The Undead Martyr:
Sex, Death, and Revolution
in George Romero’s
A figure lies prone on an operating table, its bloodied rib cage exposed and empty. All of the vital organs have been surgically removed. But this body is not dead, not completely. It is struggling against the restraints that pin it down, straining to bite a doctor whose hand is just out of reach. “See, it wants me. It wants food, but it has no stomach—it can take no nourishment from what it ingests,” says the doctor, toying with the Undead corpse. “It’s working on instinct—a deep dark primordial instinct.” Suddenly the corpse breaks free. The Doctor grabs a surgical drill and bores a hole deep into its skull. Only now is it completely dead.
In this scene from Day of the Dead George Romero unveils human instinct as the true star of his zombie films. Throughout Night of the Living Dead (1968), Dawn of the Dead (1978), Day of the Dead (1985), and Land of the Dead (2005), human instinct is the motor that drives the endless ranks of Undead corpses ever forward. From this we can straightforwardly deduce that Romero portrays pure and unrefined instinct as a dangerous force that is threatening to human life. But why should our most natural urges be seen as hostile, and why does Romero visualize them as stumbling Undead corpses with an insatiable appetite for human flesh?
The Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) states that civilization, since its origins, has demanded the constant