Undead Obsessed: Finding Meaning in Zombies
Booktrope Editions, 2014
Jessica Robinson was in junior high when she was justifiably creeped out by George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead(1968). Thus began her lifelong obsession with the walking dead. While other horror fans would be content with watching and collecting the cinematic exploits of the anthropophagic undead, Robinson ascends that limitation in search of enlightenment. She wishes to understand the meaning behind zombie films, pondering the koan of the living dead and the sudden popularity of the genre. She wants to know why zombies strike such fear in the hearts of the living.
The book alternates between a being history of zombiism and a journal of self-discovery. Robinson wisely starts her history outside of the Caribbean, noting the European and Asian types of living dead. Creatures such as the revenant, nachzehrer, draugr, vetala, and jiangshi are not zombies per se, but manifest traits that would be incorporated into an archetypic zombie. Although the book tends to focus on films a little too heavily in spots, it is appropriate in discussing the social aspects of zombies as a metaphor for modern fear of science playing god one too many times. This, of course, includes Frankenstein and Re-Animator. She then segues in to some of the ways science could trigger the zombie apocalypse, such as her personal favorite, wastewater processing plants. After all, as Robinson notes, zombies are basically walking pathogens with the sole purpose to infect and destroy the world. Conversely, she also notes science may be the only thing that can save us from the onslaught of the walking dead.
Printed source material is really Robinson’s weakest point. Fiction is lightly covered at best, and short form is completely neglected. For all the discussion on the film Re-Animator (1985), she never mentions the source: the short story Herbert West—Re-Animator by H.P. Lovecraft. Nor does she mention the voodoo tales of Henry S. Whitehead. These are egregious oversights, but easily remedied in an expanded second edition.
This weakness aside, Robinson covers an extraordinarily broad array of topics. It’s a fun book, assuming panspermia, sewerage, and epidemics are your idea of a good time. Of course, if you’re reading a review of a book on zombies, that’s already a given.