Do-It-Yourself Zombie Kit

Making zombies can be easy, and fun. You needn’t wait around for the zombie plague to come to your town. Apocalyptic events are unpredictable and hard to rely on. Besides, roving zombies can be messy, breaking your windows, and trotting all over your prized petunias. Finally, the risk of personal infection with your local mob of living dead is high.

No, all you need to create an ambulatory moldering corpse of your very own can be found in your local supermarket and hardware store. You’ll need to create Zombie Powder. Although Haitian bòkòs will use puffer fish venom (the active ingredient being tetrodotoxin), you needn’t go so far. The simple powder of a dead man’s bones will do. How do you acquire such a rarity? Well, if zombie making were simple, we’d be flooded in lumbering dead, wouldn’t we. The remaining ingredients are a bit simpler: lizard, spider, nettle, ground glass, and cashews. Raw cashews are best, as they are poisonous, but the canned variety will do in a pinch. Just be sure you don’t get salted nuts, as your zombie detests salt.

Mixing the ingredients couldn’t be easier. Just dump them all in a food processor. You’ll have some trouble with the bones and the glass. Start by smashing them with a sledgehammer, and work down to a regular claw hammer. Then switch to a mortar and pestle. Once ground up, you can combine them with the other ingredients in a mixing bowl. Be sure to use a spoon or mixer, not your hands. Otherwise your spouse will find you zombified in the kitchen the following morning.

Next you’ll need a willing volunteer, or victim, your choice. No need to strap him down and inject the powder. It can be slipped into food or blown into the face. If you want to avoid a costly burial and subsequent disinterment, plan to have a secure place to deposit the body while it zombifies. A basement with a sturdy lock will do. The process takes a scant eight hours.

When your zombie awakens, he will hunger for brains and internal organs. He will not recognize you as master or creator, only food. In throes of birth pangs, he can be taught. Have a flexible shaft of wood ready (I recommend a 1 x 2 board, maybe three feet long). Call out the zombie’s name and beat him severely along the back and head. Try to avoid the arms, unless you want to cripple him and limit his usefulness. This is why your shaft should be flexible. You don’t want to break any bones. If you happen to have a cane, this is ideal. After about an hour of whipping, you’ll find your zombie more compliant. If he every gets out of line, you’ll need to whip him again, so be prepared.

You’ll need to immediately feed your zombie, as he is famished. Failure to do so is a trust breaker, and leads to a fussy zombie. Again, be prepared. Have a couple of people ready to munch or at the very least some cow brains. This will sate your zombie and make him more compliant.

At this point, making your next zombies is only a bite away. Simply let your corpse nibble on his next meal, but beat him away before he devours it entirely. Within eight hours, your new zombie will rise.

Let me offer a word of warning here. The temptation to create an unstoppable army of dead is overwhelming. But stop and think. Is this really a wise idea? You need to apply severe and regular beating to control your one zombie. How will manage with two, much less a troop of the living dead. Answer, you won’t. You’ll be food for the undead legion and the zombie plague will have begun. Most citywide infestations have had their root in undisciplined zombie practitioners.

Now that you have your zombie, put him to work. Make him rake the yard, clean the dishes, take out the trash. All those chores you never want to do, but feel guilty about letting slide. Your zombie only exists to serve you. And eat brains. Perhaps he leans toward the latter, but if you keep him in steady supply of cerebellums, he’ll do what you want him to.

Where to get the brains? You’ll need at least two to three a day, though you can tide him over with intestines, liver, and the like. Be sure not to bring any brains that will be easily missed — Police, doctors, army officials — as this will call attention to your little operation. If you do get raided, claim your zombie is a pot head and he did it all himself. It doesn’t always work, but it’s that or run for the hills.

Tim Kane

The Un-History of the Undead Part 2: Romero Zombies

"They're coming to get you Barbara."

October brings the ghoul out of me every year. My mind delves in the macabre (as usual), but during this month nobody stares. Flesh eaters and the living dead hardly warrant a second look.

In part 1 of this series, I examined the folklore behind the Voodoo zombie. Movies through the sixties all featured shambling, glassy eyed figures who were as menacing as a line at the DMV. Then, on on October 2, 1968, one movie changed everything.

Night of the Living Dead so shocked America, that Variety’s review included this scathing critique: “On no level is the unrelieved grossness of ‘Night of the Living Dead’ disguised by a feeble attempt at art of significance.” Ironically, George Romero had originally wanted to make an art-house movie, but quickly realized that an exploitation movie would be the best chance of making a profit.

What was it that had audiences of the late 60s so terrified? Up until then, monsters were typically people in rubber suits, and zombies had been relegated to strangling or bludgeoning their victims. Romero made his zombies crave human flesh. Critic Robert Ebert commented on the horror in the pages of Reader’s Digest: “This was ghouls eating people.” (The idea of consuming human flesh was borrowed from the mythology of the ghoul, who rips its victims apart and devours them whole.)

Romero’s zombies were completely divorced from the corps cadavers of the Caribbean. His creatures rose from the dead through a pseudo-scientific agent— A Venus probe that returns to Earth is hinted as the cause for the living dead. Rather than appearing docile and compliant, they were wildly aggressive, doing everything possible to tear people apart and eat their flesh. Finally, the zombie’s fate in Romero’s film was permanent. There was no zombie master to kill, and salt would not wake these creatures from their trance. These were truly the living dead. The additions Romero made to the zombie mythology have so dominated the genre that few movies made afterward strayed from his formula. (One notable exception is Wes Craven’s The Serpent and the Rainbow, made in 1987 from the book by Wade Davis.)

Romero never refers to his walking dead by the word zombie. Instead each of his films calls them the living dead. Despite this technicality, modern moviegoers made the connection. When Romero’s second film, Dawn of the Dead, was released in 1978, it was distributed internationally as Zombie (or Zombi).

An intriguing fact presents itself when titles of zombie films are viewed as a whole. Nearly every film title translated into English will use the word zombie, even if this was not in the original title. Take for example the 1980 Spanish and French production El lago de los muertos vivientes (literally, The Lake of the Living Dead). When this film was released in the United States, it took the title Zombie Lake. Interestingly, the word zombie hardly ever appears in titles for French, Spanish, or Italian films. (The notable exception to this is Lucio Fulci’s series of films titled Zombi 2, 3, 4 and 5. This may be due to Fulci releasing Zombi 2 as an unofficial sequel to Dawn of the Dead, which was titled Zombi.) These languages prefer to call the walking dead les morts vivants (French for the living dead) or simply los muertos (Spanish for the dead). Perhaps these counties were influenced by the George Romero films, or even that the word zombie has a stronger connection with the Americas, having its origin in the Caribbean.

So once again, let’s revisit that lowly creature on our front stoop. We expect our zombies to be rotten and hungry for flesh, not blank-faced and obedient. When the mythology leapt from one medium to another, folklore to film, it transformed. Certain elements were lost. Others were reinvented. Perhaps we’re not finished yet. As zombies enter new realms, the meanings of this word may further mutate to a point where we might not even recognize it.

By Tim Kane

I brought this article back from the dead in recognition of the digital release of Stories in the Ether. This has my story, Moth and Rust, which is my take on the zombie story that involves a weary husband who does his wife’s chores for years, only to drop dead. Yet, she still insists he work his butt off. No rest for the dead. Don’t worry, the young nephew has some ideas how to solve this undead problem.

Check out Stories in the Ether in Kindle or Lulu.

The Un-History of the Undead Part 1: Zombie Folklore

Don't bury me. I'm not dead!

Imagine that a zombie knocked on your door—a real, true to life (or death) zombie. You open the door and find a black man, looking every bit normal and alive, except for the listless expression and glazed eyes. No shambling carcass of rotting flesh and bones. It does not salivate for your intestines or brains.

The word zombie signifies a member of the undead—those creatures that come back to haunt the living. However, the image that comes to mind for this creature has been greatly shaped by popular media, such as literature and film. In the example above, the first description comes from folklore, while the second is influenced by fiction. How did our perception of these creatures change over the years?

Lafcadio Hearn introduced English speakers to the word zombie through his brief article, “The Country of the Comers-Back”, which appeared in Harper’s Magazine in 1889. (Although the OED dates zombie back to 1819, it was Hearn’s article that circulated widely enough to catch the public’s attention.) Hearn had traveled to Martinique in 1887 to study local customs and folklore for a series of articles on the Caribbean. It was there that he heard talk of zombies.

While it’s true that Hearn discovered the zombie, it was left to American adventurer William Seabrook to capitalize on it. Arriving in Haiti in 1928, he left no stone unturned in his quest for the corps cadavers (walking dead). This led to his autobiographical travelogue The Magic Island, which became an immediate bestseller.

A Haitian farmer by the name of Polynice introduced Seabrook to some real live zombies. The farmer brought the adventurer to the middle of a plantation and pointed out three zombies and the man controlling them. Seabrook went up to each of the zombies in turn, and found them to be little more than dumb brutes, working mindlessly. The eyes were dead, unfocused and vacant.

A central precept of Voodoo, a hybrid of African animism and Catholicism, is the possession of a body by the loa. The loa is usually translated as god or divinity, but it is closer to a genie, demon, or spirit. A person was believed to have two souls, the gros-bon-age (the big good angel), and the ti-bon-age (the little good angel). Each soul served a purpose. The gros-bon-age served to give the body life, while the ti-bon-age gave the person their personality. During a Voodoo ceremony, the loa would displace the ti-bon-age, and thus control the person’s body.

A Voodoo sorcerer, called a bòkò, had the ability to transform any person into a zombie. The bòkò would sprinkle a powder on the doorstep, and when the intended victim stepped on it, the magic entered through the soles of the feet. The person died soon after. Within three days the bòkò snuck into the graveyard, recited a magical chant, and called the victim’s name several times. The zombie had no choice but to answer and come out of the ground. The bòkò then beat the body with a whip to keep the ti-bon-age from returning. Often the bòkò kept the ti-bon-age in a jar. This was called a zombie astral, while the body that walked around, soulless, was called a zombie cadavre.

Every member of society shunned the zombie. This fear did not center on what the creature might do physically. Zombies were entirely docile. It was becoming a zombie that so horrified the islanders. This represented a return to slavery, as the creature must literally do whatever its master bids. Even after death, you might return to work in servitude. Canadian ethnobiologist Wade Davis spent several years researching the zombie powder. He commented, “Given the availability of cheap labor and the physical condition of the zombie, there is no economic incentive to create a force of indentured labor” (American Scientist, 1987).

In order to prevent loved ones from becoming zombies, Haitians took precautions similar to what the Serbians did for vampires. The body was often killed again, either by poison, strangulation, stabbing, a shot to the head or decapitation. Measures were also taken to prevent the zombie from rising. A wealthy family would bury their loved one in a solid tomb, while the less off would inter the body under a piece of heavy masonry. In order to prevent the zombie from answering this call, precautions were made. The mouth might be sewn up or tied shut using a strip of cloth fastened over the head and under the chin. Finally, a zombie might be distracted so that he might not hear the bòkò calling his name. There were two types of distractions. First the body would be buried with an eyeless needle so the corpse would spend eternity trying to thread it. The other method involved scattering seeds in the coffin, and the zombie was forced to count them all, one by one.

Becoming a zombie was not necessarily a permanent condition. There were several cases of people who died, only to be discovered many years later seemingly normal. One Clairvius Narcisse died in 1962 after complaining of sickness and coughing up blood. Eighteen years later his sister, Angelina, discovered him in the l’Estere marketplace. His speech was slurred and his muscles were weak, but he knew that he was no longer a zombie. Apparently, after being dug up and beaten by the bòkò, he had worked on a farm with other zombies. Only when one of the zombies killed the zombie master did they all become free.
Another way to cure an individual of the zombie curse was with salt. If a zombie consumed even a grain of salt, the fog that swirled around his brain would lift, and he would become filled with an unspeakable rage. He would first turn on the one who controlled him, killing the zombie master and destroying his property. The released zombie would then go in search of his tomb, claw at the dirt, and collapse onto his empty grave.

Seabrook’s 1929 publication of Magic Island touched off interest in the zombie and the Caribbean. Unlike Dracula or Frankenstein, the zombie wasn’t under copyright, since Seabrook was essentially reporting on fact. This led to the production of Universal’s 1932 White Zombie, with Bela Lugosi as the zombie master. (The film was preceded by a dreary play, Zombie, penned by Kenneth Webb. The production opened and closed in 1932 after only twenty performances.) The film cemented the Haitian myth of the zombie as a soulless body accepting any order. However the Voodoo version of the zombie would quickly be forgotten in the 60s when an independent filmmaker from Pittsburg got a hold of the concept.
Part 2 will examine what Romero has done to the zombie mythology.

By Tim Kane

I brought this article back from the dead in recognition of the digital release of Stories in the Ether. This has my story, Moth and Rust, which is my take on the zombie story that involves a weary husband who does his wife’s chores for years, only to drop dead. Yet, she still insists he work his butt off. No rest for the dead. Don’t worry, the young nephew has some ideas how to solve this undead problem.

Check out Stories in the Ether in Kindle or Lulu.

The Five Most Common Misconceptions About Classic Movie Monsters

I am a monster nut. I’ll own that. My first published book dealt with vampires in film and television. I grew up on the Toho crew. I have action figures for nearly every major Universal monster (including the second Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Creature Walks Among Us).

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that my four-year-old daughter has taken a liking to the classic monsters. By this I mean the big five: the four Universal monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, and the Woflman) and also zombies. Recently, while watching the Hex Girls on Youtube, my wife stumbled upon the Monster High videos. My daughter was hooked. But this got me thinking. The cartoon/merchandise features the big five monsters, all with the familiar quirks akin to each one. But I knew that many of these were off base from the true legends of these creatures.

The five classic monsters (plus a gorgon)

So after hours of research, I present to you the five most egregious errors we make about classic movie monsters.

5 Werewolf

Lon Chaney, Jr. as the Wolf Man

I admit, after looking through countless books, I found that most of the traditional legends line up with our common associations. The link of werewolves to the moon dates back to 1214 where Gervaise of Tillbury reported cases in Auvergne of men turning into wolves during the full moon. There is some controversy about the silver bullet. Some believe it was all made up by Universal for the Wolf Man movie. But historians know that in 1767, the Beast of Le Gevaudan was killed with bullets from a melted silver chalice.

The only thing I can say that most likely not part of original folklore is the pentagram on the hand as a mark of the werewolf. This was probably concocted by the Universal folk for the film. A pentagram has traditionally served as a symbol of protection (even from werewolves).

4 The Mummy

Boris Karloff as the Mummy

Mummies are a staple for monster themed parties and kids playing with rolls of toilet paper. But not all mummies are bandaged and scribbled over in hieroglyphics. There are mummies all over the world. Basically any place extremely dry will create a mummy. And for the sake of argument, we’ll define a mummy as something with most of the internal organs still present. Those are the squishy bits that tend to dissolve during decomposition.

The strangest mummies I found were the Incan mud mummies. These date back to 5000 BC, rivaling Egypt as the first to mummify. Basically, the Incans would disassemble the body, organs and all. They used heat to dry the skin. Then the body was reformed using feathers, clay and glass. Everything was covered in a white ash paste. Finally, the skin was refitted on the body.

Then there are the bog mummies. This type of mummification might have been accidental (oops, I fell into a peat bog) or a form of sacrifice (slipping a deceased relative into the bog to bring him or her closer to the gods). Either way, the body became preserved in the frigid stagnant water loaded with tannic acid. Sometimes not everything survived the years in the bog. Take the bodies found in Florida. Here only the brain was preserved (along with the skeleton) from bodies 7000 to 8000 years old.

Finally, we have the Chinese mummies. Western China is basically one ginormous desert. In addition to the sand, heat, and wind you get bonus pits of salt. These were used a cemeteries as well as areas of sacrifice. One young woman was found partially dismembered with her eyes gouged out. There was also a baby boy, apparently buried alive.

The strangest finds have come from the Takla Maken Desert. Over the past thirty years, archeologists have found many mummies, but all of them have been caucasian, not Chinese. And these shriveled folk had a thing for clothes, many being buried with multiple outfits. The most famous mummy is “The Man with Ten Hats.” You guessed it, he was buried with ten hats.

