Rabies-inspired undead – zombies and vampires

A fantastic article at The Verge about rabies as a zombie disease.

Sick idea: how rabies spawned vampires and zombies | The Verge.

“What disturbs me is I smashed his mouth off, I smashed his teeth in, but he still wanted to continue in the attack mode. I was terrified at [its] resilience.”

This gory description could have been one of many zombie survivor stories from the novel World War Z, but it’s actually a man’s factual description the tenacity of a rabid raccoon he beat to death with a hammer in the non-fiction book Rabid.

I’ve never thought of this before! And it’s so obvious and is not new (see more links below). Rabies is a neurological disease transmitted by the bite of an infected animal that causes zombie-like symptoms (fatigue, vision disturbances, slurred speech, loss of coordination). If you observe these symptoms, certain death is the result. If caught in the early stages, as with a bite from a suspected fox, raccoon, dog, bat, etc., the iconic injections will be administered and it will not reach the brain.

The author also connected rabies to vampirism. A Neurology journal piece was published a while back relating the similarities of the fiction and nonfiction conditions. Again, it was transmitted by bite – a common horror motif – and made the victims animalistic. But what about werewolves? Not mentioned, maybe a stretch.

Regardless, check this piece out for its look at movies featuring these themes and the hopeful treatment that may, at least sometimes, allow people to come back from certain death.

The Virus that Inspired the Whole Zombie Genre.

“Zombie Virus” Possible via Rabies-Flu Hybrid?.

Rabies: The Plague Behind Zombies and Vampires – WSJ.com.


  3 comments for “Rabies-inspired undead – zombies and vampires

  1. scott auden
    April 19, 2013 at 5:06 PM

    Years ago I was part of a dig that exhumed some early colonial graves in Rhode Island that were notable because the remains had been treated in a manner consistant with old-world vampire folklore (nails driven through some joints, femurs arranged in a cross…). Interestingly, the ribs showed evidence that the deceased had been tubercular. The speculation was that tuberculosis symptoms (palor, weakness, blood on the lips…) might contribute to vampire fears; particularly if one person died, and others became symptomatic shortly after. Exhuming and reinterring the remains was speculated to have been an attempt to address the symptoms of the surviving individual.

  2. April 19, 2013 at 10:55 PM

    Scott are you talking about this? http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/The-Great-New-England-Vampire-Panic-169791986.html
    Sharon, here is a link to a book on the very issue. I heard the author being interviewed on a podcast (can’t remember which one). The interview was very interesting. http://www.npr.org/books/titles/157051249/rabid-a-cultural-history-of-the-worlds-most-diabolical-virus

  3. spookyparadigm
    April 20, 2013 at 5:08 PM

    The TB thing has indeed been supported with some research. Rabies, on the other hand, feels akin to a backronym, something retconned in at a later date. Especially since some zombie fiction has purposely modeled off of rabies (28 Days Later).

    More importantly, there isn’t anything really folkloric about the modern Western Zombie. It’s only vaguely related to the Haitian zombi. The major early work would be, somewhat, Matheson’s I am Legend and then Night of the Living Dead, though one can make arguments for earlier antecedents by Lovecraft and others. As we’re dealing with signed works, rather than folklore, wouldn’t closer literary analysis, rather than thematic similarity, be the best bet.

    As for the vampire, there I could see more of an argument but again, only as something being bolted on, and not associated with the earlier Slavic version.

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