If we had to pick one monster that stands out as the most popular today, it would have to be the zombie. Whether they’ve become zombies by catching a disease or by dying and being brought back wrong, whether they’re mindless, shuffling hordes of undead or lightning-fast predators, the scariest thing about zombies is that they used to be human — and if you’re not careful, you could end up as one too! All it takes is to be bitten, or in some cases, not even that much. In the film 28 Days Later, a character got infected simply by getting a drop of zombie blood in his eye.
That’s part of what makes zombies so scary. They might be easy enough to kill (although that depends on the story), but it’s even easier for them to add to their numbers. Human survivors fighting for their lives know that for every one of their companions that dies, there’s a good chance another zombie will be raised.
But what exactly is a zombie, and why have they become such a force in pop culture? We could go over the history of zombies in cinema and television, all the way from Night of the Living Dead to the modern TV sensation of The Walking Dead, but that won’t really explain why zombies are popular. The answer to that question lies in folklore, history, and the darkest fears of the human mind.
What Makes Zombies Terrifying?
People rising from the dead has been a staple of horror since Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft’s days, and even earlier. Death is inevitable, but that hasn’t stopped people from being afraid of the idea since the beginning of time, and while death is scary enough already, there’s just something deeply terrifying about it going wrong. After all, it’s supposed to be natural, and an unnatural force altering the process of death has some horrifying implications.
Humans throughout history have coped with the uncertainties of death by framing it as a peaceful process of moving on to an afterlife or a more enlightened form of existence, so the idea of someone rising from the grave brings all kinds of unsettling thoughts to mind. Is the person’s soul stuck in their decaying form? Have they turned evil? Characters forced to fight a recently risen zombie often wonder if their friend is still in there somewhere. Zombies aren’t just scary and disgusting, they’re traumatizing to the people who knew them in life! When you put all these things together, it makes sense that zombies are such an enduring force in horror entertainment.
We already mentioned horror fiction involving people rising from their graves, but there are some real historical examples that influenced zombies as we know them today. The word zombi comes from Haitian folklore in which a powerful sorcerer creates a mindless, obedient servant by administering poisons that would make the person appear to be dead. After the body was taken away, the sorcerer would retrieve the apparently lifeless corpse. The unfortunate zombi would then awaken and be kept in a hypnotic state through the power of the sorcerer’s magic — or technically, through administering mind-altering drugs that would keep the zombified person in a fugue state in which they would obey commands. There are even accounts of people who spent time as a zombi before escaping to return to shocked family and friends who had assumed them dead, sometimes after years of forced servitude. Of course, it’s debatable as to whether the stories are true.
The other main historical source for zombies is European in origin, and definitely inspired writers like Poe and Lovecraft. Europe suffered hundreds of years of epidemics of diseases like cholera, which had a death toll so high that local doctors could barely handle all the bodies. With all the stress, exhaustion, and terror inflicted on people in affected areas, victims of disease were often assumed dead when they were still alive — only their vital signs had plummeted to undetectable levels. This is called a cataleptic state and it can be caused by everything from disease to hypothermia. This situation led to people waking up inside coffins and climbing out if they were lucky enough to not have been buried yet, that is! In fact, during this time period, being buried alive was such a common fear that people installed bells above graves that the interred person could ring from inside the coffin if they should wake up to discover they’d been buried. Of course, this led to all kinds of horror stories, and while they may not have been about zombies specifically, they certainly contributed to the idea.
The Zombie Phenomenon
Zombies make terrifying and tragic villains, assuring them a solid place in pop culture today. Naturally, this means they’re also extremely popular for Halloween and other events. Organized zombie walks occur annually in cities around the world, in which participants dress up as zombies and simulate a zombie horde making its way through the streets. Some zombie walks are just for fun, while others raise money and awareness for charity (who said zombies can’t be nice?). There is also zombie pub crawls and even zombie cycling events.
One reason zombie costumes are fun is how accessible they are. You can make a zombie costume very easily, or you can go all-out with detailed makeup or a high-quality zombie mask. You can also combine zombies with anything — after all, any animal or person of any profession can die, and therefore become a zombie. In fact, any mythological creature that isn't already dead can die and be raised as a zombie, so you can have everything from zombie dogs to zombie cable repairmen to zombie werewolves and everything in between!
At Halloween-Mask.com, we have a huge selection of zombie masks suitable for any style of the undead, from the decaying, shuffling horde to the fast and agile plague zombies. We also have masks representing various zombie and undead characters, like walkers from The Walking Dead, several versions of Eddie, the mascot of heavy metal icons Iron Maiden, white walkers from Game of Thrones, and more. We even have combination characters like zombie pirates, zombie cowboys, zombie rednecks, you name it. It’s like we said — anyone can be a zombie and zombies can be anything. And with the zombie apocalypse on everyone’s mind, it’s like they always say: if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!