As for me, when releasing Dawn of the Dead in 1978 I decided to mix it up. Ten years had been a long time since Night. Cinema had changed, culture had changed. For this to resonate with a more savvy audience I deemed it necessary to infiltrate the daily routine and make a mundane setting, upsetting. We had descended deeply into consumerism and I wanted the message to appeal to a wider audience than horror aficionados – wider than our guild, for example. So we set the entire thing in a shopping mall and had Zombies wandering aimlessly among the electronic goods section in Sears. It’s a pretty transparent satirical message now, but it was of its time.
The Harbingers continued to grow and amass members well into the 1990’s, and although my scepticism had grown considerably over the Project’s methodology, I knew that if The Harbingers didn’t exist, I would never have become master of my own sub-genre. There’s very few of us in this business and indeed in this life who make an indelible mark. It’s better to be remembered for something than forgotten for nothing. Zombies were mine. No-one could ever take that away from me.
It was around 1995 that I met Shinji Mikami. Mikami is a Japanese video game developer and also a compulsive consumer of my work. He had been introduced to me as precisely the individual who could take the Zombie concept to a place my middle-aged mind was, I’m sorry to say, a little ignorant of. The Project was keen to expose The Harbingers to the thriving game market, one which had enjoyed an explosion of new technology at the turn of the 90’s. Mikami created for me a game that my teenage self, dancing with the ghouls in my nightmares, would have been unable to comprehend.
Mikami is a whole other kind of visionary from me. I had been… infected with it, is a way of putting it. My ghouls had found me, not the other way around. But with him, his ideas, his imagination…. when we met he was always kind enough to say that I had sparked something inside of him; it made sense that as audiences became more nuanced I could pass the torch to a younger, ingenious generation to develop this idea. Mikami reckoned the Zombies deserved a back story. He gave them Resident Evil.
The game focused on events in the fictional Raccoon City and around the nefarious Umbrella Corporation, who had developed a mutating virus that had inadvertently been released into the population, creating – you’ve guessed it – Zombies. I’m not much of a gamer but I watched Mikami work through it. It was an immersive experience in which players were taught basic survival skills in an environment where civilisation had ceased to function normally. We had successfully penetrated new territory.
Mikami is one of the few I’ve trusted to know everything about me and the Project. With most of the others… put it this way, it would be like informing the actors and production staff that the reason Hollywood made Armageddon and Deep Impact within months of each other was because an asteroid was on the way.
I continued to find others. Robert Kirkman created graphic novels entitled The Walking Dead, a series that spawned a TV show that was airing in 125 countries when the Blood Turned. Jaume Balaguero & Paco Plaza made the revolutionary REC in the Spanish language, which utilised first-person camera views to create a visceral experience for the viewer. In France, La Horde from Yannick Dahan and Benjamin Rocher was a relative success while Germany’s Benjamin Hessler produced Rammbock in 2010.
Zombie Studios became a self-sufficient business; the natural increase in interest meant that production companies were actively attempting to enter into a market which should have been a difficult sell. Zombie culture had ensured its continued presence by consistently guaranteeing dollars. Rival studios were independently signing the contracts and audiences flocked to the final product.
We were so successful that any subtlety we might have originally possessed crashed through the window. Max Brooks came on board and wrote The Zombie Survival Guide, which is exactly what it sounds like, and World War Z, about the process of recovery from a Zombie outbreak. I could only have done more had I advised the Project to instate mandatory Zombie awareness training for civilians.
I sat back and watched the world fall into fascination with these things. The Harbingers were being successful in places such a form of fringe culture should never have reached. But to me that represented the ultimate vindication, for if the Zombies ever came for us, it would need as much vigilance from the mothers and fathers of the obsessive generation to ensure at least some of us made it to the other side.
And yes, it took a long time to arrive. Almost fifty years, in fact, from my first nightmare to when the Blood Turned. When it happened my emotions were difficult to regulate. I was overcome with anxiety, hoping that I had met the Project’s requirements and we had done enough to prepare the population. Yet I also experienced a degree of relief that all of this had served a purpose.
Once the initial disarray had dispersed I could see for myself that people were mentally equipped to face the challenge of their lives. When they rose, we were putting them straight back down. People took everything we had taught them and applied the rules. I’ve no doubt that members of your family survived thanks to us. Standing in line at the cinema to see our movies wasn’t time wasted, it was subliminal research.
The Project kept me close at hand as The Preservation was formed. It was an integral part of the contingency plan the Project had ready and waiting for when the day finally arrived. The Preservers were out in the streets severing heads with remarkable efficiency and without them the numerical advantage may have fallen even further in the Zombie’s favour. Those guys are idols to many, celebrities even. One of the squadron leaders who conducted the first sweep of New York City, Jack O’Reilly, was from my former neighbourhood in the Bronx. They reckon he has the most confirmed Zombie kills in close combat in the entire unit – somewhere close to 5,000. The public found it easy to get behind guys like him.
When the opportunity arose, the Project was quick to thank me for my efforts, too. Privately, of course; publicly was an altogether different issue.
The Preservation was calling the shots. I was no longer dealing with faceless collaborators who, really, had nothing to lose. I was aware that by sheer association to the source material I would eventually become big news, once the eating and the shooting had ceased. After all, Bram Stoker would have raised interest if the Victorians had started burning in sunlight.
The response wasn’t quite what I expected. The Preservation passed the Purge Act without my knowledge, and the net result was that everything the Harbingers had ever created was placed on a list of banned content. Every film, book, video game, online clip or image over a period of fifty years, essentially my life’s work, disintegrated via one piece of legislation.