If you write horror, you’ve heard it—zombies are done, finished. And yet year after year, zombie novels are best sellers, The Walking Dead remains the most popular show on television, and zombie movies are consuming hundreds of millions of dollars and Brad Pitts’s career. So is it a passing fad, or is there something about the zombie genre that keeps it going, year after year, particularly in the first couple decades of the new millennium?
For me, the answer is obvious—zombies are the ultimate horror. Think about it. What makes horror scary? Take every monster and you’ll get different answers. Plagues destroy civilization, taking everything from us that it took a thousand years to build. Werewolves embody the animalistic side of humanity, the uncontrolled rage in us all. Vampires are many things—repressed sexuality is a popular interpretation—but for me the scariest thing about them is that they can take our friends, our family, and turn them against us. And death, death is always there, in every horror movie, the ultimate fate that awaits us all.
Zombies take all of that, mash it together, and serve it back to us in one delicious pile. Death? You got it, but not just any death. The kind of death where family members come back to kill the ones they love. And not just kill them, eat them. Think about that. How horrifying it is. Think of the person you love the most. If you are a zombie, you WILL eat them. You’ll want nothing more than to do that. And if they became a zombie? No matter how much they love you, no matter how much you love them, they will try and kill you. Plague? Disease? End of civilization? Zombies have that in spades. And it’s not just that civilization falls, but humanity often becomes the greatest of all enemies. Who’s the darkest villain in The Walking Dead? Not the dead, but the Governor. In fact, who are the walking dead? Are they the zombies, or the ones who are left behind? Is it any wonder that when the World Trade Towers fell, zombies rose?
The undead capture it all. All of our fears, all of our darkest thoughts, they are encapsulated in the zombie film, in the zombie story. And that’s why they will never go out of style. Humanity’s obsession with death is immortal. So too are the walking dead.