For the second day of our exploration of Halloween traditions we’re going to focus on the realm of Zombies.
Due to a recent up-swing in the Zombie market there are lots of parodies and movies out there. Honda even had an ad campaign about zombies and when my family went to the Ron Tonkin dealership in Portland, Oregon, they even had little brochures on how purchasing a new Honda would keep you safe during a Zombie Apocalypse. I can now inform you that the 2011 Honda Odyssey comes with HEPA filters to clear the outside air thoroughly of contagious microbes so that you and your family can ride through the zombie hordes worry-free of inhaling their cooties and transforming into zombies yourselves (that is if you believe in the air-born contagion theory of zombification and not the saliva/blood transference method).
Cracked.com would have you know there are some common beliefs about how to survive a Zombie Apocalypse that would actually get you killed.
If you have the burning desire to know how long you’d last before transforming into a zombie once infected you can take The Oatmeal’s quiz here.
Not listened to or seen “Thriller” in a while? Click here to clear your dry-spell. Alright, it starts out werewolf, but it ends up zombie, so I’m sticking it here.
For your viewing pleasures we have the following list of ‘Best’ Zombie movies from the site Movie Moron:
- Dawn of the Dead (2004)
- Return of the Living Dead (1985)
- Day of the Dead (1985)
- Dead Alive (aka Braindead 1992)
- White Zombie (1932)
- Zombieland (2009)
- 28 Days Later (2002)
- Shaun of the Dead (2004)
- Night of the Living Dead (1968)
- Dawn of the Dead (1978)
I would add the following for consideration:
- Resident Evil (You can make it the Trilogy since the Umbrella Corporation is basically all about Zombie making)
- I am Legend (And you thought cancer was a bitch)
- 28 Weeks Later (sequel to 28 Days Later)
The irony is I don’t watch a lot of horror movies, but here I am putting these lists together for your enjoyment and encouraging you to go get the bejesus scared out of yourself. I can’t endorse many of them personally since I’ve not watched most of them. I did see 28 Days Later and have to admit the idea of fast-moving zombies running my ass down didn’t sit well in my dream sequences since, as I suspect like most of you in your dreams, I can never move/run/demonstrate the needed agility and strength to stave off becoming a Zombie meal. Just the other night I woke up from a Zombie chase dream where they were trying to grab my ankles through the metal grates in the floor. It was unsettling.
The History of Zombies… Oh, really, who can say? I’m just going to make it up as I go along.
Turns out there is a real thing of zombies in Haiti, but instead of being stumbling corpses hell-bent on eating the brains of the living (and thus creating more zombies) there are claims of supposed documentation of people being turned into the walking-dead by local witch-doctors.
The following part of this article is in reference to a book by Dr. Karl P.N. Shuker (referenced previously in my blog about Big Foot) call ‘The UneXplained‘ which is a collection of unexplained phenomenon and relics from around the world. As for zombies it has the stories of a few documented cases such as those of Felicia Felix-Mentor (1937) and Clairvius Narcisse (1980); people believed to have been turned into ‘zombies.’
First the story of Felicia Felix-Mentor began in 1907 when she was thought to have died from a quick-acting fever. She was found nearly naked wandering the streets in October 1936 and was the first case of living-dead to be documented by a Westerner. Felicia was observed by American ethnographer Zora Neale Hurston, who photographed and studied her closely during the visit.
“The sight was dreadful. That blank face with the dead eyes. The eyelids were white all around the eyes as if they had been burned with acid. There was nothing you could say to her or get from her except by looking at her, and the sight of this wreckage was too much to endure for long.”
The more celebrated case of Clairvius Narcisse would go on to inspire the book ‘The Serpent and the Rainbow‘ which would then be woefully adapted to film with (a young) Bill Pullman in the lead. (Yes, I’ve actually seen this ‘zombie’ movie, Netflix is good for somethings).
Clairvius’ story begins in 1962 when he too was thought to have died from a fever and was discovered by his sister Angelina in 1980. As Angelina was shopping in the market she heard a voice whisper to her and upon turning around discovered her thought-to-be dead brother, Clairvius. Such attention was brought to the discovery that a BBC crew flew in to document the story. What sets this apart from other previously claimed/investigated zombies was that Clairvius was able to tell the tale of how he became a zombie and broke free.
As it turns out Clairvius wasn’t a saint and aside from fathering any number of illegitimate children that he could not pay for he got into a squabble with his brother over a land dispute. The brother hired a bokor (witch doctor) to zombify Clairvius.
He was fed a secret poison that produced a fever, put him in a paralyzed trance, and dropped his heart beat to be so slow as to not be perceived by two different doctors at the Albert Schweitzer Hospital and thus was buried alive.
After the night came he was dug up by the bokor who gave him a second drug that rendered him sluggishly mobile, but prevented any type of clear, decisive thought. He was moved to northern Haiti where he spent the next two years as a slave working alongside other ‘zombies’ and suffering abuses from the bokor. One of his fellow zombies was able to rouse himself enough from his drug-induced stupor to kill the bokor and without the administration of the needed doses he ‘awoke’ from his haze.
Clairvius roamed around for several years to different regions until word reached him that his angry brother had passed away upon which time he returned to l’Estere and found his sister Angelina.
This account drew the attention of Harvard Botanical biologist Wade Davis who wanted to learn about the narcotics being used by the bokors to produce these zombies.
Davis concluded after his research that several different and highly dangerous drugs were used by the bokors to achieve these near death-like states and then mental control after resurrection.
First, the fake deaths were achieved by a mixture of tetrodotoxin; a very effective nerve poison inducing rapid, profound paralysis, and commonly obtained from puffer fishes. The other, a fluid containing a potent anesthetic and a hallucinogen, secreted by the skin glands of the highly poisonous cane toad Bufo marinus.
The resuscitating, mind-controlling drug was datura, obtained from the aptly named zombie cucumber Datura stramonium, also referred to as the thorn apple or jimson weed; its effects include delusions, mental confusion, disorientation, amnesia, and (if taken in sufficient doses) an impenetrable stupor.
Davis further explains that the prolonged state of being buried alive until the bokor uncovered his victim would add the additional complication of oxygen starvation which would result in additional and irreversible brain damage which would only further enhance the drug effects and explain why most zombies once free of their bokor would not recover (as in Felicia’s case).
Cracked.com (I do so love them) has featured Zombies in a few different variations, but most interesting was the separate articles of 7 Scientific Reasons a Zombie Outbreak Would Fail (Quickly) by David Dietle vs. 5 Scientific Reasons a Zombie Apocalypse Could Actually Happen by TE Sloth and David Wong.
This is pretty fun since they both state ‘scientific’ in their title. Lets start with the “How” it could happen and then knock out “Why” it really won’t.
How #5: Brain Parasites
Parasites that turn victims into mindless, zombie-like slaves are fairly common in nature. There’s one called toxoplasmosa gondii that seems to devote its entire existence to being terrifying.
This bug infects rats, but can only breed inside the intestines of a cat. The parasite knows it needs to get the rat inside the cat (yes, we realize this sounds like the beginning of the most fucked-up Dr. Seuss poem ever) so the parasite takes over the rat’s freaking brain, and intentionally makes it scurry toward where the cats hang out. The rat is being programmed to get itself eaten, and it doesn’t even know.
How can it result in zombies…
Hey, did we mention that half the human population on Earth is infected with toxoplasmosa, and don’t know it? Hey, maybe you’re one of them. Flip a coin.
Oh, also, they’ve done studies and shown that the infected see a change in their personality and have a higher chance of going batshit insane.
If you’re comforting yourself with the thought that it may take forever for such a parasite to evolve, you’re forgetting about all the biological weapons programs around the world, intentionally weaponizing such bugs. You’ve got to wonder if the lab workers don’t carry out their work under the unwitting command of the toxoplasmosa gondii already in their brains. If you don’t want to sleep at night, that is.
You may be protesting that technically these people have never been dead and thus don’t fit the dictionary definition of “zombies,” but we can assure you that the distinction won’t matter a whole lot once these groaning hordes are clawing their way through your windows.
How #4: Neorotoxins (Hey look! It references my snakey rainbow story from above!)
