Are there really zombies and vampires

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The Santa Clarita Diet series shows: A new zombie is among us. But what do we actually know about the undead? They're hot for brains, of course. And otherwise?

By: Anna Ellmann and Katja Engelhardt

Status: 02/18/2017

It is slowly getting dark, clouds of mist drift across the damp ground and a horrific noise comes from afar. A pale, withered head peeks out of the fog: a zombie! Many thrillers and horror films begin like this, or something like that. But where do the myths about the undead come from?

Undead with a damaged nervous system

The zombie myth originated in Haiti. Voodoo priests have been claiming there for centuries that they can bring the dead back to life. But there is a rather cruel medical trick behind it: a poison cocktail leads to apparent death - the heart only beats once a minute. During the night the priests inject the antidote. The result: the supposedly dead lives again, but his nervous system is damaged. The zombie drools, shuffles around the village, is a shell without life.

The zombie is made for Hollywood. Even in the days of silent movies, the undead stumbled into pop culture. At the end of the 1960s, George A. Romero took the living dead as a model for his film "Night of the living dead" and thus invented the modern film zombie. The Romero films "Dawn of the Dead" and "Day of the Dead" are absolute zombie basics. In Romero's films, the undead are just very slow and very pale people - with great hunger for human flesh. Actually, quite harmless.

Today, however, things are different, explains zombie expert and theater studies professor Jörg von Bricken: "Today zombies are more of a predator, they hunt people and are less likely to spread their dead atmosphere among the undead. "

In contrast to witches or vampires, the zombie in the film is a relatively modern phenomenon. But just like other horror figures, the undead also expresses the existential fears of a society, says Jörg von Bricken.

"Zombies have always been a metaphor for socially precarious situations - it started in America in the 1930s. There were an incredible number of unemployed people. Back then, the zombie in the films was simply a work slave. He didn't do anything to anyone who was evil behind it the one who controlled the zombie - the bad employer. "

(Zombie expert Jörg von Bricken)

In recent years, terror, natural disasters and epidemics have been the main sources of fear. And then it happens that the zombie also returns to real life: Because Ebola patients occasionally lose consciousness, the rumor spread in China that Ebola would turn people into zombies. And in zombie films and series, the zombies are usually infected with an unknown virus that mutates them into brainless predators.

Today the zombie is one of us and: female

This zombie is slowly becoming obsolete, it is evolving. Especially in series such as "iZombie" and "Santa Clarita Diet", the image of the zombie is spun on: Instead of in the crowd, the zombie is now traveling alone and lives among us. He's the boy next door, the medical student or the family mother. We watch the zombie how - and if - he gets along in our everyday life. In "Santa Clarita Diet", Drew Barrymore, a working mother in a tranquil Californian suburb, struggles with her newly awakened urges - and feels freer than ever before. The zombie as a symbol for the problems of the modern woman?

"It makes a lot of sense to let the woman become strong. Not only will she not be shot, she is in control. She first has to become a zombie so that she can have the greatest possible leverage. Zombies can stand for anything. And in the case of Santa Clarita Diet, they deal with these societal problems. "

(Steven Schlozman, Harvard doctor and zombie fan)

Broadcast: Filter, July 17, 2017 - from 3 p.m.