One method I use to gauge the super hotness of a trend is to measure how far companies will go to associate themselves with that trendy trend.
In Monday's paper, you may have read how Westlake Ace Hardware, which operates nine stores in the region, has begun offering "zombie preparedness" advice at its stores and on its website. They have "zombie defense" advice as well as product suggestions for "zombie proofing" and, failing that, "zombie repairs."
Hardware. Zombies. Even with Halloween just around the corner, it's a huge stretch. Thus, huge trend.
I visited the Westlake store near 144th Street and West Center Road and the one near 84th and Center and found, to be honest, a fairly limited commitment to the marketing strategy. I was given a handout with the preparedness advice, and I grabbed a couple of the free zombie-related buttons from the check-out counter. "Equal Zombortunity," one said, while another said "D.I.Y. Zombie Stopper," which I still don't understand.
"It's a little weird, a little bit of a stretch," said an employee named Billy at the 144th Street store. "It's fun, though. I think people are enjoying it. It's just some fun with the 'Zombie Apocalypse' idea."
I found myself pleasantly amused by the zombie campaign, an idea incarnated by the people at Omaha's Bozell advertising and public relations. However, being quite knowledgeable in the field, the only truly useful anti-zombie tools in the store were the chain saws and short-handled sledge hammers. If Westlake were to take the problem seriously, they would begin stocking baseball bats, pump-action 12-gauge shotguns and grenades.
That "'Zombie Apocalypse' idea," as the youngish Billy referred to it, has appeared in several recent films and video games, but is, in fact, a much older idea in film, literature and, depending on your interpretation of Revelation, religion. George Romero's cult classic "Night of the Living Dead" and its sequels were my first visual exposure to the idea.
Most of you probably have noticed that you never see zombies without the multiplying hordes of them that come with some sort of "apocalypse." "Zombie Apocalypse" is almost redundant.
While zombie hordes may be ever present in our psyche, they have not always been the most popular horror in our lives. Yet, according to folks at Spirit Halloween, which is just a couple of storefronts east of the Westlake Hardware store near 84th and Center, there is nothing more popular right now than zombies.
Ken, my spirit guide through the multitude of nightmare costumes and decorations at Spirit Halloween, explained that zombie decorative items, such as the 6-foot-tall animatronic "flesh-eating zombie," whom I named Larry, "have been hard to keep on the shelves the last two years."
Larry is holding a severed forearm and hand as if it was a footlong. His eyes light up, and he growls if you get near him.
I was quickly smitten with Larry, so much so that Ken's un-undead voice began to fade into babble. Something about Zombie Babies.
Oh, Zombie Babies. How big are zombies? The store has 14 different Zombie Babies, including several riding a sort of merry-go-round near the front of the store. Zombie Babies are basically baby-sized rubber dolls — some animatronic — in various poses: eating a teddy bear, eating a hand, eating a human brain. One little fellow is eating his own foot.
Bad-parenting confession: I do not condone my 10-year-old watching my 15-year-old playing the Xbox 360 game "Call of Duty" unless the older boy has the game on what is generally referred to as "Nazi zombie mode." I don't like the idea of my kids shooting at depictions of live human soldiers from any regime. Zombies are OK, though. Nazi zombies are double OK, perhaps because, as Ken at the store noted, "they are creatures that sort of have two strikes against them as far as killing."
That zombies play key roles in several current first-person shooter games may be the key to the zombie's soaring popularity. Many of the world's young people spend some amount of their time in cyberworlds fighting off hordes of zombies. And some percentage of parents allow this behavior, especially if those zombies are undead flesh-eating Nazis.
None of this, however, explains my nearly immediate bromance with Larry.
What is clear is that, after the visit to the hardware store turned into a tour of the city's Halloween offerings, the zombies tend to be the liveliest and freshest of all the horror genres. The animatronic Frankenstein, about the size of Jared Crick, seemed passe, the gauntlet of "Scream" guys, vampires, skeletons, spiders, mummies and demons was navigated with little terror or interest.
But the people who make scary stuff are really doing great work right now with zombies.
Like Larry. I've never bought a Halloween decoration. But Larry kept eyeing me, begging to come home with me like some sad little zombie puppy at the Humane Society.
I had planned to pick up some fine-grit sandpaper while checking out the Westlake zombie ad campaign.
Instead, Larry is in the garage waiting to be pulled from his box, assembled and reanimated on my front porch.
So take some advice from a victim. Beware this Halloween season. The zombies are out in force. They want to take a bite out of your wallet. And they are very hard to fight off, even with that "Zombie Preparedness" brochure in hand.
Contact the writer: