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Zombies Freak Me Out

By Bert Ehrmann

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Fort Wayne Reader

2012-02-02


Those who are longtime readers of Dangerous Universe will know of my affinity for the zombie genre. I've seen just about every English language zombie movie that has been made in the last 40+ years and own many of them on DVD. I also own volumes upon volumes of zombie comics, am an avid fan of the TV series The Walking Dead, and watch new episodes of the series with glee. I'm not sure what it is that attracts me to the shambling dead so much, but whatever it is has had me hooked since I was a boy.

But the thing that's odd about me and zombies is that they scare the heebie-jeebies out of me. Like, REALLY scare me. Sometimes, zombies frighten me so badly that whenever I watch an episode of The Walking Dead or zombie movie there's a good chance I'm in for zombie-related nightmares.

The first few zombie movies I remember seeing as a kid didn't bother me in the least. I could watch Barbara being pulled away by her zombie brother Johnny in Night of the Living Dead (1968) or Nazi zombies reaching up from the lake bottom at unassuming swimmers in Zombie Lake (1981) and not have any problems turning off the TV and going to sleep. But that all changed the day I saw Day of the Dead (1985) in an edited for TV version one Saturday in (probably) 1987.

Day of the Dead is actually the final film in a trilogy of zombie movies written and directed by George Romero. The first of these films is Night of the Living Dead where the zombies are just beginning to emerge, which was followed by Dawn of the Dead (1978) with zombies slowly taking over and forcing humanity into protected enclaves, and finally Day of the Dead.

In Day of the Dead, a team of scientists and military troopers are holed up in an underground bunker and are trying to work out a solution to the zombie menace outside where the dead outnumber the living 400,000 to 1. As the scientists perform experiments on the zombies to try and tame them and the troopers lose all contact with the outside world, tempers flare and the only thing more dangerous than the zombies outside are the people inside.

I can remember quite clearly watching Day of the Dead that warm evening in my parent's bedroom as the rest of the family watched something more appropriate in the living room. Even in the edited for TV version I saw, Day of the Dead was still gruesome and disturbing.

Somehow I made it through the entire movie and literally felt sick to my stomach with fright afterwards as my mind raced. What would I do if the things in the movie really happened? Would I be one of the lucky ones in the bunker protected from the zombies, our would the people outside the bunker be the real lucky ones to not be trapped inside with the insanity?

I tried to calm down, telling myself that it was only a movie, that zombies weren't real and the things in Day of the Dead could never really happen. And though told myself that over and over again that evening, I never believed it and later that night found myself sleeping on the floor of my parent's bedroom where even then I'd be haunted by terrifying intense nightmares about zombies all night long.

In fact, I'd sleep at the foot of my parent's bed on the floor each Friday and Saturday night for the next few weeks. (I could take sleeping alone in my bedroom during the week since I'd have to be in bed before my parents, meaning there were still lights on in the house. But the weekends, when they went to bed before me and I was the one who'd have to turn out the lights was a bit too much for me to handle.)

Months later, after I'd returned to my own bed full time, I'd still sometimes find my mind racing about the possibilities of what happened in Day of the Dead. Was that noise outside a tree or a zombie trying to get in? Was that our dog I just heard out in the hallway or something else?

Years would pass, and though I'd been able to see lots of other zombie movies I've only seen Day of the Dead just that one time. And though I still will occasionally have nightmares after seeing an episode of The Walking Dead, they pale on comparison to those I had back in '87.

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