Tag Archives: zombies

Slay Ride

When I was a kid, we had this Christmas tradition where my mom would bake a bunch of sugar cookies, and then my sisters and I would decorate them with frosting paint. Occasional we’d attach accessories such as glitter or marshmallows or chocolate chips. It was a grand time, and a neat tradition, and we’d serve the painted cookies at Christmas Eve, along with all the other goodies.

I don’t remember how it happened, but at some point, this tradition took on a macabre turn. Instead of a cheerful Christmas stocking, we ended up with a bloody severed foot. Instead of a jolly reindeer with a shiny red nose, we ended up with a zombie reindeer. And so on.

And I’m not sure what it was that ended the tradition; perhaps it was the beach bunny elf with the strategically placed chocolate chips, or the swarm of zombie snowmen. Or maybe it was just that my sisters and I moved away and ended up with grown-up responsibilities such as jobs and no longer could make it to my mom’s house to paint the cookies.

But the spirit of the tradition lives on! At Thanksgiving this year, my mom gifted both my sisters and I with this:

The Walking GingerdeadYes, a kit for making zombie gingerbread men! How cool is that? How cool is my mom?

Naturally, Jennifer and I were thrilled and couldn’t wait to make these cookies. Last night was the first night that we both had free, so we decided it was time.

So we looked on the back of the box for the instructions. The first thing we noticed was this:


We figure it’s pretty generic text, and probably shows up on the back of each of the different gingerbread kits that the company produces. On the back of this particular kit, though, we thought it was particularly funny.

Anyway. We put together the dough, mixed up the white frosting, baked the cookies (during this part I Tweeted, “The house is full of the smell of baking gingerbread and the screams of the damned’), and decorated them. This is what we ended up with:

WGD-doneNeither Jennifer nor I will be transitioning to a career in decorative baking anytime soon. But I think they turned out quite spiffy anyway. And horrifying. And truly in the spirit of my family’s holiday tradition.

(And you can’t quite tell in this picture, but the three gingerbread men in the middle are normal ones, made with a normal gingerbread man cutter, screaming, because they’re surrounded by zombie hordes.)

‘Tis the season for (undead) Holidailies!

Supplement: My story, “Night of the Frozen Elf”, was selected as an Editor’s Pick at Book Country yesterday. Read it here!

More Zombie Stuff

Today, of course, was the 70th birthday of filmmaker George Romero. Romero is responsible for a number of films, such as The Dark Half, the original version of The Crazies (a remake of which is soon to be released), Martin, and plenty of others. What the world really remembers him for, and probably always will, is his Living Dead series of films: Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead, and the upcoming Survival of the Dead. (It’s worth noting that each of these films has been remade at least once, usually with inferior results, though Zach Snyder’s version of Dawn of the Dead is arguably a quality film on its own merits). Night of the Living Dead was the first film to feature the modern zombie: the shuffling, moaning, flesh eating corpse that in large numbers poses a significant threat to civilization; and even though the word “zombie” did not show up in any of Romero’s Living Dead films (the creatures are more technically ghouls than zombies), they’re the perennial classics of the genre.

What’s funny, though, is that even though Romero pioneered the genre, and just about everyone, when asked to name the most influential zombie film will name Night of the Living Dead, the version of the undead zombie which has permeated pop culture is very different from Romero’s undead. The modern pop culture zombie shuffles about just like Romero’s did, but also cracks open human skulls to munch on human brains. The brain-munching seems to have its origin in The Return of the Living Dead (directed by Dan O’Bannon) and its sequels. Note that Romero had nothing to do with these films. In these films, zombies walk, munch brains (“Because,” one zombie explains, “being dead hurts”, and eating brains soothes that pain), and can even talk (“Send more cops”, says one zombie at one point). But you can’t kill them just by decapitating them as you can with Romero-style zombies; if you cut the arm off of a O’Bannon zombie, and now the zombie still comes after you as does its separated arm. Cut off its head, and the head keeps biting and the body keeps shambling. The only way to kill an O’Bannon zombie is to incinerate it completely, although the ash still contains the chemical that set it into motion in the first place.

