The Desecration of Bodies. Re-animating Undead Mythologies in Cinema

Doru POP


From the sugar cane plantations of White Zombie, through the shopping malls of Night of the Dead, by way of Shaun of the Dead and up to the merry-go-round style of Zombieland, we can follow a long stream of cinematic narratives which are animating and re-animating a fundamental question of humanity: what happens when we die. A possible answer comes from the undead bodies of humanity –zombies – as they offer multiple connotations and multiple significations. In our constantly transmuting culture, zombies, as perfect mutant monsters, have become themselves victims of a strange process of desecration. As zombies have become more than simply reanimated corpses or biologically infected creatures; in our post-human culture they can be warm blooded creatures (Warm Bodies) or cold as ice, like the Nazi zombies frozen from Bavaria (Dead Snow), they can be strippers or beavers, fueling a long debate about what it means to be undead in our imaginary world, making things even more complicated, and re-animating the unsolved and complex mystery of the dead bodies in visual culture. This paper is an attempt to further revive the discussions about these corpses of imaginaries, these cadavers of representation and to re-animate the debate on the mythologies of zombiefication. While asking questions about what it means to be dead flesh in our popular culture in which nothing remains lifeless for long, the author overviews the long cultural history of the zombies, from the de-animated and desecrated bodies in early zombie movies to the degradation and fascination of the superficial in the recent cinematic productions. The final argument is that, while some authors consider the new manifestations of the zombie narratives as expressions of a post-humanist culture, the zombie myth can be described as a manifestation of a completely new form of cultural behavior, that of the empty semiotic cadaver.

Keywords: Zombies, horror cinema, desecrated bodies, semiotic interpretation, narratives and ideology, superficiality in popular culture.