Monday, 11 February 2013

The Undead Menace

Ah readers, this subject always warms my still beating heart. The undead have always held a special place for me in literature and filmography. Zombies in fact are among some of my favorite things to read/write about. Although I've longed to jump on the recent zombie craze I simply haven't found enough to write about with them, or a story that has really stuck with me. Sadly this is something I shall then have to leave for another time.

However, zombies are not the only creatures that inhabit the shadow halls of the necropolis in which dwell the various monsters that we can count among the legions of the damned.

For a better look at these creatures my task here today is to list them off and examine just what kind of horrors they could unleash upon mankind.

First off let us begin by examining probably one of the oldest and most time honored variaties of the undead around, ghosts!

1# Ghosts

Now I can just hear some of you saying 'Wait! Ghosts aren't the undead!' to which I say, wrong! Ghosts are the spirits of people who have passed on (that is to say deceased)(which is to say, dead) and have returned to haunt the living. If that isn't undead in one form I'll eat my hat!

The ghost has been a popular image and idea dating back for as long as humanity can collectively remember. Evil spirits coming back and haunting the living is no new tale. The ancient Romans even believed you could exact revenge on someone using a ghost by scratching a name onto a note and leaving it on a grave!

Soothsayers and seers have used (or 'used' as the case my be) ghosts to try and predict the future or answer questions for millenia, dating back even to Biblical tales! This idea has persisted up until the 21st century and shows no sign of abating yet among the populace who hungrily seek answers to unaswered questions.

Now for horror purposes ghosts continue to be popular. The souls of the damned coming to haunt people or give warnings (as in the movie Shutter) and they hold a special niche in horror movies as monsters and villains like in The Woman in Black and ghosts certainly hold a special place in Gothic horror simply for its emphasis on curses and mysteries. Well nothing is more gut wrenching or mysterious than trying to unravel the mystery of a cursed house while the formed occupant is trying to kill you!

I myself am not particularly fond of ghosts, but I do get a kick out of ghost stories and the telling of them in the dark. I will also admit that I can enjoy scaring myself with them from time to time. It's a fun passtime, but one that I ultimately don't intend to do much with.

However, we have another type of undead which is also surprisingly common around the world, and has its own mix of legends and tales in different cultures. That my dear readers is, the vampire!

#2 Vampires

As pointed out above, the creatures that are seen in Twilight are absolutely not vampires. They are at best creatures which could conceivably resemble, or share certain traits with these undead creatures, but they are not vampires. While they may have some features which in other works might be considered cool, they themselves are bland, unexciting, and terrible.

Ahem, end rant.

Real vampires are bloodsucking creatures of the night which feast upon the blood of the living. These range from being cursed creatures, biological infections, demonic powers, or descendents of Lilith. Either way no matter how you slice them these monsters are strong, fast, and drink lots of red stuff.

Going back in time we have tales of blood drinking monsters in every culture. They took many shapes and many forms, but all were known to drink blood, be hideous, horrifying and undead.

In fact superstition about vampires continued well into the 18th and early 19th century with many villages in Eastern Europe going on a frenzy of stakings bu digging up bodies and running them through with iron rods after reports of people rising from the grave. The hysteria came to such a height that the court physician of the Austrian Empire had to personally go to the countryside to prove that vampires did not exist.

However, the idea that vampires still stock the night continues to be very real in some people's minds. For instance there was the Highgate hysteria surrounding a supposed vampire stalking the cemetery, then we have the disturbing case of the Atlas Vampire, and finally the somehwhat perplexing case of the 2007 staking of the former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic. As one can see, the vampire tradition is alive and well today.

The more modern suave and sexy vampire is a very recent creation. Popularized more by Bram Stoker and before him, Varney the Vampire the standard setter for the genre. However, Stoker's creepy count's castle set the standard for what vampires were for nearly a century. The dark dangerous Dracula would appear in many forms and many realizations beoming the standard for what we now view as the modern vampire.

There are of course departures. Modern takes on vampire literature move it from being some magical curse into the realm of biological virus unleashed on an unsuspecting human populace. From the monstrous and disturbing vampires of The Strain to the military supermen gone wrong monsters in Justin Cronan's The Passage.

In film we also get the lovely monsters of ambiguous nature from 30 Days of Night which have a truly brilliant scheme to run around and kill people in a locale they cannot escape from!

Vampires of course offer the writer a wide variety of possibilities that a writer can use, and with a little imagination can be made to be completely the writers own creation for his particular story!

Now on to a somewhat familiar, yet startilingly different creature.

#3 Ghouls

Now I hear some saying 'wait, aren't ghouls zombies?' well no actually. Ghouls are an entirely different creature despite what some media would have you believe.

The Ghoul as we would know it is very different from the original ghoul of Arabian folklore. Originally sired by Iblis (or Shaytan) they are demons and shapeshifters who most popularly take the form of hyenas and scour the deserts for the lost and unwary. They can take human form, but only that of a person they had eaten, or the most recent eaten depending on your views on the subject.

They would often roam graveyards or battlefields and feed like the carrion and take the form of the dead to then steal from the families of the living, or worse, carry off their children and eat them!!! Truly they were despicable creatures in folk tales.

