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Are Zombies Scary

author
David Lawrence
• Friday, 01 January, 2021
• 8 min read

Does the thought of Nightmare on Elm Street’s Freddie Kruger’s scarred face bring you out in a cold sweat? A researcher at the Open University has come up with an answer as to why zombies and monsters scare us so much.

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Contents

Stephanie Lay has spent six years researching the ‘uncanny valley’ theory, an idea first introduced in the 1970s, which suggests that the reason we are scared of zombies is that our brains have trouble processing the image of something which is so similar to a human, but isn’t quite human. According to Lay, when we see an image of a zombie or human-like monster such as Freddie Kruger, ‘normal processing mechanisms’ do not apply themselves, which causes the unsettling effect ‘when people want to like a near-human face, but realize something is wrong.’ The closer to human form a monster is, the more disturbing we find it and the more we fear it.

Lay’s research involved showing people images of robots with gradually more humanized features. This point of negative emotional response is known as the ‘uncanny valley’, a term coined by Mahavira More, who applied it solely to robots.

Here is my list of why zombies are so scary (but also the reasons why I can't get enough). With pieces of flesh missing, bone exposed, the occasional limb missing and the mix of blood and dirt, they look terrifying.

Not to mention the bite breaks into skin and through organs and other body parts. I mean look at some things going on in the world with people biting each other's faces off and other random zombie-like activities.

But the undead is still similar, they are just immune to pain and hunger for brains. However, they do not have superhuman power, strength or intelligence, but I think that adds to the scariness of them.

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Could you kill your cousin's best friend's brother that you went to preschool with? They need it to help the pain go away, but that doesn't stop their insatiable appetite for all flesh.

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And though a thousand dissertations have been launched on the undead as representative of our fear of losing our souls to technology, the terror of zombies predates smartphones by about five millennia. Nor is it a zombie’s relentless compulsion to eat you alive that puts it in the bogeyman hall of fame.

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The mere thought of it leads to an existential despair that one can trace through Dante and Kafka to its even more frightening modern incarnations. To those who fear the infinite, David Bowie’s Major Tom wasn’t simply a martyr to the space age: his tragedy, further amplified by the German musician Peter Schilling’s sequel, was that he would be ‘drifting, falling, floating, weightless’ without hope of end.

When they awake they find that their rebellious son skipped the sleeping gas and experienced the trip as nearly infinite, mentally. Most discussions of eternal life forget the fact that the world ain’t going to be here all that long (relatively).

This moaning menace bears down on its prey with fetid breath and near ravenous desire. So often, horror isn’t actually about the monster at the end of the street or hidden in a closet.

It is the idea that we can be infected by insidious influences beyond our control, and that this will tear our individuality away. We give up our time to be a replaceable cog in a pre-packaged plastic cased world while our voices and dreams become a little less each day.

Tony Southgate hails from the Rocky Mountains somewhere around the state of Colorado. Possibly raised by grizzly bears, this gritty denizen of the arena now spends most of his time grappling with Java updates and dysfunctional RAM.

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With not much fiction under his belt, it might seem tempting to bet against Mister Southgate, but an impressive knowledge of everything from PVC pipe to psychedelic drugs makes Tony a storehouse of fiction waiting to hit the paper. Back in October 2013, Open University researcher Stephanie Lay published a study revealing why zombies are so scary to us.

Lay spent approximately six years studying the uncanny valley theory, which was first proposed back in the 1970s and suggested that we are scared of zombies because our minds cannot process images of things so visually similar and yet different to human beings. To test this theory, Lay showed numerous study participants a series of images which included robots that became gradually more human-looking.

Lay then went on to test the same theory but with zombies by showing images of human eyes located in inhuman faces. The results suggested that when participants saw these pictures “normal processing mechanisms” failed to kick in, leaving them feeling unsettled.

For centuries, there had been a steady build-up of intrigue surrounding reanimated corpses beginning as far back as Ancient Greece when Polygon of Travels wrote the tale of Philippian and Machetes. The notion of a zombie apocalypse didn’t appear until 1968 though, when George Romero released Night of the Living Dead, perhaps the most influential horror movie ever made due to scenes like the one above.

This led to a variety of other movies starring z-heads, but for a time the undead were more of a gimmick than a truly frightful notion, especially when pitted against the various other monsters that were appearing in the horror genre. Needless to say, the public’s interest in zombies was rising, and on Halloween 2010 AMC’s hit television show The Walking Dead aired.

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Over the next couple of years, few horror sub-genres could compete with the popularity of zombies as the Walking Dead ravaged the world, scaring anyone and everyone out of their minds. Updated on October 8th, 2020 by Mark Burrell: Fittingly enough, the zombie craze just won't die.

Based on Max Brooks' popular book, World War Z is the biggest attempt yet to bring zombies into mainstream action movie culture with a huge budget and a lead hero played by none other than Brad Pitt. Pitt plays Gerry Lane, who makes it his goal to try and stop the zombie outbreak by traveling around the world in search of the outbreak's origin, so he can develop a vaccine that will end it for good and save humanity before it's too late.

The zombies in this film are created by a virus that was initially intended to cure cancer but mutated into something far more malicious. Regardless, the first Resident Evil film is still a pretty terrifying zombie movie, even if it's not the best adaptation of the video game it's based on.

The most accomplished example so far of the Nazi zombie niche that has fascinated genre fans for many decades now, Overlord sees a mostly green company of American soldiers parachute into occupied France for a deadly mission only to discover that their target harbors dark and terrible experiments of the Third Reich. Produced by J.J. Abrams, the movie offers plenty of Hollywood spectacle but isn't afraid to get really graphic and bloody when it needs to.

Though technically a comedy, Dan O'Bannon's zombie movie is bursting with some pretty scary designs for a more unstoppable breed of the famous monsters. The Return of the Living Dead actually altered quite a bit about the overall zombie mythos and, though not as well-regarded as many of the other movies that O'Bannon worked on (Star Wars, Alien, Total Recall) it is, and really always has been, a certifiable cult classic and a pretty uniquely freaky ride.

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Plus, the movie stars a number of familiar faces like Idris Elba, Jeremy Runner, and Rose Byrne. It takes place after the first movie, following the military forces attempting to carve out more safe spots in London.

But then two siblings make the mistake of breaking protocol and introduce the Rage Virus into a sanctuary. Found footage movies can be hit or miss but the 2007 Spanish film, REC, is considered one of the best in the genre.

The film primarily takes place in an abandoned shopping mall that has become one of the last remaining safe zones during a zombie invasion, but when it becomes surrounded by the monsters, the human survivors have to figure out a way to fight them off at any cost. Based on a popular book of the same name, The Girl with All the Gifts is an eerie British film that takes place in a dystopian future.

Another reason 28 Days Later is so frightening and notable is that it was one of the first major examples of fast zombies. The idea of zombies being able to run introduces a brand-new type of fear into the equation.

Revered director Jacques Turner creates a disturbing atmosphere out of shadows and long silences rather than blood and guts. Horror legend George A. Romero directed this 1968 movie that helped create the zombie genre.

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The heavy amount of bloodshed was criticized at first but Night of the Living Dead spawned a franchise and, even if you haven't seen the original film, you might have seen some follow-ups. His third film in the genre, Day of the Dead, was also hugely influential and is perhaps the best example yet of how the truly terrifying villains in zombie fiction are the human beings.

Zombie movies should always say something about inherent human flaws and the real horror Day of the Dead comes from the characters and not the gore (though that's still pretty spectacular). A woman aboard the train is unknowingly nursing a zombie bite and suddenly turns into one, setting the film's action into motion.

The main things I care about in life can be found on a screen, film, television, video games, add horror into the mix, and I'm in love.

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