Vince Gerasole recently set out to investigate the popularity of zombies at Statesville Haunted Prison, an award winning Halloween attraction just outside of Chicago, Illinois. Through interviews with both employees and visitors, the local reporter attempted to explain why we crave scares. But in order to truly study the phenomenon, he turned to Columbia professor and Zombie Research Society Advisory Board member Brendan Riley.
Known for his scholarly publications and intensive course on Zombies in Popular Media, Dr. Riley briefly discussed the history of zombie cinema and its place in popular culture. “I think there is a desire to be scared right now because it relieves tension,” he says.
For example, the suspicions of ‘50s-era McCarthyism led to paranoia films like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” The civil unrest of the late-1960s coincided with the emergence of the horror classic “Night of the Living Dead.” And since the 9/11 attacks and the economic downturn, faster and more threatening zombies are calling to the masses.
According to the report, Americans often flock to scary movies when times are difficult. CBS Chicago suggests that this emergence of horror as entertainment is a coping mechanism during times of societal stress and social anxiety, explained by the fact that fear often releases endorphins in our brains.
While this has certainly emerged as a popular theory among researchers and psychologists alike, we have yet to see an exhaustive study directly linking the popularity of horror films to these cultural trends. Specifically, the modern zombie has only existed since the late 1960s and continues to change and evolve even as society progresses.
However, you can read the complete report and watch the entire segment online courtesy of CBS Chicago. Also be sure to check out the official blog of Zombie Research Society Advisory Board member Brendan Riley, and the website for his amazing college course Zombies in Popular Media hosted by Curragh-Labs.