3 Zombie

A Voodoo zombie

Real zombies don’t eat people. In fact they don’t do very much at all. Lafcadio Hearn introduced English speakers to the word zombie through his brief article, “The Country of the Comers-Back”, which appeared in Harper’s Magazine in 1889. Most were little more than slaves working on sugar plantations in Haiti. They were dumb brutes, working mindlessly. The eyes were dead, unfocused and vacant.

A central precept of Voodoo, a hybrid of African animism and Catholicism, is the possession of a body by the loa. A person was believed to have two souls, the gros-bon-age (the big good angel), and the ti-bon-age (the little good angel). Each soul served a purpose. The gros-bon-age served to give the body life, while the ti-bon-age gave the person their personality. During a Voodoo ceremony, the loa would displace the ti-bon-age, and thus control the person’s body.

It was George Romero’s film, Night of the Living Dead, released on October 2, 1968, that forever changed the image of the zombie. Romero never refers to his walking dead by the word zombie. Instead each of his films calls them the living dead. Despite this technicality, modern moviegoers made the connection. When Romero’s second film, Dawn of the Dead, was released in 1978, it was distributed internationally as Zombie (or Zombi).

2 Vampire

From the 1979 Nosferatu the Vampyre

Traditionally, vampires looked nothing like Edward Cullen or Lestat. A more apt description would be a ruddy-faced overweight man with long fingernails, his mouth and left eye open, with a linen shroud as clothing. (Not really going to sweep you off your feet, is he?) The biggest transformation to this myth came with the 1931 film version of Dracula staring Bela Legosi. Here the monster is shown as debonaire and charming. Much of this depiction came from Bela Lugosi’s performance and the original stage play.

Additionally, Bram Stoker’s Dracula could walk in daylight (although he prefers night). It was left to two subsequent movies to introduce death by sunlight. In Son of Dracula (1943), Lon Chaney, Jr. Plays Count Alucard (Dracula spelled backward). He simply fades away when struck with the sun’s rays. In Return of Dracula (released in 1944, only a few months after Chaney’s performance), Lugosi returns as Armand Tesla. In the end, he dissolves in the sunlight.

For more information on vampires, check out my article on vampire apotropaics.

1 Frankenstein

Frankenstein’s Monster

The problem most people make with this monster is his name. Frankenstein is the doctor. The tall green guy with bolts in his neck is simply “The Monster.” In the Mary Shelley novel, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, she called the creation Adam. In one of the play adaptations of the novel, the creature is billed as simply “________, played by Mr T. Cooke.”

This time we can’t completely blame the Universal picture for the confusion over the monster’s name. This happened in Shelley’s time. (It’s what you get for not naming a central character, writer’s take note). Yet once Universal cast Karloff as the “Unnamed Monster”, the audience stuck the monster with the doctor’s name. This is despite the fact that in the opening credits, it’s Karloff who is unnamed, appearing as a question mark.

Opening credits for Frankenstein

I hope all this has cleared up some misconceptions about our favorite monsters. It doesn’t change how these creatures have evolved. It’s natural to think of vampires dissolving in the sun, zombies eating brains, and that hulking monosyllabic fellow as Frankenstein.

Tim Kane

Moth and Rust: A Story of Parricide and Avuncular Decay

Imagine that someone you know, like an Uncle, died, but not all the way. He lingered. No, he didn’t develop a ravenous appetite for for human flesh. It’s more like his body gave up, but his mind kept going. What would that be like?

Some stories are planned  endeavors, but others, like “Moth and Rust,” come in at a full rush with dreamlike accuracy. Mostly I transcribed this from my subconscious. At the time, I was working on the idea of zombies in suburbia, mowing lawns and washing dishes, that sort of mind numbing work.

I always felt the main character needed to be a kid. A child’s viewpoint of death is so different from our own. Although I certainly skewed the narrative toward the zombie angle, you can just as easily read the story another way. What if the Uncle wasn’t dead. The narrator only thinks so. And he makes his decisions based on a distorted view of reality.

In 2007, the story won the Graversen Award from the Garden State Horror Writers. The title references a line from Matthew 6:19—Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.

This story now appears at Nevermetpress as part of the their Stories in the Ether series. Click over, check it out and leave a comment.

Good reading, and enjoy the Pepsi.

Tim Kane