Pathologist and writer Dr. Darin Wolfe has taken on the subject of zombies in his upcoming book Zombiology Vol. I: History, Theory and Nature of the Zombie.
These experiments were known as The Granville Trials, the goal of which was to produce a biological weapon that would reduce an enemy population to aggressive zombies that would destroy the target nation from the inside out. Dr. Wolfe combs the data that was left behind for clues into a disease with apocalyptic potential, and when he was able to take a moment away from that, he sat down for an interview.
Curtez Riggs: How did you end up as a pathologist?
Dr. Darin Wolfe: When I look back at my childhood, I can’t believe the stuff my parents let me watch on TV. From an early age, I was well aware of Jason, Freddy, Michael Myers and of course the ever present demons, ghosts and ghouls that populated 1980s horror films. It really wasn’t much of a surprise that I ended up in a career surrounded by death and disease and hacking up dead bodies.
CR: Hacking up dead bodies?
DW: During my residency training after medical school, I performed many autopsies, and that was also the time when the zombie movie genre sort of exploded, with the remake of Dawn of the Dead, the 28 Days movies and Romero releasing movies again. Naturally, I became fascinated with medical concepts underlying what I call ‘zombiism’.
CR: How is your take on zombies different than what we’ve seen so far?
DW: I’m a stickler about the medical accuracy of what has been depicted with zombies, so I’d say my take is more ‘clinically-based’. What I mean by that is, with my background in infectious disease and knowing how disease processes work at a molecular level, I tried to re-imagine the zombie in a way that is most consistent with what would happen in reality.
My zombies aren’t risen from the grave, they are instead somewhere between a human with mad cow disease and the zombies in 28 Days Later. I actually find it more terrifying, because such zombies might be faster and smarter, since they would retain some higher reasoning capability and motor functions, particularly among the ‘freshly infected’.
CR: What would you say is the biggest zombie myth?
DW: That they crave brains. In my books, there are certain zombies that do exhibit cerebrophilia (brain craving), but those are very rare zombies that are typically found in sub-Saharan Africa and in the South Pacific. Typical, everyday zombies don’t crave brains, because frankly it’s much too difficult to get a human skull open to eat those brains. They’d spend their days gnawing on your scalp but never getting anywhere.
CR: Biggest zombie pet peeve?
DW: Man, I’ve got a bunch of them. I think the worst one is the idea that you can stomp on a zombie’s head and crush the skull. Anyone who has handled a skull—even one from a decayed human—knows that skull bone is incredibly hard whether it’s in the living or the dead. You can’t just stomp on a skull and have strawberry jam squirt out like they do on The Walking Dead sometimes. Also, when someone brutally destroys a zombie and ends up covered in blood and tissue. In my world, that’s just going to get you and everyone around you infected.
CR: So what would be your preferred method to kill a zombie?
DW: Let’s keep it simple: If it’s close range, just me against one zombie, I’d take out the legs first to get an advantage, then chop the back of the neck with a hatchet or machete.
CR: What? And not destroy the head?
DW: No. Chopping the neck severs the spinal cord and renders the limbs nonfunctional. Also, the only blood vessels of consequence are the vertebral arteries, which won’t produce a great deal of blood spray. If you chop the head off or shoot at close range, this would produce an immense amount of infectious bloody mist to be breathed in by everyone, thus resulting in infection. I’d try to keep it as clean as possible. The only issue with my approach is that since the cranial nerves remain intact, the zombie could still bite, but I’m much less threatened by a zombie that can’t move.
CR: Is this the kind of detail we can expect in your book?
DW: Very much so. But it’s not just a litany of zombie technical rants; I try to weave these things together with historical elements, dialogue, journal entries, research articles and the people around which The Granville Trials were centered, both from the military and civilian perspectives. I thought it would be a good idea to put the project on Kickstarter and just see what happens. My angle on Kickstarter is that if you contribute, your name—as a character—might end up in the book. I’d love to get the project supported to such a degree that I could be pretty aggressive with the marketing campaign for the book. Hopefully the fans reading this article will agree!