Ahhhh … October. Beautiful reds, golds, and yellows adorn my neighborhood and I get to look forward to all the local munchkins stopping by for a trick or a treat. The crisp scent of falling leaves hangs in the air… and the foul odor of decaying flesh hangs about my computer.
|Photo Credit: 123RF|
Zombies are, by far, my favorite horror trope and they are wildly popular right now. Why are they so interesting and how did the zombie mythos come about? There is no one singular origin for the zombie in popular culture, like we can trace the vampire’s appearance to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Although there is mention of the dead rising to eat the living in the Sumerian tale, The Epic of Gilgamesh, today’s pop culture zombie is mostly a construct of Haitian religious beliefs and our own Western ideas of terror.
Historically, zombies have existed in many cultures with names like revenant, draugr, and jiangshi. No matter the name, a zombie is a person who has returned from the dead and kills to satiate its own hunger. According to certain branches of Vodou, or voodoo, a sorcerer can revive a dead person. These "living dead" are then used as slaves, sometimes for nefarious means, and forever under control of the sorcerer. The idea of an eternity of slavery to an evil sorcerer seems unpleasant, indeed terrifying, to most people.
Those of us who love zombies work to make them scarier, new, and fresh, more interesting than Romero’s shamblers or even the faster predators we’re familiar with from The Walking Dead. How does a writer put a spin on a time-honored trope without losing the essence of what he or she is writing?
For horror writers, the first thing to look at is what makes the monster scary. Most monsters kill, so either their method of dealing death must be highly unusual or we have to look at something else. We are repulsed by the idea of aimless wandering, of forced slavery, and being imprisoned in our bodies. Our fascination and loathing of the modern zombie takes root in those fears of mindless subservience. Add to these fears the threat of a contagious, cannibalistic eating machine, and the horrific modern zombie is born.
How does a writer capitalize on a known fear? Tweak an element of what makes a monster terrifying or personalize it in some way to make it relevant to the reader. In Habeas Corpse, my zombies are part of society, but they live just on this side of exclusion. My zombies desire flesh, but an intense desire not to be outcast keeps their cannibalistic yearnings in check… at a price. In order to be a part of their community, my risers must deny what they are.
The next time something scares you (except for the little gremlins and goblins at your Halloween door) think about what it is that creates the fear… and take it one step further.
Nikki Hopeman loves the kind of horror that leaves her quaking in the back of the closet, the kind that won't let her close her eyes. Life before writing includes a bachelor’s degree in microbiology, a few years as a veterinary technician, floral arranger, blueberry picker, babysitter, and VW Beetle mechanic. She holds an MFA in writing popular fiction from Seton Hill University. When she’s not writing, she can be found in the tattoo chair or on her Harley Davidson. Nikki shares her home in Pittsburgh with her husband, two sons, two crazy corgis, and an angry hamster. She can be reached at www.nikkihopeman.com or on Twitter @nikkihopeman. Her short story, "Black Bird," appears in Dark Moon Books’ Mistresses of the Macabre. Habeas Corpse, Nikki’s debut novel, will be available from Blood Bound Books on November 2.