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.