The New Undead
Zombies today are way smarter than they used to be, and sometimes just darn adorable.
“Zombie Pet is kind of cute, if it wasn’t for all the flesh eating.”
So reads the product description of an 8″ toy created by Argentinean designer Patricio Oliver for Kidrobot. Made out of translucent blue vinyl, Zombie Pet Dunny sports a belly printed with glow-in-the-dark bones. The result is not ghoulish, but rather super adorable.
This is the new zombie. No longer a frightening reanimated corpse on a mindless hunt for brains, today’s undead are different from the old classic. The new breed is more cute than scary, strategic rather than moronic, and possessing a combination of extra superpowerful traits. From toys to novels to the big screen to TV, the new undead are everywhere—a global pandemic (so to speak) of amped up corpse characters.
In the comic book series Marvel Zombies, classic superheroes including Iron Man, Spider-Man, and The Hulk become even more mighty with an infusion of zombie-ism to their repertoires. Of course, they have to manage a new hankering for flesh, but they retain all prior intellect, personalities, and capabilities. The novel Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament by S.G. Brown portrays a funny, smart, and sensitive main character named Andy who embarks on a journey of self-discovery and romance. Being dead doesn’t impede him from having deep feelings.
In the movie genre, actor Nicholas Hoult plays one of these super-cuter-smarter zombies in the romantic comedy Warm Bodies (2013). His character falls in love with a still-living chick and then goes on to become the savior of humanity in a post-apocalyptic world. Watch World War Z (2013), and you’ll meet an unstoppable and terrifying species equipped with both super-speed and super-strength.
In the television series The Returned (2012–), the dead are so human-like they don’t even know they’re dead. These zombies are able to reintegrate with their families and resume their former lives. In the Flesh (2013–) is another supernatural series that features well-equipped zombies. Give them contact lenses and cosmetics and they fit in just fine with alive-folk. They’ve even renamed their special condition with the more politically-correct moniker of “partially deceased syndrome.”
These new undead subjects are examples of recurring pop culture trends. Tropes from decades past are often revisited, hijacked, and enhanced with re-mixed complexity. For better or for worse, we love to recycle the best from days gone by.
In fact, the cult of zombies is a fad of the 1980’s. Sure, their myth originated in African and Caribbean superstitions, but their pop culture proliferation is thanks to Hollywood movie-makers in the decade of big hair and laissez-faire capitalism. During that time, slasher and horror genres with undeadly villians were hugely popularized. Michael Jackson’s Thriller video was released in 1983, and droves of other corpse characters came from influential movie directors like Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, and Tim Burton. The undead trope was so powerful that these movies and their makers infused into our cultural fabric. Lying dormant for decades, but today these revisited and revised undead characters just keep showing up.
They have certainly evolved. But fact remains: zombies never die.