There are certain kinds of poisons that slow your bodily functions to the point that you’ll be considered dead, even to a doctor (okay, maybe not to a good doctor). The poison from fugu (Japanese blowfish) can do this.
The victims can then be brought back under the effects of a drug like datura stramonium (or other chemicals called alkaloids) that leave them in a trance-like state with no memory, but still able to perform simple tasks like eating, sleeping, moaning and shambling around with their arms outstretched.
How it can result in zombies…
This stuff has happened in Haiti; that’s where the word “zombie” comes from. There are books about it, the most famous ones by Dr. Wade Davis (Passage of Darkness and The Serpent and the Rainbow). Yes, the movie The Serpent and the Rainbow was based on this guy’s actual science stuff. How much of it was fact? Well, there was that one scene where they strapped the guy naked to a chair and drove a huge spike through his balls. We’re hoping that part wasn’t true.
What is definitely true is the story of Clairvius Narcisse. He was a Haitian guy who was declared dead by two doctors and buried in 1962. They found him wandering around the village 18 years later. It turned out the local voodoo priests had been using naturally occurring chemicals to basically zombify people and putting them to work on the sugar plantations (no, really).
So, the next time you’re pouring a little packet of sugar into your coffee, remember that it may have been handled by a zombie at some point.
On the one hand, it’s already fucking happened! So that earns it some street cred right off the bat. But, even if some evil genius intentionally distributed alkaloid toxins to a population to turn them into a shambling, mindless horde, there is no way to make these zombies aggressive or cannabalistic.
How #3: The real Rage Virus (as seen in 28 Days Later)
In the movie, it was a virus that turned human beings into mindless killing machines. In real life, we have a series of brain disorders that do the same thing. They were never contagious, of course. Then, Mad Cow Disease came along. It attacks the cow’s spinal cord and brain, turning it into a stumbling, mindless attack cow.
And, when humans eat the meat …
How it can result in zombies…
When Mad Cow gets in humans, they call it Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Check out the symptoms:
- Changes in gait (walking)
- Lack of coordination (for example, stumbling and falling)
- Muscle twitching
- Myoclonic jerks or seizures
- Rapidly developing delirium or dementia
Sure, the disease is rare (though maybe not as rare as we think) and the afflicted aren’t known to chase after people in murderous mobs. Yet.
But, it proves widespread brain infections of the Rage variety are just a matter of waiting for the right disease to come along.
If the whole sudden, mindless violence idea seems far-fetched, remember that you are just one brain chemical (serotonin) away from turning into a mindless killing machine (they’ve tested it by putting rats in Deathmatch-style cages and watching them turn on each other). All it would take is a disease that destroys the brain’s ability to absorb that one chemical and suddenly it’s a real-world 28 Days Later.
So, imagine such an evolved disease, which we’ll call Super Mad Cow (or, Madder Cow) getting a foothold through the food supply. Say this disease spreads through blood-on-blood contact, or saliva-on-blood contact. Now you have a Rage-type virus that can be transmitted with a bite.
Just like the movie. With one bite, you’re suddenly the worst kind of zombie:
A fast zombie.
How #2: Neurogenesis
You know all that controversy out there about stem cell research? Well, the whole thing with stem cells is that they can basically be used to re-generate dead cells. Particularly of interest to zombologists like ourselves is neurogenesis, the method by which they can re-grow dead brain tissue.
You can see where this is going.
You wanted the undead to make an appearance in this article? Well, here you go, you creepy bastards.
Science can pretty much save you from anything but brain death; they can swap out organs but when the brain turns to mush, you’re gone. Right?
Well, not for long. They’re already able to re-grow the brains of comatose head trauma patients until they wake up and walk around again.
Couple that with the new ability to keep a dead body in a state of suspended animation so that it can be brought back to life later, and soon we’ll be able to bring back the dead, as long as we get to them quickly enough.
That sounds great, right? Well, this lab dedicated to “reanimation research” (yes, that’s what they call it) explains how the process of “reanimating” a person creates a problem. It causes the brain to die off from the outside in. The outside being the cortex, the nice part of you that makes humans human. That just leaves the part that controls basic motor function and primitive instincts behind.
