So why, exactly, do we love zombies so much?
According to experts — and, yes, there are zombie experts — it’s because for all their limitations, the brain-rotted, animated corpses are so darned versatile — helping reflect whatever our greatest fears happen to be at the time.
Since ancient times, monster stories have been used to channel other concerns about life and death, said Andrea Wood, a graduate fellow at Georgia Tech who teaches the course “Apocalyptic Nightmares of the Living Dead” and is working on a book about zombies in popular culture.
But the zombie, she said, offers a uniquely blank canvas.
“Since the zombie doesn’t have the long literary tradition of the vampire or a number of other monsters, it allows artists a degree of autonomy to conceptualize the zombie any way they see fit,” said Wood.
In 1968, director George A. Romero re-imagined the monsters as flesh-eating ghouls, creating the pop-culture zombie identity that exists to this day. In the turbulent late ’60s, Romero’s zombies helped provide some thinly veiled commentary on race, class and the breakdown of the American Dream.
Since then, zombie movies have given viewers a way to consider, if indirectly, problems such as natural disasters, technology gone awry, deadly viruses and the daily grind of their own lives.
And then there’s one of the most basic human fears of all, the fear of death.
“[With zombies] we see the process of decay as it happens right before our eyes,” Wood said. “They are this kind of perverse manifestation of humans’ desire for immortality gone horribly awry.”
After all, like zombies, zombie movies are remarkably resilient (even when faced with shotguns and chainsaws). That’s another part of the appeal, experts say — appeal that can be measured in such things as a 74,000-member Facebook group titled “The Hardest Part of a Zombie Apocalypse Will Be Pretending I’m Not Excited.”