Something occurred to me the other day. It was something small and strange, but I can’t believe it hadn’t come to my attention sooner. As an avid horror fan, I feel silly that I have let a stereotype go by, unchecked for so many years and have even been guilty of spreading it myself, through jokes and cartoons. Well, no more my friends! Today I am going to expose this myth for all it’s ugliness, and maybe we will begin to understand its origin. Then again, probably not 🙂
I have an admission to make. I don’t love zombie movies. There, I said it. Now the darker admission. I don’t love zombie movies because they scare the living shit out of me. Since I was a little kid, they are the only movies that have had the power to give me nightmares. As an adult, this hasn’t changed much. Actually, it’s only gotten worse. Trying to escape from the zombies myself was enough, but now I have children to protect as well. To top it off, I had to go and have three kids, that’s one more than the number of arms I have to scoop them up and carry them off to safety! Should the Zombie Apocalypse happen any time soon, you can imagine the odds that I may be faced with my own version of Sofie’s Choice right here in America. That scares the shit out of me. But I digress…
Well, so long as I’m digressing, let me mention one more thing~Did they have to go and make the damned things fast and strong? Wasn’t it scary enough when there was just a horde of the mindless, rotten bastards trying to beat down your door? Now they had to go and remake the zombie like everything else, adding speed and some rudimentary intelligence? You sick sonsabitches! Thanks for the lost sleep. Assholes.
Sorry about that. Back to the reason for this rant. What is the first thing that happens whenever you mention the word ZOMBIE? Someone next to you will put their arms out in a stiff manner and begin to moan the word brains, am I right? I am. Try it. I will wait…….See! I told you. Zombies=Brains. End of story. But ask yourself why? I went in to this post, confident that I had seen almost every zombie film known to man. A quick internet search dispelled that idea, turning up hundreds of ultra-low-budget films, made over the years that I hadn’t even heard of. So for the sake of this rant, let’s just talk about the more mainstream flicks, shall we?
There is, of course, the definitive zombie film of all time, Mr. George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. He set the bar for every zombie movie that will ever be made, or re-made. He branched out to make Dawn of the Dead, Dayof the Dead, Land of the Dead, and many more, including remakes of them all which brought us the newfangled, quick bastards that plague my nightmares. Thanks George. You fucker. There’s also Shaun of the Dead, 28 Days Later and 28 weeks Later, and the whole Resident Evil list and so very many more. My most recent favorite would have to be Zombieland. I love that Woody Harrelson 🙂 Think about all these movies I have mentioned. Do the zombies eat brains in ANY of them? Nope. Not a one. These zombies eat flesh indiscriminately. They may nosh some gray matter here or there, but mostly, they just want warm, living skin and viscera. So where then, did we get the notion that all zombies crave brains? Let me tell you.
In the mid-eighties, a guy named Dan O’Bannon directed a particularly nasty zombie film adapted from a book by John Russo. This film, which would spawn what felt like hundreds of awful sequels, was called Return of the Living Dead. To my knowledge, (and I’m sure there will be some nerdy film-buff who is all too happy to correct me) this was the first time that zombies ever muttered the now-familiar cry of BRRAAAIIIINNSSS! on film. The movie is campy at best, with cheesy lines and horrendous 80’s special effects. I was ten when I saw it. It terrifies me to this day. Seriously, the adult in me knows that no skeleton could possibly retain both eyes and tongue, let alone mobility, when little more than bones remain (those are the first things to go), but I am still petrified of those slimy bastards coming for me, their whiny cries for my cerebrum the last thing I ever hear. But you see, that’s it. These are the only series of zombie films where I remember zombies showing a preference for our cranial candy over any other part they can sink their teeth into. There are probably other, more obscure films that I have missed, that may show the same trend, but on a whole, I would say that most zombies really aren’t more interested in any one part of a person.
So there it is. Despite t-shirts, cameo appearances on everything from sitcoms to children’s shows, and funny cartoons on the web, this brain-loving zombie really is in the minority. The next time you are having an intelligent conversation on how you have prepared for the upcoming Zombie Apocalypse, and the jack-ass next to you starts in with his whole BRAINS and stiff arms thing, inform him of the truth. Much like that jock that you dated for five minutes in high school, the average zombie is much more interested in your body than your brains. Then smack the douche bag for perpetuating an unnecessary stereotype. After all, don’t we have enough of that in today’s society?
Hey! What about “I am Legend”?! Love that movie!
There is some debate as to whether those creatures are actually vampires due to their UV sensitivity 😉 They also don’t eat just brains!
I agree. In the novel by Richard Matheson, the I Am Legend monsters were vampires. I know they change things when they make movies out of books, so maybe the Zombie thing was their intent for the movie?
Could be. Who knows. Movie guys do whatever they want it seems. Sometimes the author’s vision is completely lost 😉
Even King took over his book/movie deals after a few of the film companies “ruined” his work.
Hilarious! I have seen very few, if any, *thinks way back* zombie movies. I was never a fan. I was more ghosts and vampires.
I guess when the Zombie Apocalypse occurs, I will be clueless as to what to do, right?
It’s okay James! You have time and there are numerous how-to guides available due to the recent popularity of zombies 😉
George Romero largely credits the novel I Am Legend for birthing his take on zombies. Though Matheson’s monsters are clearly vampires, their mannerisms are pretty much the prototype for what we now think of as zombies. Just take a look at the first film adaptation of I Am Legend, called The Last Man on Earth (starring Vincent Price); the monsters act a lot like Romero’s zombies and it predates NOTLD by a few years. Also, Return of the Living Dead is hilarious on purpose, and along with being the first(?) brain eating reference, it’s also the first time zombies full out sprint, which a lot of people seem to overlook. Tar Man is still my favorite zombie of all time.
Tar Man is the one that sticks out most in my head too!
Also Craig, I didn’t mean to give the impression I didn’t like Return of the Living Dead, I liked it a lot. Just because I call something campy and cheesy, doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it immensely~especially if it’s horror 😉
Interesting (and entertaining) post. I never really thought about the “BRAAAIIIINS!” (did I get all the letters?) phenomenon, but you’re absolutely right. Not only in the fact that this seems a pretty common zombie misconception, but also that it spawned from Return of the Living Dead (haven’t seen it in years, but I too was frightened/amused by this one).
Thank you for reminding us that it isn’t just our brains they want. They’ll devour our body parts indiscriminately (how does that do for your nightmares? 🙂
Paul D. Dail
http://www.pauldail.com- A horror writer’s not necessarily horrific blog
Paul, you would be amazed how much LESS frightened I am of zombies eating my arm than my brain 🙂 I have such a lovely brain! LOL