You don’t need the cortex to survive; all you need is the stem and you’ll still be able to mindlessly walk and eat and enjoy Grey’s Anatomy. This is how chickens can keep walking around after they’ve been beheaded (including one case where the chicken lived for 18 months without a head).
So, you take a brain-dead patient, use these techniques to re-grow the brain stem, and you now have a mindless body shambling around, no thoughts and no personality, nothing but a cloud of base instincts and impulses.
How #1: Nanobots
Nanobots are a technology that science apparently engineered to make you terrified of the future. We’re talking about microscopic, self-replicating robots that can invisibly build–or destroy–anything. Vast sums of money are being poured into nanotechnology. Sure, at some level scientists know nanobots will destroy mankind. They just can’t resist seeing how it happens.
How it can result in zombies…
Scientists have already created a nano-cyborg, by fusing a tiny silicone chip to a virus. The first thing they found out is these cyborgs can still operate for up to a month after the death of the host. Notice how nano scientists went right for zombification, even at this early stage. They know where the horror is.
According to studies, within a decade they’ll have nanobots that can crawl inside your brain and set up neural connections to replace damaged ones. That’s right; the nanobots will be able to rewire your thoughts. What could possibly go wrong?
No worries, it probably won’t go wrong, and here are 7 really great reasons why…
Reason Why #7: They have too many natural predators
Do you know why we, as humans, are at the top of the current food chain? Not because we’re hard to kill (well, with the exception of Steven Seagal). We’re not; we’re little more than tasty flesh bags waiting for an errant horn or claw to spill our guts like a meat pinata. No, we’re on top simply because we are so absurdly good at killing things ourselves.
We are simply too smart and too well-armed for any wild animal to hunt. Now consider the poor zombie. It lacks every single advantage that has kept humanity from being eaten to extinction. It wanders around in the open, it can’t use weapons, it can’t think or use strategy. It doesn’t even have the sense of self-preservation to run and hide when it’s in danger. And, it’s made entirely out of food. It’s easy prey for any animal that wants it.
If you’re saying, “Sure, but it’s not like my city is full of bears that can come eat all the zombies,” you need to think smaller. Insects are a major pain in the ass for living humans, and in some cases, being able to swat away flies and having an immune system is the only thing keeping us from having our eyes and tongues eaten out by maggots. Zombies in any part of the world with a fly problem are going to be swarming with maggots in short order, meaning that most of their soft tissues will be infested, and their eyes will be very quickly useless.
Now imagine zombie hordes wandering Africa. Between lions and cape buffalo (and hippos, and rhinos, and elephants), we’d finally have a disease that Africa is better suited than the rest of the world to defend itself against.
Reason Why #6: They Can’t Take the Heat
It’s generally accepted by zombie experts that they’re going to continue to rot, even as they shamble around the streets. What the movies fail to convey, however, is the gruesome yet strangely hilarious effect the hot sun has on a rotting corpse.
The first concern is putrefaction. Thanks to the plethora of bacteria we use in our colon for digesting plant matter, called gut flora, our bodies are ripe for decay the second our heart stops. Since heat speeds the growth of bacteria (which are plenty happy to start feasting on you once your immune system is no longer a concern) the zombie’s got a looming expiration date the very second it turns.
Dead bodies bloat because of the gases created by the bacteria, meaning that in warmer areas even Abercrombie Zombies are going to start getting fat in the first few days. After a few weeks of this, the nasty, bloated zombie army is going to start doing something that is simultaneously the most awesome and disturbing thing a zombie can do: they will start exploding (CAUTION! Pictures!). The warm, moist conditions in the tropical and subtropical parts of the world (or even just summer in the temperate parts) speeds this condition, meaning a July zombie outbreak pretty much anywhere would be over in a few weeks just by virtue of the rampaging monsters bursting like rancid meat balloons.
At the other end of the heat spectrum is dry heat. If you’re in Phoenix or the Sahara when the apocalypse hits, the zombies might begin to mummify in the blazing sun and heat. While the normal symptoms of dehydration are not a concern for a zombie, there is the problem of desiccation. With no reasonable means of replenishing the water in their cells, zombies walking around in the Texas heat all day are going to suffer cell damage due to direct sun exposure to their skin, and thanks to the drying affect wind has, the Southwestern dead will stumble around more and more ineffectively until, at some point, they simply drop and wait for the scavengers to come pick them up for the annual Slim Jim harvest.
