Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 Faith No More “Surprise! You’re Dead!”
 William Loose “Driveway to the Cemetery”
 Goblin “Dawn of The Dead”
 Fabio Frizzi “Zombi”
 John Harrison “Day of The Dead”
 Francis Haines “Trioxin Theme”
 Oingo Boingo “Dead Man’s Party”
 Does It Offend You, Yeah “Dawn of the Dead”
 Chubby Checker “Doin’ the Zombie”
Some things in life are just inevitable. When I began The True ABCs Sequence back in July 2013, the first letter on my mental spread sheet was Z. Take a look at the options and you’ll see why. While I could’ve opted for Zeppelin to be a clever dick, I’m fairly assured that there aren’t many horror movies set aboard a German airship and that’s hardly sufficient for the final hurrah is it? In the history of no-brainers, this one ranks way up there and, given that my chosen topic is so ripe for the picking, the decision was pretty much made for me. You see, over the past decade in particular, I’ve seen more shuffling undead come and go than I care to tally. It just had to be zombie but, in an attempt to come across unpredictable and edgy, I’ve jazzed it up a little. However, for as much as the sub-genre has grown increasingly stale of late, it’s only right that they get their own letter.
When you consider that zombies have actually been around for hundreds of years, I guess they’ve long since paid their dues. It turns out that we have voodoo to blame for the zombie apocalypse as they originated in Haiti and figured prominently in their rural folklore. Yet it wasn’t until 1932 and Victor Halperin’s White Zombie that they received their big break in cinema. These were exciting times for the walking dead and it appeared as though they may have found themselves a niche to expose. However, it was over ten years before Jacques Tourneur got in on the act with I Walked With a Zombie and another twenty until John Gilling presented us with The Plague of the Zombies. Just like most of The Brat Pack, it was looking increasingly like their fifteen minutes of fame was behind them and, dejected, they began crawling back beneath the top soil to spend the rest of eternity fending off earth worms. That is until Barbara came along and offered them a lifeline.
I’m not entirely sure whether we have Barbara to thank for their resurrection or her dimwitted brother Johnny. Either way, they received the shot in the arm that seemed destined never to come and this time there was no way they were going to let the opportunity slip through their fingers. Alas, hapless Johnny didn’t fare so well and became their very first meal ticket. However, his resourceful sibling wasn’t quite ready to crack open the old cranium and decided instead to lead them a merry dance, right the way back to a nearby farmhouse, full of cerebellums to chow down on. This was a landmark moment for zombies and, whilst attempting to breach the fortifications, they came up with a title to mark the occasion. Night of The Living Dead appeared fair game and, after running it past their sponsor George A. Romero and receiving two enthusiastic thumbs up, they were ready to kickstart their apocalypse.
It took a while for the world to cotton on but the seventies provided just enough opportunities to put brains on the table. Indeed, by 1978, you could tell an approaching zombie from a mile off by the sound of their rattling pocket change. While it felt good to be earning a living, food was growing decidedly sparse so they decided to have a rethink. After as much deliberation as a posse of stiffs can muster, they came to a group decision. It was either take a trip to Las Vegas and blow the lot on hookers and one-armed bandits or take their rotting asses shopping and acquire some new clothes. Again, their adviser George was on hand and reminded them that Vegas is one helluva shuffle and that they wouldn’t have sufficient funds to pat the vulture tax on Route 66. Thus, the smart money was on some well-earned retail therapy and it just so happened that he had just the mall in mind.
Unfortunately for them, they arrived two hours before the doors opened but, determined not to let the grass grow under their feet again, they huddled together and worked on another catchy title. Dawn of The Dead seemed fitting and it was a unanimous choice. Once the mall finally opened for business, they were presented with rows upon rows of outlets to choose from. However, as appealing as the prospect of a long overdue pedicure may have been, the food court seemed like the thinking zombie’s choice and they shuffled there post-haste to grab a bite to eat. With the breakfast menu not looking particularly appetizing, they began to feel a little short-changed and were ready for showdown talks with George to voice their displeasure. Thankfully for them, decimated SWAT teams need to eat too and the mood lifted considerably. That said, this meant binge-eating on fast food and it would be a further twenty-five years before they learned to pick up the pace.
