Zombies in pop culture & what’s too scary for our kids!

Oct 31, 2013

On this Halloween, we take a look at zombies and how they have span the decades in pop culture. How much is too scary for children? WBFO's Eileen Buckley talks to two local professors about horror.

Night of the Living dead, 1968 movie about zombies.

George Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" was released in 1968.  Blood thirsty zombies chased down citizens. The tag line from the movie said it  "Pits the dead against the living in a struggle for survival."

"To me horror is in some ways always about the violation of established boundaries," said David Castillo, University at Buffalo professor and chair of the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures. Castillo is also considered an expert on horror and zombies.

"An anxiety we have about the fear that we have about the zombies being what we are becoming -- soulless, mindless consumers driven by a hunger we can not understand and that is insatiable," said Castillo.

In 1978 a second zombie invasion movie was released,   Dawn of the Dead.

Dawn of the Dead, 1978 movie

"It's not by accident that much of this film actually takes place in a shopping mall.  One of my favorite lines of zombie movie history is from that movie -- one of the survivors looks out at the zombie hoard approaching the mall and says 'they are us'," noted Castillo. 

Castillo ponders the express 'they are us' because he believes the zombies could be a symbol of what he describes as our own "garbage".

"There is always a suggestion in many of these movies that they are caused (zombies) by radiation or by some form of human pollution, or by nuclear warfare, biological warfare, chemical warfare. There's always the implication, even if the cost is ultimately unknown that we had something to do with it. That these monsters are manmade," Castillo said.

But how much do we need to protect children from zombies and other monsters?

Halloween decorations
Credit WBFO News photos by Eileen Buckley

"As adults we can talk to them about what a zombie is, what that actually means, because I think sometimes children don't necessarily understand, especially younger children, may not understand what a zombie actually is. So I think it is important for them to actually understand that," said Dr. Pamela Schuetze, psychology professor at Buffalo State College. 

Some children prefer to dress as zombies for Halloween -- Schuetze said that's okay, but warns not to scare children at a very young age.

"That a little bit of fear is a healthy and fun thing. We often kind of seek that as adults, that's why amusement park rides are so attractive -- because we like to be scared in a safe setting, and I think children can enjoy that too, the problem is when the child is very young, in the pre-school years they often have difficulty distinguishing between what's real and what is fantasy," said Schuetze.

A ghost hangs from a tree in an outside Halloween lawn decoration from a home in Amherst, N.Y.
Credit WBFO News photos by Eileen Buckley

Ghosts, goblins, tombstones and those zombies are part of many Halloween decorations depicting the dead, but Schuetze said the "death theme" is not necessary a problem for children.

"Generally speaking, I don't think that maybe we shield our children a little too much from death on day-to-day-basis, so the problem is not so much that there is a death theme around Halloween, the problem is for a lot of children, this might be the first time they are thinking about those death themes," said Schuetze.

Still the theme of the dead and zombies is now featured in a AMC television series called The Walking Dead. It is something UB professor Castillo considers in his horror theories. Those zombies are in the background with the spotlight on the living.

"The key questions that arise in the Walking Dead is these issues have to do with politics, with ethics, with racial dynamics, with moral choices -- on a very fundamental level -- we have to ask ourselves 'how would we do it if we had to re-imagine our world'", said Castillo.

Halloween decoration
Credit WBFO News photos by Eileen Buckley

Halloween or Hallows Eve, a haunting October 31st celebration in America on the eve of what Christians recognize as All Saints Day, November 1st, dedicated to honoring the dead.