Zombies are in our mass consciousness, invading art, literature, entertainment and even education. But at the heart of this fear-mongering revolution is a single question: Is it all pure fiction, or are there in fact real zombies?
That depends on your definition of the word "zombie."
"But he regained consciousness and managed to make it back to Miami. But this sort of thing still goes on with unscrupulous priests and priestesses. Generally, we're talking about a religion that is followed by 80 million people worldwide."
One man who took a "hands on" approach to the zombie culture is anthropologist Wade Davis. In 1982, Davis infiltrated the secret societies of Haitian voodoo, resulting in his 1985 eye-opening, international best-selling book (and subsequent movie) "The Serpent and the Rainbow" (Random House).
Davis investigated the most famous documented case of a reported real-world zombie, Clairvius Narcisse, who, in 1962, was pronounced dead in a Haitian hospital and later buried.
After 18 years, Narcisse showed up alive and told his story of having been drugged, buried, removed from a grave and put into slavery on a plantation with other men who allegedly shared the same fate.
"We have this case of Narcisse. From all scientific evidence, he was dead, and he came back into the realm of the living," Davis told AOL News. "Precisely because the scientists involved didn't believe in magic, there had to be a material explanation."
Davis explains that the Narcisse incident drew the attention of researchers back to "a series of reports found throughout the popular and academic literature of the reputed existence of a folk poison said to bring on a state of apparent death so profound that it could fool a physician."
Haitian bokors eventually gave Davis samples of the "zombie poison," which led him to zero in on a drug called tetrodotoxin -- the often deadly poison of a puffer fish.
"I was 12 years old when the first 'Dawn of the Dead' film came out, so I had that adolescent male fascination with these things," said Paffenroth, the author of several books on the Bible and theology, including "Gospel of the Living Dead: George Romero's Visions of Hell on Earth" (Baylor University Press).
"And when, as an adult, I became interested in religious studies, I started looking at how the darker Christian themes of sin and evil are expressed in literature, art, film and television, and then the zombie stuff sort of made sense to me in a new way."
Paffenroth has an interesting take on why many people believe that zombies (among other ghouls, like vampires) signal a coming Armageddon to our world.
"It's a pretty perennial fear of the fragile nature of civilization. Every time there's an oil spill or a stock market crash, people get anxious, and, if anything, I think these more supernatural ways of dealing with it are a little safer outlet."
Paffenroth sees zombie films as a kind of heavy-handed critique of American society.
"I now realize, as I look at some of the fans out there, they look at zombie movies and they see the message as: 'Well, I need to own more guns, because then I'll be safe.' I can see where, on the surface, that's what the movies are saying, but it's kind of a really literal way to read it."
In his investigations, Steiger has come up with a theory about why zombies are generally depicted in end-of-the-world scenarios.
"A lot of people think the Apocalypse is just around the corner and many of us have been brought up to believe that the dead will raise from their graves on Judgment Day, which is why I think the zombie has reached this incredible surge."
Agree or disagree, it's undeniable that zombies are in the midst of a resurgence, the likes of which hasn't been seen since they emerged from the ground in George Romero's classic 1968 black-and-white thriller "Night of the Living Dead." Wether they're starring in the popular 3-D "Resident Evil: Afterlife" film, playing the lead roles in AMC's upcoming series "The Walking Dead" or even fighting for the right of free speech, zombies are definitely in vogue.
And while there are some who speculate that a real zombie outbreak on Earth would be doomed to failure, there's at least marginal evidence that some form of zombie-ism exists and is taken seriously in Haiti (not to mention the creative minds of filmmakers).
So, the next time you find yourself alone in a field or a dark alley, it would probably be prudent to look over your shoulder -- you never know when you'll be menaced by something that's fairly easy to outrun.
Copyright: AOL News