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story.lead_photo.caption The Walking Dead Psychology: Psych of the Living Dead

The zombie craze continues with another TV series, Fear the Walking Dead, to start Aug. 23 on AMC cable network.

But crazes go away like disco suits and the California Raisins. Zombies keep coming.

Coming in February, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies casts the former Dr. Who, Matt Smith, in a screen version of the book that infested Jane Austen's romantic tale with the undead.

"Why zombies?" psychologist Travis Langley asks. "Why now of all times?"

Zombies have zero personality, he points out. Zombies score low on looks. Zombies have nothing to say for themselves, just the occasional "Urgh!"

Langley's book, The Walking Dead Psychology, starts with the question: "Why don't they die?"

Screenwriter John Russo answers in the book's foreword. Russo co-created Night of the Living Dead (1968) with director George Romero. Theirs was the movie that woke the dead -- that set the walking dead on their feet.

Zombies represent the "enigmas of our existence," Russo writes. He expects the zombie craze will last as long as it says something about "all of us as human beings."

Before, the few zombies that stalked the screen had been scary just for being up at all -- entranced by voodoo magic, as in I Walked With a Zombie (1943).

But the voodoo zombies of Haitian folklore weren't out to eat people. They were miserable drudges brought back from the grave to keep working. They called in dead, but the boss said no excuses.

Today's shamblers are powered by a terrible hunger -- and by a modern mythology that makes common knowledge of what to do about a zombie: Shoot for the head.

Their walk-ons include not only horror movies, but also commentaries and comedies:

Dawn of the Dead (1978): Romero's second zombie movie finds the human survivors holed up in a shopping mall, about to learn a lesson in social satire. Shopping malls attract zombies.

Return of the Living Dead (1985): Zombies played for laughs spoof Romero. Comedy kills, but not even a lampoon to the head can stop a zombie.

Zombieland (2009): Woody Harrelson goes mano-a-deceased-mano with a horde of zombies in an amusement park.

Langley finds a reason for zombies in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York on Sept. 11, 2001. (In fact, a third of all zombie movies have been released since 2001, according to the journal Social Research, from John Hopkins University Press.)

"9/11 made us concerned about our mortality," Langley says.

The wreckage had the nightmare look of a zombie apocalypse. But zombies make it less scary than real, even fun in a way.

"The idea of a worldwide do-over has some appeal," Langley says.

"Morbid appeal," the psychologist adds, but the living survivors in a zombie plague have no job responsibilities, no bills, no taxes, no lawn to water, and they get to shoot zombies.

Thanks to zombies, these people have the chance to make a better world -- maybe one that more resembles an amusement park.

Style on 08/16/2015

Print Headline: Zombies keep coming back; they like messing with heads

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