Zombies Aren't Just for the Brain-Dead

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), September 13, 2010 | Go to article overview

Zombies Aren't Just for the Brain-Dead


Byline: Daniel de Vise The Washington Post

Is "Night of the Living Dead" a simple zombie film or a subtle antiwar statement? Precisely when did viral pandemic supplant nuclear radiation as the lead cause of zombification? And which sort of animated dead has the greater potential to frighten: shambler or sprinter?

Those questions and others will be laid to rest -- and then gruesomely revivified -- in a new 300-level course at the University of Baltimore titled "Media Genres: Zombies."

Arnold Blumberg, a lifelong enthusiast of popular culture in general and zombie films in particular, is among the first university professors to devote an entire semester to study of the reawakened dead. His course, and recent offerings at other colleges, share a common interest in the zombie movie as expression of zeitgeist.

Zombies have clawed their way to the center of popular culture over the past decade in a series of big-budget mainstream films. There was "28 Days Later," a 2002 British production that revived the genre with hip London zombies that were supremely athletic if not, strictly speaking, dead. And "Dawn of the Dead," a 2004 remake of a George Romero classic. And "Shaun of the Dead," the definitive satire. And "Zombieland," the slightly less-definitive satire.

And "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," the 2009 literary mash-up that has intermittently outsold the Jane Austen original. And "The Walking Dead," the looming AMC television series. And annual zombie walks in fashionable urban centers.

"Right now we're in a massive surge of zombie entertainment," said Blumberg, whose University of Baltimore course is numbered English 333, a sum that is -- numerologists, take note -- exactly half of 666.

"On the most basic level, zombies are probably one of the most potent horror icons, one of the closest to us in terms of identification factor, in terms of reflecting ourselves," he said. "The zombie is, simply, us."

Blumberg is curator of Geppi's Entertainment Museum, a shrine to popular culture at Baltimore's Camden Yards. He has degrees from the University of Baltimore and the University of Maryland Baltimore County and cowrote the book "Zombiemania," a scholarly interest possibly surpassed only by his love for the venerable British science-fiction series "Dr. Who." He teaches a UMBC course on the comic book as literature.

"Zombiemania" examines 85 zombie movies "to die for." The zombie course covers a mere 16 "classic" titles, from the 1932 Bela Lugosi vehicle "White Zombie" through 2009's "Zombieland," the highest-grossing zombie film to date. …

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