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The Zombies just keep coming!

Alum Stacey Abbott isn’t scared about pursuing her academic work on vampires and zombies
October 19, 2016
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By Maeve Haldane

Zombies, as most know, are brain-munching, flesh-shedding creatures that swarm the innocent.

Or are they?

Stacey Abbott, BFA 91, has noticed a shift in zombie stories of late, and her work as a reader in Film and Television Studies at the University of Roehampton in London, United Kingdom, challenges our assumptions. 

Stacey Abbott “Zombies capture the feeling of being numb and faceless, of being lost in the shuffle,” says Stacey Abbott.

“They just keep coming,” says Abbott, who laughs at the inadvertent joke. It’s hard not to say funny things when talking about zombies, so she just goes with it. Abbott researches film and television genres, with a focus on horror.

Edinburgh University Press has just published her latest book, Undead Apocalypse: Vampires and Zombies in the 21st Century. She had already written widely about vampires and the surge of vampire stories in which the once-maligned creatures were portrayed as romantic or seductive.

More recently Abbott noticed a rise in zombie narratives, such as the hit TV series The Walking Dead (2010-present).

“People historically have seen vampires and zombies as very different, and they have very different fandoms,” Abbott explains. Yet there are more similarities than immediately meets the eye. In modern narratives, vampires started hanging about in groups; zombies, on the other hand, acquired a voice.

In the early aughts movies like the Resident Evil series and 28 Days Later (2002) exploded in popularity, and zombies, well, started to take over. Next came tongue-in-cheek action films such as Shaun of the Dead (2004), parodying Dawn of the Dead (1978), and Warm Bodies (2013). The sweet romance, filmed in Montreal, follows a zombie who falls in love with a woman after eating the brains of her boyfriend, absorbing his memories.

The stories are creative and lucrative and, as Abbott notes, “They feed off of each other.”

Undead Apocalypse cover Stacey Abbott’s new book Undead Apocalypse: Vampires and Zombies in the 21st Century was published by Edinburgh University Press.

Zombies became not unlike vampires. For example, in the British television series In The Flesh (2013-14), a breakthrough treatment allows zombies to regain their memory, somewhat conceal their undead status and return to their communities, where they suffer prejudice and, in the case of teen protagonist Kieran, self-doubt.

“They have an identity. They’re not just horrible, abject monsters,” Abbott says.

When Abbott asks her students why they think zombies are taking over, they talk of disenfranchisement. “Zombies capture the feeling of being numb and faceless, of being lost in the shuffle,” Abbott says. The trend of citizens dressing up as zombies for anti-government protests expresses this feeling of a loss of agency.

Movie past

Abbott comes from a family passionate about cinema. She loved His Girl Friday (1940) for the snappy talk and Singin’ in the Rain (1952) for the moves — she recalls dancing in the kitchen like Gene Kelly. She watched horror films with her older sister and was awed by how Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) was the film that scared her big brother.

Like many who loved film, Abbott hoped to become a filmmaker. At Concordia’s Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema she started to explore gore and goth seriously, writing about the progressive and transgressive in the horror genre.

“I quickly realized I was better at writing about films than making films,” she says.

Abbott left Canada to pursue graduate studies in the U.K., where she met her husband, Simon Brown, who’s now an associate professor at the School of Performance and Screen Studies at Kingston University London. After completing her MA in film studies and film archiving at the University of East Anglia in the U.K. in 1993, she was hired by the London Filmmakers’ Co-op.

That was followed by six years at the British Film Institute, where she worked while starting her PhD in film studies at Birkbeck College of the University of London, which she earned in 2002. 

For Halloween, Abbott is always eager to spook out her house and dole out candies, as trick-or-treating is catching on in London. This year, however, she’ll be in Bangor, Me., at the horror gathering BanGOREfest, where her husband Simon Brown will research the Stephen King film Christine (1983), one of the conference themes.

Bonus: “There’ll be a zombie walk!” she reports.

For some, Abbott’s sunny personality defies her gothic investigations. Laughing, she says she often hears, “But you look like such a nice girl!”

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