The odds weren’t that appealing either. With hundreds of mouths to feed and only four available foreheads to fight over, this meant each to their own. George felt terrible for raising their hopes so he called his good friend Tom Savini and asked him to round-up some of his biker buddies. Never one to miss a bargain, Tom obliged and suddenly the odds were far more favorable. Moreover, the whole nation had gotten wind of their shenanigans and news even traveled as far as Europe and a small country known for their fine dining. George came through for them again as he had another acquaintance on speed-dial by the name of Dario Argento. Before he could search through his Italian phrase book for the translation of “nice and spicy meatballs”, Dario said “grazie” and it was time to get those passport pictures taken and head off for a little European vacation.
What George didn’t bank on was Dario’s sworn enemy, a man by the name of Lucio Fulci. News travels fast on the Mediterranean and, while the undead honored their commitments with Argento, it wasn’t soon before they had fallen for Fulci’s enticing sweetener. Their very own secluded isle by the name of Matul was too much to pass up and, given that work had been so thin on the ground Stateside, they decided not to run this one past George. The problem was that the next available flight to Matul wasn’t until 1992 so this meant winging it and making their own travel arrangements. When you think of the skill set a festering corpse possesses, swimming isn’t the first to come to mind and it seemed a rather perilous pilgrimage to undertake. To make matters worse, the reef’s surrounding waters were known for hosting all manner of predators including the fearsome shark and George had taken them to see Steven Spielberg’s Jaws on a field trip so they were only too aware of the threat posed.
The thing is, fifty odd years of busking in subways just to make ends meet had gotten them riled and also provided adequate downtime to brush up on their combat training. As they reached hazardous waters and the sharks began to circle, it was time to put their brawn to the test. The Italians came to their aid once again and one man in particular taught them everything they needed to know about surviving onslaughts and getting a lucky punch in just before the eyes seal up. Rocky Balboa may not have had much going on between the ears but his rearguard action was second to none. For the first few rounds, watery canvas beckoned and hope seemed all but lost. Then something extraordinary occurred in the form of a rousing montage.
It took six weeks to make it up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art but, once they reached the top and punched the air defiantly, the zombies knew what they had to do to turn the tide. One underwater haymaker later and their access to Matul was granted. The next six weeks were some of the happiest of their after lives and boy had they worked up an appetite. Signore Fulci laid on a veritable banquet in their honor and they also got to top up their tans, not that they returned to America particularly bronzed. One thing had changed however and, in their absence, they’d become celebrities. If things carried on at the current rate of knots then they would have enough to take a trip back to Haiti in no time and rub their change of fortunes in their ancestors’ faces. Meanwhile, George was absolutely thrilled to see them back in good(ish) health and promised to plan another excursion just to show his gratitude.
This trip would take some planning so they took whatever work was going in the interim. Finally in 1985, he had the funds to book a day trip to the Everglades. Money was tight as their numbers had swollen considerably so self catering was all he could afford. The thing is with zombies, they’re not known for being prima donnas. If that was all that their Godfather could manage then so be it and biting the hand that fed them would not make good business sense. Besides, an underground army base would be the ideal place to work on their stomach crunches. Off they shuffled and turned up at the gates brimming with undead vigour. Alas, George had negated to inform them that accommodation was also not provided.
Refusing to be downbeat, they huddled round once more and Day of The Dead won the majority vote. Then, just as spirits were starting to plummet, they hit pay dirt. You see, humans may have superior brain capacity, but they also love to squabble over the most petty things. Enter Miguel, a disillusioned soldier fighting for a cause he no longer believed in. After opening the gate, there could only be one way of showing their gratitude and they gave him a thorough thanking. All that was left was to work out how to operate the cargo lift and, with his final few breaths, Miguel came up trumps again. It was time to go underground and it just so happens that zombies already know the floor plan. However, there was another surprise waiting for them down there and this was something they hadn’t accounted for.
Bub represented something of an anomaly and went against everything his brethren believed in. While they snacked on any stragglers, this docile fellow was too busy listening to throwaway eighties pop on his brand new Sony Walkman and tucking into a garden salad to even register their arrival. It took some persuading but, thanks to a certain Captain Rhodes who had made his life a living hell and fired his best friend for reasons undisclosed, they managed to win Bub over. Granted, he preferred to hang back and let them bicker over his entrails, but he proved himself as a worthy foot soldier and gained their eternal respect. However, George had failed them somewhat by not briefing them on their vegetarian associate and things were destined to get a lot worse before they got better. While popularity has its perks, it’s only a matter of time before somebody tries to steal your thunder. Ironically, the military had a hand in this one too.
The Everglades had been short-lived fun and, courtesy of their new wingman Bub, they now knew the entire Genesis back catalogue. But unbeknownst to them, far away in a medical supply warehouse in Louisville, Kentucky, another strain were commencing their rise and they didn’t have anything like the same work ethic. It turns out that news travels further than they initially suspected and, while floating in space in the late seventies leaving suspect alien oviums on an uncharted planet for any unsuspecting visitors, Dan O’Bannon had gotten wind of their mall excursion. To rub additional salt into the synapses, the rowdy rabble he rallied up had different aspirations and Phil Collins wasn’t on their playlist. Bred on a staple diet of raucous rockers such as The Damned, The Cramps and 45 Grave, these wannabes burst through the topsoil with only thought in mind. They were here to party.
And party they did. With a small group of punks and chumps to lead them further astray and Linnea Quigley invited along for their grand opening, the dead were raised in typically rebellious fashion. Moreover, these deadbeats had taken elocution lessons and this meant stiff competition for any subsequent speaking roles as silent movies and extra work wasn’t paying the bills any longer. The ultimate insult was still to come as, down in the sub-basement simmering in a barrel, was O’Bannon’s boys’ very own secret weapon. Handsome, eloquently spoken, and absolutely thirsting for some frontal lobe action, was the irrepressible Tarman. I’m not speaking of Jeff Bridges on fast forward, this dude had his own advanced evolution gig going on and didn’t have to wait long for his first bite.
The rest is zombie history and it is here that I shall skip forward some as George went into hiding for twenty years after Tarman came along and fucked up his game plan. In that time, the whole thing went viral and exclusivity was no longer his divine right. It turns out that zombies are in the public domain and, with the worldwide web proving quite the communicative tool, every last bastard on God’s earth decided to bid for their slice of the pie. Some of them remained faithful to George’s legacy, while others pissed on it from a great height. Experimentation was rife and all sorts of knock-offs and phonies started showing up unannounced. The original horde remained faithful to their Godfather but questions were invariably asked. One of the most commonplace was this rather uncomfortable poser: “Dad, you know we got our own day? Well there’s some guy in England offering a 28 stretch and throwing in some track practice to boot. Is it time we renegotiate the terms of our contract?”
What was George to say? Should he play it down as a flash in the pan, then he would likely have full-scale mutiny on his hands. He had to act fast as this Danny Boyle character was already discussing extending the duration to 28 Weeks and that would be catastrophic for George. So he did what any doting Godfather would do in such a fretful situation and did his level best to please his offspring. This time they had a whole city to run amok in and, after another group hug and brainstorming session, they named this fresh utopia Land of The Dead. Quigley wasn’t available for the opening ceremony but everyone’s favorite easy rider Dennis Hopper checked his diary and managed to clear a space. Moreover, he donated said diary as a gesture of goodwill as, with all these job opportunities cropping up, organization was imperative. After attempting to masticate his journal and finding the leather too tough for their liking, they offered it to George and he gratefully accepted the gift. It could well come in handy later on down the line.
Two years later and it did precisely that. This time he named it himself and the Diary of The Dead proved incalculable as all kinds of new opportunities were arising and it was growing increasingly difficult obtaining their whereabouts at any given moment. Sponsorship deals, recording contracts, daytime talk shows – it was all getting out of hand and set to get worse as one of them had even snuck into congress. George was feeling unappreciated and surplus to requirements after bending over backwards to cater for their every whim. And how did they repay him? By running for president and even having the gall to poach his Christian name. He had to think fast but finances were thin on the ground and George was only too aware that this would mean survival of the fittest. However, while zombies don’t have the longest attention spans and are known for possessing brains like colanders, loyalty is something that they believe in fiercely and they had never forgotten who got them where they were in the first place.
In 2009, they rallied together and, lo-and-behold, right in the thick of it was a certain dedicated serviceman by the name of Bub. All that salad had paid dividends and, while his brothers in arms were out there on the front line, he was sitting in his silo concocting one last battle plan. George had mentioned the word survival to Bub during their annual catch-up and, while not equipped to run with it, he shuffled it back to the drawing board and began work on the send off his Godfather deserved. Alas, it couldn’t be anything too extravagant, as Bub’s lucrative contract with Mach 3 had fallen through after he cut himself shaving and almost bled back to life. But he worked all summer as a short-order chef on minimum wage and sent off a cheque with his blueprint. $750 was a drop in the ocean but thankfully George had almost $4m in the kitty and, while that long-awaited Vegas trip remained pie in the sky, it was ample for a jaunt to Plum Island.
Just off the coast of off the coast of Delaware, this intimate little holiday hot spot may not have had the bustling casinos and overweight Elvis impersonators to snack on, but it did have green grass and cow brains weren’t so bad once you grew accustomed to the flavor. Granted, The Blue Man Group would have to remain on the back-burner but there were whispers of a TV series in the pipeline which could prove lucrative so they accepted the gig out of a sense of duty and appreciation. Survival of The Dead promised to be an agreeable diversion and, after so much ducking and diving, the zombies were grateful for the downtime. When they arrived at their destination, they were introduced to two sparring Irish families, the O’Flynns and the Muldoons and after a few pints of Guinness and an evening of limericks, they prepared themselves a banquet fit for kings. It may not have been the closure that they had hoped for but zombies don’t forget where they came from. George dug them up, dusted them down, funded all manner of field trips, and never once asked for a single thing in return. Now that is selfless dedication.
Since the zombies parted ways with their Godfather, things have continued to go from strength to strength and society has now accepted them as more than simply brain-dead shufflers. Indeed, in many towns all around the world, bi-monthly walks are held in their honor. Fresh brains may still be hard to come by but the age of smart phone technology has assisted in slowing their prey down considerably. Apps like Fruit Ninja and Candy Crush Saga have proved hugely successful and, every now and then, when nobody is looking, they’ll snatch another techno junkie into the shadows and enlist them in their new model army. The grape-vine has suggested that one day they will contact George about a reunion and, God willing, this could still come to fruition. Until that time comes, they will continue to integrate as best as they can and, with numerous skin care products on the market and at reasonable enough prices, they’re barely recognizable in a crowd.
So there you have it Grueheads. Z is for Zombify. I’ve had mixed feelings about the undead for the past decade and probably given them a raw deal on occasion. But, just like them, I never forgot where I came from. George may well have been a Godfather to the legions of the dead, but he has also been something of a Godfather to me over the years. I have to come clean, it was never my intention to close the alphabet in this manner and there are dozens of unnamed shufflers that have been snubbed in favor of taking this particular trip down memory road. That said, let it be known that I fully intend on digging up The True ABCs of Death sequence in times to come and, unless a glut of horror movies about German airships surface in the near future, the letter Z is pretty much sewn up. Should you have a particular hankering for raw meat then the link below will transport you to a more thorough zombie almanac in a mere mouse click. Alternatively, stick around and keep scrolling as our closing gallery will feature more rancid flesh than a cellulite clinic. It’s your choice Grueheads, until next time, take it away Tarman.
Zombies rule, Zeppelins suck
Me again. I see you have decided to stick around and I promise to make it worth your while with a parting gallery stuffed to the gills with rotten flesh, finger foods, and fallen heroes. Zombies have earned their stripes over the past thirty-five years and for every Return of The Living Dead II there has been a Return of The Living Dead III to keep us sweet. In my lifetime, I still remain hopeful of witnessing the first zombie in space. Moreover, while politics evidently isn’t their strong point, The Golden Girls are due a comeback and a career in accountancy may be a mind numbing proposition but they’re nothing if not hard grafters. Meanwhile, if Plants vs. Zombies continues on its current course, gardening could well be back on the insurgence. Just dig them a little plot in the corner and travel expenses would be a thing of the past. I don’t know about you but I’m off to fill in an organ donor card as we speak and, while medical science is welcome to the majority of my vital organs when I croak, I know where my brain is headed.