Sunday, March 26, 2017


Horror! by Drake Douglas
(New York: The Macmillan Company, 1966), 309 pp.

From the dust jacket of Horror!:
Drake Douglas is the pseudonym of a gentleman who has been deeply involved with horror throughout his life--and prefers to remain anonymous.
I did a search on the Internet and found that "Drake Douglas" is a pseudonym of Werner Zimmerman, but I didn't find any further information on Mr. Zimmerman except that he has written several books:
  • Horror! (non-fiction, 1969 [sic])
  • Undertow (novel, 1984)
  • Creature (novel, 1985)
  • Death Song (novel, 1987) (with Stephen Kent)
  • Horrors! (non-fiction, 1989)
Horror! is a popular study rather than a scholarly one. If it were scholarly, this book might be a candidate for the first such study of zombies, having been published in 1966. Nineteen sixty-six was also before the advent of the horde of scientific zombies as in Night of the Living Dead (1968), so the zombies described in the book are the old-fashioned supernatural kind, which seem to be of less interest to our contemporary academia. Anyway, zombies in Horror! are covered in a chapter called "The Walking Dead." (I think there's a TV show by that same name.) In it, the author makes a very strong connection between zombies and black slavery in the New World. "According to voodoo belief," he writes, "the zombie is a dead man restored to life as a powerful, emotionless, mindless automaton, an empty shell of a man, complete slave to the will of his master." (p. 187) The author adds: "[T]he zombie poses no great threat to others. He is a monster created by the needs of economy rather than for purposes of evil." (p. 189) Again, there is a strong connection to slavery, but in continuing his discussion, Mr. Zimmerman sounds like he is describing a far more modern creature, the industrial robot:
He [the zombie] is an ideal slave, requiring no attention and little food or sleep. He can be made to work eighteen hours a day at a steady, remorseless pace which never varies from one hour to the next. He need not be paid, he explicitly follows all orders. . . . The zombie is the cheapest source of labor ever discovered. (p. 189)
Maybe that's why zombies are on the same curve as robots (and human beings) in the graph illustrating the uncanny valley, about which I wrote not long ago.

Werner Zimmerman comes to the same realization that I and others have come to, namely, that to become a zombie is a unique fear for the slave or the descendants of slaves, specifically, I would add, for Haitians:
It is not difficult to understand the native horror of the zombie, particularly in the earlier years of slavery. Death was, for them, the only release from a life of brutality and inhumane treatment; they greeted death with open arms. It meant the end of the beatings, of the backbreaking labor, of the heartbreak and misery which were the lot of the slave. Zombieism, on the other hand, was merely another form of slavery which reached beyond death itself. It was the constant fear of the natives that they would be torn from their graves where, at last, they had found rest, to return to a form of slavery even more horrible than that they had known during life. (p. 189)
Mr. Zimmerman also indicts "[t]he white man" for his support of zombie-ism.
He [the white man] was interested in a cheap, reliable labor force and, since only these primitives were involved, did not overly concern himself about its source. The plantation owner became rich, the voodoo priest became powerful, and the black slave had but one more misery to be added to the heavy load he carried. (pp. 189-190)
Again, the critical theorist might see here an indictment of capitalism, or, at the very least, evidence of his idée fixe, the historical "class struggle," but that would be a misreading of the facts, I think. Although Mr. Zimmerman doesn't mention Haiti in this passage, zombie-ism seems to have been limited to that island nation. If there were white plantation owners and black slaves, then the discussion is of colonial times, that is, Haiti before it attained its independence in 1803. That leaves two possible groups of white plantation owners: 1) Those living under the French crown, a feudal, statist, and essentially non-capitalist or anti-capitalist regime; or 2) Those living under the governments that followed the overthrow of the monarchy, which were leftist rather than monarchist or reactionary but were nonetheless statist. By extension, then, the fear of becoming a zombie and of being held as a zombie-slave is a fear of enslavement under either a feudal and statist regime or a leftist and statist regime. Where in this is the capitalist?

Disregarding all of that, the fear of zombie-ism has passed from a fear among black people of being made into zombies and being held in slavery as zombie-slaves--the zombie himself is passive and harmless in this case--to a fear among all of us of being attacked and killed by zombies that are extremely aggressive and dangerous. For white people without a history of being held as slaves, there is no fear of being returned to slavery without end.

Second, the fear of zombie-ism has passed from the realm of the supernatural--which no modern person fears anymore--into the realm of the scientific, which every modern person respects. Third, the fear of zombie-ism has gone from one as on a small scale in a distant and obscure part of the world to one as on a mass scale in one's own modern and advanced society. It is, in short, a fear of hordes of scientific zombies arriving at your door.

Although he described the zombie in 1966 as "a fairly new arrival to the world of monsters" and one "not surrounded by the wealth of legend which has built itself around the more widely known monsters," Werner Zimmerman seems to have predicted something more for this representative of the walking dead. The zombie is, he wrote, "a frightening powerhouse as capable as the vampire of striking fear into the hearts of those who come across him." (p. 194) You could argue that the zombie has actually replaced the vampire in that role.

Original text copyright 2017 Terence E. Hanley

No comments:

Post a Comment