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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Zombie Revolution

I always thought about zombies as being about revolution, one generation consuming the next.
~ George Romero

George Romero may have introduced the living dead to modern popular culture, but did you know that zombies have also been researched, scientifically?  In the early 1980's, Canadian anthropologist Wade Davis researched zombies in Haiti in search of a scientific explanation for the undead. He studied natural neurotoxins found in Haitian zombie powder, including puffer fish venom, tetrodotoxin. He claimed that a combination of zombie powder and Voodoo sorcery rituals were used to enslave , or zombify, people as a form of punishment. Wade wrote two books about his research, Serpent and the Rainbow,  and Passage of Darkness, which is generally considered to be the more scientific of the two books. You can read a review and synopsis of Passage of Darkness here:

One of my favorite zombie movies (other than Romero's films) is I Walked with a Zombie. (1943)
It is beautiful, spooky and the actor Darby Jones, who plays the zombie Carrefour, is as scary a zombie as you could conjure. 

25 years later George Romero set the undead loose to roam and lurch menacingly, en masse, into our collective consciousness, at a time when our country was exploding with political and social unrest. Night of the Living Dead channels the anxieties and fears of 1968 in a classically themed horror movie. The movie takes place in Pittsburgh and features real Pittsburghers including Chilly Billy Cardille, the popular host of Chiller theater, a beloved cult local tv show that did a truly great job presenting and popularizing sci-fi and horror movies. The movie also features one of my best friends from high school, Kyra Schon, our favorite little trowel wielding zombie girl . It is something of an odd testament to both Pittsburgh, and to those times, that most everyone took Kyra's zombie fame in stride. I mean, of course Kyra played a flesh eating zombie when she was 11 years old, what of it? Today you can keep up with Kyra through her blog.
Kyra, about 5 years after playing Karen Cooper, flesh eating zombie child.
Which brings us to 2013 and  The Zombie Autopsies, a zombie science phenomenon by Harvard professor Steve Schlozman, MD, who is also an advisor for our  Kavli Science in Fiction video contest.
Steve Schlozman's book The Zombie Autopsies: Secret Notebooks from the Zombie Apocalypse has been film optioned by none other than George Romero, and his zombie science curriculum has been creatively adapted by Texas Instruments, as part of innovative STEM program, The Stem Behind Hollywood.

Steve answers the simple question, Why Zombies? with considerable eloquence and wit, in an interview we just did.  You can check out his musings here.

Oh sure, there are dozens of zombie movies and tv series out there. Some of them are quite good and feature compelling dystopian scenarios, beyond the blood, gore, and mayhem. But personally, I like the old classics. You know, the movies where messed up people walk slowly towards you, dead, but not dead.

And just in case any of you need to be reminded just what a great flick "Night of the Living Dead" is, or you just need a good dose of zombie terror before you drift off to sleep on this cold winter night.