My Favorite Monsters: the Zombie

Ransom Riggs

I don't know why, but it took a long time to admit this to myself: I really love horror movies. Sure, there are legions of schlocky crap-fests hardly worth fast-forwarding through (as with any genre), but every once in while you find the one that tickles just the right nerve -- exactly where you didn't realize you were vulnerable -- and I just really enjoy that. When I was a kid it was all I read: Stephen King's entire catalog I consumed one hot summer; I even wrote ghost stories and spine-tinglers of my own (hidden forever in a very deep drawer, along with everything else my pen produced in the eighth grade). So it was only natural that one day, despite a years-long detour into "serious" literature (darn English major) I should again be fascinated by warlocks and werewolves and things that seek brainy sustenance in the night.

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So why is that so very fascinating, to me and millions of other zombie flick fans? In his 400-page non-fiction book on the subject of horror, Danse Macabre, Stephen King floats this idea: that horror movies "allow us to regain our childish perspective on death." He tells a story about he and his childhood friends finding a dead cat, which quickly became an object of intense interest and experimentation. Will anything squish out of it if we drop a brick on its head? What'll it look like in a week? They kept returning to the cat as it went through its stages of decay, like twisted little scientists trying to understand the face of death.

In zombie movies, we get to do just that: look at dead people, in every state of decay. Usually this is a device used to make the movie more horrific as it goes along; in Dawn of the Dead, for example, the longer those people are trapped inside the mall, the more decomposed the zombie horde massing outside becomes -- and we get plenty of lurid closeups to drive that home (especially in the recent, more graphic remake). And the gross little kid inside of us coos: neeeeeaaaaaato ...

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Anyway, that's just my two cents. I'd love to hear what you think: is there another reason to love zombies ... or hate them? Or do you find another species of movie monster more compelling?