So, anyway, the modern pop culture zombie seems to be an amalgamation of the two breeds of zombie: they shuffle (Romero), moan (Romero + O’Bannon), eat brains (O’Bannon), and can be killed by decapitation (Romero). They’re not articulate, but they can moan after “Brraaaaiiiinnnnssss”.

I’ve already shared with you my theories about the zombie apocalypse (in “It’s All About the Zombies“); now you’ve been subjected to my theory about the origin of the modern pop culture zombie. I don’t claim to be the font of all zombe lore, but I may end up getting there at some point.

It's All About the Zombies

Remote Control ZombieYou write one zombie story (or two or a half dozen), express a fondness for zombie movies like Day of the Dead and Shaun of the Dead and read zombie-themed books like Christopher Moore’s The Stupidest Angel, and suddenly you have a reputation as a zombie head.

I had a zombie themed Christmas and birthday this year. From the remote control zombie (pictured to the left and available at Think Geek if you’re interested) I received from Jennifer’s parents to the pile of zombie books that I received from Jennifer (wrapped in zombie wrapping paper that Jennifer found, also available at Think Geek) to the two zombie board games (one from Jennifer and one from my sister Caitlyn), I’d say the holidays for me were all about the zombies.

Of course, I am into the zombies. I’m not as into them as some folks I know who dedicate a weekly podcast to reviewing zombie films (and it’s a good podcast, I recommend it) but I’d say I’m more interested in zombies than the average person.

The question, though, is why? I’ve been trying to figure out the allure that zombies have not just for myself but for popular culture at large. One of the biggest feature films of 2009 was Zombieland, after all, and before that Shaun of the Dead and Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead both did respectably well at the box office. And, of course, there are hundreds of direct-to-DVD and made-for-TV zombie movies, with at least half a dozen more coming out each month. And there are plenty of books out there as well; the afore-mentioned Stupidest Angel as well as the more recent Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament (not to mention Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) are just among a growing number of zombie enhanced novels. And, of course, zombies are a mainstay of just about every video game out there.

Zombies are the new vampires, it was recently said (though even more recently it’s been said that “vampires are the new zombies”, which sort of implies that vampires had ever gone out of vogue).

So what is it about zombies, anyway? Why our society’s interest in them? Why our interest in a zombie apocalypse? Why is it okay to kill zombies and not other groups of people? And why my own interest in them?

Well, with regards to the zombie apocalypse, I suspect that a large part of that has to do with the fact that a zombie apocalypse, while horrifying to contemplate — all those flesh-eating ghouls running around (or shambling around, depending on which version of zombies you’re contemplating), eating the living and causing general havoc, as well as the knowledge that being bitten by one will turn you into a zombie like them — just isn’t going to happen. It’s a “safe” apocalypse, as it were. I remember when I was growing up in the 80s, when everyone was terrified of a nuclear apocalypse; these days, worrying about the nuclear apocalypse is passe, while contemplating a zombie apocalypse is cool. And yet, the nuclear apocalypse had such a sense of possibility; at any moment, we all thought, some Soviet madman or some American idiot was going to start to Final War, and everyone would die. We don’t feel similarly about the zombie apocalypse. In our imagination, the zombie apocalypse is an out of control situation, but really it’s a situation that completely under our control, simply because we do imagine it and because it just isn’t going to happen. This may simply be a reflection of the more ironic and sarcastic age that we live in these days; we’ve gotten bored of contemplating apocalypses that are too plausible (nuclear war, global famine, pandemic, etc.) and that are out of our control, so we’ve started contemplating apocalypses that are fundamentally absurd (more on this point in a bit). It’s flipping the bird to the real terrors of the world.

And why is it okay to kill zombies, but not other groups of people? When I asked this question on Twitter a couple of weeks ago, someone suggested that it was okay to kill zombies because they’re already dead. I think, though, it goes a bit deeper than that; zombies, by their very nature, are the ultimate in dehumanized humans. It’s not just that they’re dead, therefore, it’s that they’re inhuman. More than that: they’re antihuman, the antithesis of everything that a human being is. They are unintelligent, inarticulate, and they consume living human flesh, the ultimate taboo. Because they’re so offensive in that regard, they’re okay to kill. We’ve moved past a point where it’s okay to dehumanize and therefore mass slaughter our human enemies (perhaps we’ve grown to appreciate that even terrorists can be human beings as well?), so we focus on our inhuman enemies. That’s the germ of my theory at least. I’d like to see what a sociologist or social psychologist has to say about this subject.

