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Long live the undead!

Vampires? That's so 2008. TODAY'S HOT TREND? ZOMBIES

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/10/2015 (583 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

You think you know everything there is to know about zombies, don't you?

Well, that's not a surprise in light of the fact zombies have invaded mainstream culture in North America like never before, becoming even more popular than angst-ridden teenage vampires, if you can imagine that.

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Regardless of where you look -- Hollywood films, TV series, bestselling books, comics, newspapers -- you'll find legions of flesh-eating zombies.

For example, The Walking Dead, a cable show about a post-apocalyptic world overrun by zombies, kicked off its blockbuster sixth season earlier this month, pulling in 19.5 million viewers and cementing its position as the No. 1 show in all of television.

You'll even find otherwise normal human beings dressed up as the grisly undead in cities across the continent during zombie walks to support local charities.

So it's not surprising that everyone with a TV set knows the four basic rules of Zombies 101, including:

1) They shuffle along at the speed of airport luggage;

2) To kill one, you have to pierce its brain any way possible. Bullets, sharp objects, hammers and even long wooden sticks all work;

3) They can't gobble enough human flesh, especially brains;

4) If you get bitten, you turn into a zombie.

What is surprising, given their phenomenal popularity, is that a few zombie facts remain shrouded in mystery. Which is why, with Halloween lurking just around the corner, we nervously present our Top Five Things You Didn't Know About Zombies:

5) Zombies come from Haiti

Most of us first became aware of zombies after watching George A. Romero's 1968 cult classic Night of the Living Dead, the original modern zombie movie wherein a group of hapless people in a rural farmhouse are attacked by "the living dead." But the creepy reality is the idea of shuffling undead creatures has its roots in traditions brought to Haiti by enslaved Africans. Haitian zombies, however, were not the brain-munching variety perpetuated by Hollywood. In an article entitled "The Real Story of the Undead" by Benjamin Radford, the popular science website LiveScience notes: "To many people, both in Haiti and elsewhere, zombies are very real. They are not a joke; they are something to be taken seriously." Unlike the movies, Haitian zombies were victims, not villains. "Haitian zombies were said to be people brought back from the dead (and sometimes controlled) through magical means by voodoo priests called bokors or houngan." Also, there was an awesome English rock band in the 1960s called the Zombies, and parents thought their music would rot your brain. We suspect that was a myth, too.

4) Be glad you live in Canada

Whether or not you voted for Justin Trudeau and fuelled the red wave that swept the country on election night, it turns out the Great White North is one of the best places to call home in case of a zombie apocalypse. We base that boast on a global survey conducted in 2011 by the staff of the popular science website LiveScience, who whipped up an infographic called "Mapping Zombies," which detailed the top "safe zones" in the world in case of a zombie outbreak. It turns out Australia topped the list, despite the fact that country is also home to most of the world's deadliest creatures. Who was No. 2? As you have already deduced, the True North, Strong and Free was rated the second-best place to live if you want to avoid having your grey matter consumed by brain-hungry baddies. We assume it has something to do with the fact our winters last roughly 13 months and our mosquitoes are easily more terrifying than anything Hollywood can dream up.

3) Emergency officials believe in zombies

When we came across an article on the entertainment website thefw.com stating the famed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States has a website devoted to preparing for the zombie apocalypse, we made the following remark: "Huh?" As it turns out, this isn't a joke. Seriously, the CDC's Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response -- not known for its sense of humour -- features a webpage dedicated to getting ready for a zombie disaster. It's full of helpful suggestions, including: "So what do you need to do before zombies... or hurricanes or pandemics, for example, actually happen? First of all, you should have an emergency kit in your house... Once you've made your emergency kit, you should sit down with your family and come up with an emergency plan. This includes where you would go and who you would call if zombies started appearing outside your door step." As it turns out, the whole zombie-preparedness thing was a genius tongue-in-cheek campaign the CDC cooked up in 2011 to connect with younger, hipper audiences and promote the idea of being ready for any kind of disaster.

2) The author of the first zombie novel was a cannibal

Yes, this one seems a bit hard to swallow, but it appears to be based in fact. We're talking about American adventurer and journalist William Buehler Seabrook, whose 1929 novel The Magic Island is credited with introducing the concept of zombies to popular culture. Based on his time in Haiti, Seabrook's jarring travelogue is the sensationalized account of a narrator who encounters voodoo cults and their reanimated corpses. Time magazine has said the book introduced the term "zombi" into western speech. It also inspired the first zombie movie, 1932's White Zombie, a horror film in which the legendary Bela Lugosi plays a voodoo master who transforms a young woman into one of the walking dead. Getting back to cannibalism, according to Britain's Daily Mail newspaper and Smithsonianmag.com, Seabrook travelled to West Africa in the 1920s and spent time with a cannibal tribe called the Guere. He described the texture and taste of human flesh in his 1931 book Jungle Ways, stating: "It was like good, fully developed veal, not young, but not yet beef." His account went on, but we think you get the gist. The sensational claim has been called into question, however, because the writer later confessed the tribesmen refused to let him take part in their tradition, and he claimed he made up for that by later obtaining samples of flesh from a dead hospital patient in Paris and cooking it up himself. While you digest that (sorry) food for thought, we will mention he later spent time in a mental institution and took his own life in 1945.

1) George Washington, the first zombie president

Along with being the first president of the United States, he almost became the first zombie to lead a nation. According to thefw.com and a host of online sources, after he died in 1799 at age 67, Washington wasn't interred right away because he had a longtime fear of being buried alive. Enter Dr. William Thornton, a Washington family friend, physician and the architect who designed the United States Capitol. In the 1820s, Thornton wrote about how he had been summoned to Mount Vernon in 1799 in hopes he could treat his buddy, the fatally ill president. When he arrived, however, Washington was dead and Thornton proposed a bizarre plan to revive the frozen corpse. In his words, Thornton wanted "first to thaw him in cold water, then to lay him in blankets and by degrees and by friction to give him warmth, and to put into activity the minute blood vessels, at the same time to open a passage to the lungs by the trachea, and to inflate them with air, to produce an artificial respiration, and to transfuse blood into him from a lamb." Surprisingly, the Washington family said, thanks, but no thanks, and Thornton reportedly remained miffed for years that he wasn't given a chance to bring the remains of the first commander in chief back to life.

If you think about it, the notion of a zombie president is kind of appealing, because while his personality would be a little cold, he'd definitely have the braaaaiiiiins for the job.

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Doug Speirs.

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