So they’d better hope the outbreak happens during the winter, right? Well…
Reason Why #5: They Can’t Handle the Cold
Zombies are dead meat. No arguing that; it’s their one defining characteristic. But everybody focuses on that “dead” part like it’s such a huge deal. They often forget about the “meat.” Do you know what else is dead meat? Steak, hamburger, possibly even that red grease mush inside of Taco Bell food.
When flesh is alive, it’s got all sorts of defense systems to keep it that way. When it’s dead, you have to throw it away in about a week even if you seal it up in plastic and keep it at a carefully modulated temperature. Now, your first inclination may be to think of cold as dead meat’s friend, after all, the surest way to defeat that week-long deadline is to freeze steak, keeping it fresh for months. But don’t forget: Unregulated cold does awful shit to formerly living things. If you live far enough north, the zombie apocalypse will probably work itself out the first time it tries to go outside. The first zombie-killer is the simple fact that the human body is mostly water, and water freezes. Once the temperature drops to freezing (or near it with a high wind chill), zombies will become significantly more rigid.
After enough exposure, a dead body is going to be frozen solid and not chasing down any screaming victims, no matter how delicious and Rascal Scooter-bound they might be. It’s also safe to assume that zombies wandering around in a wintry wonderland are not going to be wrapped air-tight in plastic like we do with food, so freezer burn becomes an issue. Seriously. The same thing that ruins your ice cream also ruins the Undead Onslaught. The freezing of the flesh at night, combined with partial thaw during warmer days, then refreezing again sets up the perfect conditions for the onset of freezer burn, which results in the cells dehydrating as water evaporates, even when frozen solid. Freezer burned meat isn’t just dead, it’s destroyed.
Reason Why #4: Biting is a Terrible Way to Spread a Disease
Hey, remember that time when that dog got rabies, and then a day later, every single other dog on the continent had it, except for a small band of survivors huddled in a basement? No? That never happened?
Nearly all of the zombie movies agree on one thing: They reproduce like a disease, one that spreads via a bite from the infected (like they have a virus carried by zombie saliva or whatever). But this also means their spread should be subject to the same rules of a normal epidemic, and biting is a shitty way to get an epidemic going.
The successful diseases have some really clever way to invisibly spread from victim to victim. The flu has killed tens of millions because it floats right through the air, the black plague was spread by fleas, etc. Not a single one of them requires the infected to get within biting distance to spread their infection. Sure, sexually transmitted diseases like AIDS work that way, but that’s only because the infected can pass for the uninfected. Nobody is going to be having sex with a zombie.
But let’s say there is an outbreak, like if one zombie was able to bite 30 people in the crowd at an Insane Clown Posse concert before they figured out it wasn’t part of the show. It’s not like mankind is just utterly confused about what to do when an infection breaks out. In America you have the Center for Disease Control (CDC,) who don’t tend to fuck around. Seriously, it’s on their business cards.
Remember the SARS outbreak? That originated in China. The CDC and the World Health Organization put the clamps down on international travel the second it was found to have spread to North America. Flights were grounded, travel between borders was locked tight and only 43 people on the entire continent died.
With zombieism, they don’t even have to solve the mystery about how it’s transmitted. It’s that guy biting people. Shoot him in the head.
Reason Why #3: They Can’t Heal from Day to Day Damage
One advantage to having a fully-functioning central nervous system is that it also does a damn good job of letting you know you’ve been damaged. It does this by way of pain. Think about all the paper cuts, stubbed toes and nut shots you have suffered in your life. Now imagine they never healed, just sat there and rotted while you continued to rack up other paper cuts, stubbed toes and nut shots. Pretty much every wound you’ve ever had would end with an amputation. One thing we know about zombies from Romero and Fulci is that they are a clumsy lot, walking into doors and helicopter blades without a second thought about what kind of damage they are suffering.
