
Horror—movies, books, and games—are much like nightmares. When we experience good horror media, we immerse ourselves in a world that scares us. With child-like awe we watch characters face annihilation. Our bodies react. The menace skulks in the shadows, characters blithely wander into unstoppable danger, and smarter characters barely avoid death. We root for the smart ones. We’d be that smart.
But often even the smart ones don’t make it. We witness their doom breathlessly. Then it’s over. We’re back to our everyday world. A little sweaty. Revved up. Relieved it wasn’t us. And our own problems seem, well, more manageable.
The horror genre offers an outlet for us to blow off steam and put our day’s problems in context—much like nightmares. And in addition to good therapy, I suspect many of the great horror stories are borne from scary dreams. If you feel creative, reconsider your nightmares. They might hold just the story we all need to hear.
Since I’ve been doing a couple dozen radio interviews to promote my humor/horror book, Zombie Eye for the Living Guy(Marion Street Press), the question DJs always ask is, “What’s with the popularity of zombies nowadays? They’re everywhere! Why?”
I give my two-fold reply. One, it’s about facing our mortality. We all have to die sometime, and the notion of a walking, rotting corpse is undeniable. Zombies exaggerate facing death in an absurd way that fascinates and titillates. Then two, it’s about costume play. People love to dress up as the living dead. It’s a worldwide phenomenon, with zombie walks now held in most major cities. People love to get creative, put on their dead face, and stagger with a horde. It’s fun.
But there’s another idea that’s been gnawing at the back of my brain. The rise of zombie excitement burst forth at a point when many of us, particularly Americans, had no choice but to face death. The first zombie walks were held in the early 2000s. Brooks’ million-plus selling Zombie Survival Guide came out in 2003. That same year, Image published the first issue of The Walking Dead comic. The remake of Dawn of the Dead came out in 2004. Video games featuring brain-thirsty zombies surged in popularity in the early 2000s.
The zombie genre found it’s shambling legs in a post-9/11 world. We all deal with death in our own way. And where all this leads is anybody’s guess. But if you follow the twisted logic of our book, we’d all be better off with some playful zombie culture. From facing the inevitable, to creating an elaborate backstory for your next undead costume, zombies never fail to invigorate us.