When I was a little kid, three things terrified me. Bugs, Gargoyles, and Zombies. My fear of Gargoyles came from an early 70s movie of the same name. A scene where the people are driving in their car at night and a gargoyle lands on the roof and proceeds to peel it back like opening a tin of sardines really stuck with me. I remembered it every time the folks had me out for a night time drive.
When I was a teenager, it was revealed to me that as a wee toddler visiting family in the southwest, I had several scorpions crawling over me in my crib (I didn’t get stung). That would explain the whole “I hate bugs” thing I suffered through childhood.
Zombies I learned about around age 9. I already had a fear of going to funerals, and there was my 106 year old great grandfather who was blind, couldn’t talk and was confined to a bed in a nursing home. My grandmother took my cousin and I to see him periodically, putting his hand on top of our heads to illustrate how big we were getting. He never responded and lay there in an almost vegetative state. It creeped me out every time (these days, I salute him for his longevity and vow to break his record of 106).
In middle school and high school I often watched zombie movies- who can resist George Romero’s classics? But I often had nightmares about zombie apocalypses , up until I was about 18, when in my waking state I no longer feared any zombie uprising.
Today, I love The Walking Dead, video games like Left for Dead and Dead Island and great zombie movies like 28 Days Later, Undead and of course, Shaun of the Dead. I can’t watch them enough.
My kids love zombies too. I won’t let them watch The Walking Dead anymore (season 2 just got too intense and sexually explicit), but they love watching me Xbox virtual zombies to death. Shaun of the Dead and Army of Darkness are favorites for both girls (ages 7 and 13) and we watch them several times a year.
That recently made me wonder- why aren’t my kids afraid of zombies? Was I that disturbed as a child?
I think I’ve come to a conclusion.
When I was a kid, zombies were portrayed as unstoppable forces of unnatural death. People in zombie movies always died. It wasn’t until I saw Dawn of the Dead that I was exposed to the concept of people beating the zombies through ingenuity and luck.
Today though, zombies are little more than walking targets. Movies and video games of the 21st Century relish in showing people come out on top of the zombies. Even The Walking Dead’s undead pose very little threat to survivors- it’s more the living that they have to watch out for, or just plain old bad luck.
My kids love to watch me destroy zombies in Dead Island. We even sing songs as I play and they eat popcorn. “Burn Zombie burn, Zombie Inferno” is one of our favorite memes when the zombies find themselves on the receiving end of a molotov cocktail. And my kids never tire of me declaring “Hey, Mr. Zombie, you dropped something… your head!” after a decapitation.
I know some folks might think zombies are inappropriate for kids (clearly, they haven’t seen the awesome movie Fido about a boy and his zombie). I’d argue that I am much happier that my kids aren’t afraid of zombies. That they love seeing how zombie make up is applied to actors, that when she was 12, my eldest demanded to be a zombie for halloween (and thankfully I pulled off passable make up). I enjoy letting the kids laugh and crack jokes at the fate of those poor, idiotic zombies on the Xbox that throw themselves at me in unending waves (And no, I don’t turn the gore down).
Why would anyone want their kids to be afraid of anything?
Zombies are here to stay. And not just for grown ups. Paranorman, Nightmare Before Christmas, Beetlejuice… there are so many kid movies out there with the undead, presented in a way not to give your kids nightmares.
If you’ve got a kid scared of zombies, I highly recommend you cure them. First, make them watch Faceoff on Syfy. Let them learn how it’s all just make believe and make up. Invest in a copy of the Nightmare Before Christmas and Frankenweenie. Point out that Herman Munster himself is, technically, a zombie. Expand their encounters with zombies in film. The Universal Soldiers are, technically, zombies. So is the Mummy.
Army of Darkness is a great movie with skeleton warrior zombies (and Bruce Campbell). Both my girls fell in love with it at age 4. Nothing scary at all. Shaun of the Dead is fantastic for little kids- just stop the movie when they reach the Winchester and tell the kids- “Hey! They made it!”. That avoids the dark, buckets of blood turn the movie takes at the end. Worked with my girls. They were stunned when they got older and I revealed the “extended” ending.
But I think the best thing about zombies is they aren’t sparkling sex fiends that want to nail everything that moves. The werewolves and vampires of cinema have become far too sexual these days. Hopefully, we won’t ever see the zombies go that way.