Friday, May 14, 2010

Real Zombies

For just about as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by the world of the zombie. Well, actually, I'll confess: largely fascinated by one aspect of the zombie - it's on-screen exploits. In fact, I think I have DVDs of pretty much every zombie movie ever made.

I like the slow, shambling flesh-eaters of Romero's Night of the Living Dead; and I will never forget the atmospheric graveyard scene in the 1966 Hammer Film production of Plague of the Zombies. But, most of all, I love those fast-running monsters of the modern-era of zombie film-making.

Whether it's the real undead of the spectacular 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, or the super-fast fiends of 28 Days Later (who, aren't actually dead at all: they're infected by the devastating "Rage Virus"), they are my kind of zombie!

And: I look forward to the day when some super-plague escapes from a secret underground lab, and spreads among the populace. And, overnight, the world becomes filled with chaos, carnage and flesh-eating ghouls (yes, I know I'm strange...), as society unravels and falls apart, as the fast-runners increase in number, and as the Human Race becomes nothing but a band of scattered survivors (me being one of them, of course!)

But, the slow-walkers and the fast-runners are not the only kind of zombie out there - and this is where we get to Brad Steiger's latest mighty tome, Real Zombies: The Living Dead, and Creatures of the Apocalypse.

Largely thanks to the way in which the zombie has been popularized by Hollywood, there is a tendency on the part of many people to think that what they see on the silver-screen is all that there is to the zombie phenomenon. But, this is actually far from the case; as Brad shows us time and again.

Real Zombies is a superb, extensive and highly detailed study of the zombie in the realm of the aforementioned movies, but also in folklore, legend, mythology, the domains of the occult, voodoo and the supernatural, and - in the final chapters - in the field of conspiracy-theories.

Tribal religions, folk-magic, sacrifice, the ominous raising of the dead, and dark and disturbing real-life mysteries focused upon London's River Thames are only the start of the ominous story. Serpent gods, shadowy goings-on in New Orleans (my wife and I spent our second wedding anniversary there, and I can say for sure that a weird and sinister atmosphere does indeed hang over certain parts of the city), Voodoo Queens, curses, possession and ritual magic all play significant roles in zombie lore and legend.

And, for me, this is what makes Real Zombies such a captivating read: by focusing less on the Hollywood angle, but far more on the little-known - but in many ways more disturbing - aspects of the phenomenon, we're provided with a rare treat indeed.

Wendigos, voraciously-hungry spirits and the actions of deranged flesh-eating lunatics and cannibals are also all parts of the story - a story that is made notable by the fact that it is indeed so complex and multifaceted.

As I mentioned earlier, the final chapters deal with the zombie in the areas of conspiracy and official secrecy. This is a highly thought-provoking part of the book that reveals much pertaining to mind-control experimentation, LSD-based black-ops, Manchurian candidates and the disturbing scenario of jack-booted government types planning to microchip the populace.

All in all, Real Zombies is a superb, and arguably definitive, look at the zombie phenomenon in all its glory and from numerous perspectives. Its place in popular-culture, history, mythology, folklore and present-day society are all placed skilfully under the microscope - demonstrating that as important as the likes of Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead most certainly are in zombie lore, the subject is infinitely more complex than many realize.

Like a zombie itself, Brad's book grabs you by the jugular and doesn't let go!

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