But there’s an element of zombies which is fundamentally absurd. Zombies are menacing, to be sure, but plenty of comedy has been built up around zombies as well. The original Return of the Living Dead is as much a comedy as it is a horror film; Shaun of the Dead is, at heart, a romantic comedy; and Zombieland, of course, is equal parts comedy and adventure. Even the venerable George Romero incorporated some comedic elements in the original Dawn of the Dead (Zack Snyder’s remake did not have much comedy in this regard). Many of the zombie representations that we see these days, including remote control zombies and zombie wrapping paper, are just goofy. What’s up with that? I suspect that by making the zombie an object of ridicule, by laughing at the shambling creature that wants to eat our flesh (or our brains, again depending on which subset of the zombie genre you’re looking at), we’re sort of whistling past the graveyard. It goes back to the notion of the zombie apocalypse as the controllable, imaginary apocalypse; here, it becomes a symbol of every apocalypse that can happen, and so we laugh it off in order to show that we’re not afraid.

Either that, or zombies, with their shambling and their moaning, are just plain funny.

Actually, it occurs to me, reading this over, that I really have no idea what I’m talking about. I find zombies interesting and I enjoy zombie movies and stories about the zombie apocalypse, but I know that if I ever saw a zombie in real life, I’d scream like a little girl and run as fast as I could in the other direction.

I invite your comments.

Night of the Frozen Elf: Reposted

In lieu of actual content, I figured I’d just post a link to a short story of mine that has just been reposted on Tales of the Zombie War.

When I wrote “Night of the Frozen Elf” in 2007, I had originally planned to write a series of twelve short stories, each one a horrific yet comedic take on Christmas. The whole collection would be called A Shinybright Christmas. Sadly, I got as far as this one, and got stuck.



Jennifer and I just finished playing House of the Dead: Overkill, the latest in the House of the Dead franchise of zombie shoot-em-up games available for the Wii. The whole series of games has featured the finest in voice-over acting, character rendering, and realistic mayhem. Or, you know…. Not. Basically, we just enjoy shooting zombies and watching the green goo splatter everywhere.

House of the Dead: Overkill is sort of a Quentin Tarantino meets Rob Zombie thing, with allusions to plenty of old monster movies and some imagery that was, frankly, a tad on the disturbing side. The story came with some twists and bits of humor that, amazingly enough, surprised me and made me laugh out loud. The final scene, with the two agents discussing the meaning of the whole situation, just made the two of us guffaw with hilarity. There’s plenty of self-parody in this game,which was hilarious and… Well, it just made the game more fun.

Quick Note

On the whole, MoodleMoot 2008 was pretty good and I’m glad I went. There were good panels, many of which, like any self respecting panel in any event where you have a bunch of nerds gathered, went over their time limit.

I focused on the panels that seemed most appropriate to my situation. There were a couple of panels on Moodle customization and on Moodle as a social networking tool, and those seemed most important to me. I also picked up some good strategies for completing our own upgrade.

Of course there were also panels I didn’t expect to see at a large conference devoted to educational technology. "Distance Learning for the Metabolically Challenged?" "ZombieFriends.com as a Model for Post Mortem Social Networking — What Can Moodle Learn?" They seemed like interesting panels but I assume they were just jokes and I didn’t bother attending. I would have if I’d had the time.

I did find myself at the same lunch table with a few of the lead developers of Moodle, including Mr. Moodle himself, Martin Dougiamas. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to ask them about any of my particular issues, which is a shame because I’ve been stuck on an upgrade issue for nearly a year now. Of course, it did feel good that every person I talked to about my own situation had pretty much the same reaction: a quick, sharp intake of breath followed by, "Oooh, ouch."

So I think I have some good ideas for when I start tackling that project again.