It's not hard for New Yorkers to picture zombies, says author Colson Whitehead. "You take the subway, you go to Whole Foods, and you've got a series of stock characters to draw from," he says. Whitehead's troupe of undead goes in for a bite of the Big Apple in his latest novel, Zone One, which follows a band of misfit monster exterminators after an epidemic ravages the city. Whitehead grew up in 1970s Manhattan feeding his appetite for horror with tales of lumbering ghouls. Here, he talks about the creature features, books and comics that inspired Zone One.
EC Horror Comics
"Reprints of these banned comics gave birth to the Comics Code in 1954. Congress cracked down on them, but they had a kind of grisly loveliness that I devoured."
I Am Legend, 1954
"This novel is a modern take on horror. Yes, they are vampires in the book, but it's really the genesis of the modern zombie myth."
Night of the Living Dead, 1968
"I was struck by the complete nihilism of the movie and by the fact that it had a black protagonist. Outside of blaxploitation movies, there weren't a lot of films with black leads. I like that the zombies aren't explained. The simple fact that the horror has come and people just try to survive is enough."
Planet of the Apes, 1968
"You can recognize the old world, but mostly it's been erased. You have to figure out where the next safe place is while the features of your ruined world poke up in the background."
Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things, 1973
"A bunch of hippies have raised the dead with a spell book, the annoying hippies die, the monsters lumber toward us--that's a very intense moment."
Dawn of the Dead, 1978
"I saw it in the theater with my family even though it was rated X. Growing up, we never had to sneak into horror movies. In fact, we were fed horror movies as light snacks."
Return of the Living Dead, 1985
"I like that there's a lineage of teenagers in trouble, which goes back to '50s teen horror culture, where you have surfers encountering monsters from the deep."