While complete insensitivity to pain seems like an awesome superpower in theory; in real life, you wind up being more like Mr. Burns than Wolverine. Congenital insensitivity to pain is a neurological condition that some people are born with, meaning they don’t feel pain. They can feel everything else, but the absence of pain means they accrue damage to their bodies but are unaware of it. Even with the ability to call for help, loved ones watching out for them and our coddling society, this can still lead to all kinds of terrible shit, like infected body parts and bitten off pieces of tongue.
All the dings and bangs zombies will suffer after tripping, walking off of bridges and stumbling around on dark cloudy nights will eventually leave them limbless, toothless and with every bone in their body broken. Seriously, in the event of the Zombie Apocalypse, just stay inside, watch all the episodes of 24 back to back, then walk out on your lawn with your Corpse Rake and tidy up (you will have to buy a Corpse Rake, however, if for some reason you don’t already have one).
Reason Why #2: The Landscape is Full of Zombie-Proof Barriers
The zombies’ lack of coordination, along with the inability to see in the dark (we haven’t had any infrared zombies yet, but holy shit! We call dibs on the idea) is going to spell the doom of countless zombies in any area outside of a parking lot. This is a group that doesn’t know how to find roads or bridges. They just go wandering off aimlessly. Mountains, major rivers and canyons would thus quickly be home to piles of broken zombie rags stinking up the scenic views. Even if zombies had the foresight to not walk over cliffs or into raging rapids during the day, nightfall would result in most eventually walking into rivers, over cliffs and off of bridges, diminishing their numbers.
But even in nice, flat, paved cities, where it would seem like people would be extra-fucked, the landscape still works in favor of the living. History has shown that in most awful situations, people don’t always act like the panicky idiots in a horror movie. In cities, people would likely congregate in the upper levels of high-rise buildings, where the invasion can be held at bay with simple security doors. Also, the streets themselves would keep the undead corralled in straight, easy-to-aim-down lines where they could be picked off by snipers, or just bored office-workers waiting out the quarantine by dropping office supplies onto the undead from the top floors.
Reason Why #1 (FFLOL editor’s personal favorite!): Weapons and the People Who Use Them
As we touched on briefly above, if Homo sapiens are good at one thing, it’s killing other things. We’re so good at it that we’ve made entire other species cease to exist without even trying. Add to the mix the sheer number of armed rednecks and hunters out there, and the zombies don’t even stand a chance. There were over 14 million people hunting with a license in the U.S. in 2004. At a minimum, that’s like an armed force the size of the great Los Angeles area.
Remember, the whole reason hunting licenses exist is to limit the number of animals you’re allowed to kill, because if you just declared free reign for everybody with a gun, everything in the forest would be dead by sundown. Even the trees would be mounted proudly above the late-arriving hunter’s mantles. It’s safe to assume that when the game changes from “three deer” to “all the rotting dead people trying to eat us,” there will be no shortage of volunteers.
Plus, if we look at zombies as a species, they are pretty much designed for failure. Their main form of reproduction is also their only source of food and their top predator. If they want to eat or reproduce, they have to go toe to toe with their number one predator every single time. That’s like having to fight a lion every time you to want to have sex or make a sandwich. Actually, it’s worse than that: Most top predators are only armed with teeth and claws, meaning they have to put themselves in harm’s way to score a kill. Humans have rifles.
The zombies have no choice but to walk into bullets. And all this isn’t even counting all the other household hand guns in the world, nor the fact that zombies also have to contend with IEDs, Molotov cocktails, baseball bats, crowbars and cars that the general public will no doubt be using to cull their numbers.
And that’s just from the civilian population; counting the military and police, we have another three million or so armed people, and instead of just handguns shotguns and hunting rifles, they have machine guns, combat shotguns, sniper rifles, assault rifles, sub-machine guns, grenade launchers and the occasional taser, not to mention the training to use them effectively. But why would they even bother? When they could just roll over swaths of zombies in tanks, blast them with cluster bombs and MOABs and mow them down with miniguns from the god damn Air Force that every zombie flick seems to forget about.
Really, even if zombies existed right now, the whole concept of a zombie apocalypse is just laughable. Now robots, on the other hand…
Lets end with what a great job The Oatmeal does demonstrating How Everything Goes to Hell During a Zombie Apocalypse…