As the picture above shows their reputation has not improved at all with modern retellings. In fact they have probably gotten worse! From mindless monsters roaming graveyards and sniffing out fresh corpses like human vultures, to mindless cannibal savages under the control of necromancers or simply radioactive monsters they've continued to get a bad wrap.

My favorite portrayals of them are from Fallout as the aforemention irradiated monsters, while some are civilized many are just slavering fiends. They make fun enemies and in certain situations they can be downright terrifying!

Many authors though take them and twist them in their own unique ways, I for one experimented with them in a never finished manuscript by having them as cursed magic users who were forced to sew fresh skin onto their own as they continued to have their bodies rot away. Many other writers have of course taken fascinating looks at what the ghouls can do and it is amazing what some people come up with!

Next on our list comes from a similar region, but with different ideas and abilities.

#4 Mummies

Ever since Howard Carter fell prey to the so-called 'Mummies Curse' after opening Tutankhamun's tomb people have been fascinated by these particular undead monsters. From shoddy horror movies early on to later magical and sorcerous rulers brought back from beyond the grave!

As you can tell I prefer this version
Personally I always preffered the films that came later. They gave more depth and imagination to the mummy monster and made it much more terrifying and have better attitude. It also wasn't a shambling corpse in bandages that I could have easily escaped from. Though the curse would have been slightly more problematic if it existed...

Aside from that the movies expanded on not only the Egyptian mummy idea, but also on the idea of mummies from other cultures, most notably the shape shifting former Chinese ruler from the Tomb of the Dragon Emperor who could summon an army of undead warriors and turn into a dragon! Now that my friends is a mummy!

Not well used in modern horror circles, they seem to have tappered off from the modern concious and been swept away by the cheap vampire and zombie tides. Even so you'll be hard pressed to find a good representation of mummies in most modern horror. I myself am hoping for a resurgence in the genre, but it may be a forlorn hope.

However, that is only the tip of the iceberg my friends! We have mummies from different cultures all over the world! From South America to Europe! Heck what I wouldn't give to see a story about a Viking chieftan and his followers rise from the grave! The potential for mummies has not yet been fully tapped!

In fact for a horror story I might just have to make my own mummy tale one day. It could take place anywhere and at any time! It would be a fascinating thing to dream up some more modern mummy tales of horror and see where it could go! Though for now I guess any details would have to be under wraps!

Now while I dodge boo's and thrown tomatoes I'll bring up the next itme. Next up on our list is another creature who has risen from the dead.

#5 Liches

Ah Liches, undead sorcerors who have returned from the dead sorcerous powers intact! I can't believe these aren't used as villains more often! Hard to kill like vampires, yet powerful in the arcane arts! What more could you ask for?

Popularized by Dungeons and Dragons, but then picked up by modern media from Warcraft and other videogames they have become a very modern version of the undead and arguably some of the most powerful!

Personally my favorite liche comes from the webcomic Looking for Group with the evil warlock, Richard. The fire spewing undead hilariously evil magic wielder is about enough to melt my heart on a regular basis.

Though beyond that we also get the powerful undead sorcerors from Warhammer in the form of Tomb Kings and Vampire Counts. I've currently been reading some of the Rise of Nagash novels, and if there was ever a better argument for necromancy using villains, I've yet to come upon one.

As a quick note necromancers will not be discussed in this article, as it is living wizards using magic to summon many undead minions. Liche's are different since they don't have to be necromancers (but it helps).

#6 Skeletons.

No necromancy but might as well talk about skeletons. Whats that? A faint shuffling sound down my hallway? Raggedy bones slowly shuffling forwards? Oh no what do I do!?

*Picks up chair and hurls it*

Oh thankfully it was smashed by that well placed object!

What? Unless skeletons get some substantial help from an outside source they're creep, but pretty useless. I'm just throwing you a bone here, what more do you want from me?

#7 Zombies

Ah finally! The masterpiece of modern undead, the slouching monsters that shamble into our nightmares and devour our dreams, (and sometimes our livers) the zombie!

Ah zombies! Since I've been a wee lad these shambling nightmares have been stumbling through my dreams and into my subconcious. What used to give me nightmares now nourishes the inner writer and lover of the macabre in me! From when I first saw them in the Resident Evil games (the originals and the REmake) I was fascinated by them.

These shuffling corpses have wormed their way into the public mind and infected our literature, our video games and finally major television networks! Ever since their big break in Night of the Living Dead by one George A. Romero they have steadily become cult and popular classics!

Don't think for a second however that zombies started there! They were actually popular waaaay back into the 1930s! They were featured in films like the famous White Zombie which prayed on both the fear of the unknown, and racist fears of things like vodoo and black magic still common at the time. This spawned many movies which would continue the zombie theme, but we can today thank Romero for the cult inspired monsters that have shambled their way into the public conciousness.

They come in many forms, from reanimated servants, to shuffling cannibals, and full tilt sprinting runners who tear apart modern societies, even demon possessed monsters from Hell!

In literature they have a plethora of works to chose from, from Lovecraft's Reanimator to Max Brooks World War Z and the Zombie Survival Guide! There truly are so many choices!

Personally I cannot say enough about zombies! And all my gushing for their brain eating wonder could not be contained to a single list about the undead! So for now I leave you with this list of the monstrous undead, their threat and the truly diverse forms of horror they come in!

So here, after quite a while, is my humble ode to the undead, may they not eat my brains!

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