Zombies: A Terrified Appreciation

In his review of undead-fightin' videogame Resident Evil 5 this week, Entertainment Weekly critic Jeff Jensen calls zombies "silly." He's scared of vampires, but not zombies. Wha? Zombies are the scariest thing since unsliced bread.

I know it's sort of trendy these days to be into zombies, like ironically or whatever, but mine is actually a fascination born entirely out of abject terror.

The year was 1993. It was summer. I was ten years old and my sister and I decided to rent a movie. That movie was Night of the Living Dead. Not the 1968 George A. Romero classic, rather the updated version that stars a glowering Tony Todd and lots of inexplicably naked zombies. It was absolutely the scariest thing I'd ever seen.

Something about the shambling inevitability of zombies, their sheer numbers, the fact that you might have to blow your own parents' heads off to avoid being consumed alive, terrified me more than all the ghosts or serial killers or murderous automobiles of the world combined. Zombies are us, reduced to basest instincts, our inherent wickedness made terrifyingly plain. There's nothing sexy or Gothic about them, and they don't offer quippy catchphrases as they axe you to death. No, they just come at you slow (or sometimes fast) and steady, threatening to either eat you, or turn you into one of them. Plus, it didn't help that my parents' summer home in Rhode Island, where I spent a lot of time as a kid, is... a creepy 150-year-old farmhouse surrounded by acres of woods, just like in the movie. A perfect place to be cornered and stuck, just waiting to be devoured by the never-sated undead.

So my fear persisted that summer and many others, as I cowered in my bedroom, convinced that any creak or animal noise was actually the sound of approaching zombie moans. I'm still scared of them to this day, but I've also gained a strange appreciation for the genre. Zack Snyder's brutal, kinetic Dawn of the Dead remake scared the high holy pants off me for a good few months in 2004, while 28 Days Later and the lesser (but still good!) sequel, 28 Weeks Later, provided thoughtful, ruminative scares. I've sped through the brilliant Max Brooks' Ultimate Zombie Survival Guide (and actually took his advice to heart), and adored his tremendous tome World War Z. (A movie, incidentally, that ought to be rad.) And Shaun of the Dead helped me laugh at my inexplicable zombie phobia, though it didn't do much to cure it.

It's an abiding obsession, and a lingering, potent horror. I'm scaring myself right now, just thinking about it.

What do you think of the trundling undead? Silly? Horrifying? Kinda both? If not zombies, what scares you most?