I recently enjoyed a Weekend of the Living Dead. It began with Apocalypse Z - ''an immersive theatrical experience'' which involved being chased around Auckland's Aotea Square by zombies.
''Sit back and enjoy the spectacle... or step up and become a hero,'' the promo material said. I spend unhealthy amounts of time day-dreaming about what I'll do in the happy event that the zombie apocalypse finally arrives. Here was my big chance.
But I mistook ''immersive'' for ''interactive'' and went into the show believing I could influence the outcome. It took me a while to figure out that my attempts at injecting myself into the script - ''kill that guy, he's going to infect us all!'' - were being ignored by the actors.
Fortunately I had a few beers on board (hey, when the apocalypse comes, I want to be pissed), so any embarrassment was felt by my sober, zombie-skeptic companion rather than me.
A couple of nights later, a 10,000-strong army and I shuffled into a large auditorium to watch the Prince of Darkness play the Devil's own music. Black Sabbath embraced the zombie zeitgeist: as the walking corpse that is Ozzy Osbourne sang about nuclear apocalypse during "Electric Funeral", rotting bodies climbed out of graves on the big screens behind him.
Unfortunately I made a major fashion faux pas, turning up in a white Datsuns T-shirt while everyone else was wearing black death-metal shirts. I was decidedly soft-core, and was not surprised when a figure in black approached, laughing, and said sarcastically: ''Killer shirt, bro.'' I wanted to dig my own grave and crawl into it.
All was not lost, however: I raced outside and found a bloke spruiking Sabbath T-shirts (featuring a figure in an apocalyptic-type gas mask) for 20 bucks, and quickly re-joined the legions of undead, this time suitably attired.
Two thousand and thirteen (yes, 13, that wonderfully apt number) has been a year of zombies. They're everywhere. For 16 glorious weeks the best television show ever made, The Walking Dead, screened late at night on TV2, finding ever-more ingenious ways of dispatching people and zombies alike. (My favourites scenario had a small boy having to blow his mother's brains out after she died in childbirth to prevent her coming back as a zombie. Disappointingly, her baby was not stillborn, which would have meant a zombie baby - now that would have been cool!)
Spookers south of Auckland hosts 5km zombie obstacle races; movies have included the zombie love story Warm Bodies (catchline: ''He's still dead, but he's getting warmer'') and the phenomenon has even become a form of social commentary - zombie marches have been held to protest rampant capitalism.
And next month, the big one: Brad Pitt's World War Z, the most expensive zombie film ever made. I can hardly wait. There have been many attempts at explaining why zombies are so hot. The jacket of The Living Dead, ananthology of zombie stories, says they have invaded popular culture because they are the monsters that best express our modern fears and anxieties.
''The ultimate consumers, zombies rise from the dead and feed upon the living, their teeming masses ever hungry, ever seeking to devour or convert... mindless, faceless eating machines,'' the blurb says.
I reckon that's over-thinking it. The simple reason is that in an age when vampires have been appropriated by teenage girls (who seem to want to get bitten, for God's sake), ghosts are confined to whatever house they died in and were wolves are no scarier than the rottweiler next door, zombies remain truly terrifying.
Traditionally, zombies were corpses resurrected by sorcery in African and Haitian folklore, but in 1968 director George Romero's Night of the Living Dead introduced us to the idea of ''infected'' dead feasting on human flesh and turning victims into their own kind with a single bite.
The most terrifying thing about zombies is that theymultiply in number so quickly, leaving rag-tag andever-dwindling bands of human survivors to fight them off while eking out an existence. There's never much hope for the future - no one ever seems to discover a cure for the virus and no one ever seems to find a sanctuary impervious to zombie invasion.
Scarier still are twists on the genre - such as fast moving zombies in 28 Days Later and thinking zombies in Romero's Land of the Dead. Questions remain. I lie awake at night pondering why flesh falls apart so easily when human teeth are not sharp. Why zombie numbers grow exponentially when most of their victims are eaten until there's nothing left. And the big one: why the hot chick in the cleavage-revealing white T-shirt insists on going into that dark building alone, knowing there are almost certainly zombies in there waiting to feast on her brains.
I'll keep on going to zombie movies, plays, concerts, and cross-country races till I find out.
- Sunday Magazine
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