Meet ZRS’s Editor in Chief: Luke W. Boyd!
Luke started exploring his creative passions as a film student, during which time he was inspired to start his own annual zombie movie marathon, officially called Zombie-Thon.
After a few years running Zombie-Thon, Luke was contacted by the Zombie Research Society (ZRS)’s founder, Matt Mogk, and asked to join the ZRS team!
After University Luke moved to San Francisco, California to start producing and directing radio plays for the stage while also workin on a number of award-winning short films and commercials.
Our interview with Luke was extremely eye-opening as he explained his thoughts on why zombies are featured so regularly in pop culture. Luke also offers a few of his personal favorite zombie films and the iconic pieces of horror visual culture that got him interested in the horror genre in the first place!
Please enjoy this in-depth interview with Luke W Boyd and check out ZRS’s website; all contact information can be found at the bottom of this article.
Lauren: How did you get interested in zombies? What is it about zombie culture that fascinated you?
Luke: My fascination with zombies is almost entirely due to my love of film; specifically, bad horror films. I grew up watching Mystery Science Theater 3000 and learned to enjoy the classic science fiction and horror films of yesteryear. Usually these movies were awful, inept, or just downright terrible… but they were always fun!
I suppose that prepared me, in some way, to later enjoy (or perhaps endure) the onslaught of horrible low-budget zombie films that I eventually came to love.
However, one evening when I was very little, my older sister and her friends were watching movies late at night. I quietly snuck out of my bedroom, hid well out of sight, and witnessed a double-feature that changed my life forever; the 1978 American mondo film Faces of Death and Pink Floyd : The Wall.
I was scared out of my mind, of course. But I was also completely fascinated. In that moment, I learned that film could be art. It could mean something; serve as a metaphor, express emotion, or reflect the state of our world. It could also be very, very frightening… much like zombies themselves!
That traumatic experience eventually led me to study film in college, where I focused on motion picture and television production, history, and theory.
Lauren: Zombie-Thon was first shared online in 2009, what prompted you to start that tradition and its website?
Luke: I was one of the few students to bring my film collection to college; literally hauling huge boxes of VHS tapes across the country. Almost by default, my apartment became something of a screening room for the entire dormitory.
Aspiring cinematographers, editors, and animators would gather together to watch and discuss movies on a regular basis, and it was wonderful.
These viewing sessions often turned into late night marathons; the Godfather trilogy, Godzilla films, even the Nightmare on Elm Street series!
Of course, one of my personal traditions was to watch George A. Romero’s zombie classic Night of the Living Dead every Halloween. That quickly morphed into an entire month of watching horror films, and eventually we focused on a different sub-genre each year.
It wasn’t until we landed on zombies that everything fell perfectly into place, and I created Zombie-Thon, an annual zombie movie marathon! After college it was difficult to host screenings every day for an entire month. So, I created a blog to document my experience instead. That blog eventually led me to the ZRS (Zombie Research Society)
Lauren: Zombie-Thon’s mission to bring zombie fans together to discuss topics and visual culture is almost a direct reflection to our goals at Zombeastic! You reviewed zombie films and literature on a deeper level in an almost analytical way; why did you choose to review zombie culture that way instead of a typical opinion-based review?
Luke: I’m surprised to hear that my early reviews could be seen as analytical. Believe it or not, I thought I was being irreverent and edgy at the time! Attempting to review thirty-one zombie films in thirty-one days meant that time was short. So, I created what I called “capsule reviews.”
They were meant to be insightful, but humorous, reviews of the zombie films that I had watched each day during the marathon. If anything intelligent or insightful managed to seep into those reviews, I suppose
it was the unconscious result of my film education.
However, Zombeastic does a much better job at providing a deeper understanding of the current zombie films, literature, and culture than I ever did during my time at Zombie-Thon!
Lauren: In 2013, you made the exciting announcement that you’d be joining the Zombie Research Society team. What was the transition like from sole editor of Zombie-Thon to the editor-in-chief of a society full of academics and researchers?
Luke: Zombie-Thon had grown beyond movie reviews at that time. The culture had shifted, and zombies were suddenly in vogue. There was so much going on, and so much to write about; it was exciting to expand my horizons! I ventured out, and eventually began to cover subjects like mathematics, biology, and science.
That’s when I drew the attention of Zombie Research Society founder Matt Mogk.
Ironically, he brought me onboard to cover the cultural zombie zeitgeist exploding all around us. But working closely with so many academics including biologists, epidemiologists, and neuroscientists completely changed my perspective. I was absolutely in awe of our Advisory Board and the research they had published.
Soon after working for the ZRS, I had a second “great awakening” very much like the moment I discovered that zombie films could be more than just mindless fun. Zombies themselves could help us understand the world around us in a very real sense; biology, disease, infection. It changed the way I approached my writing.
Lauren: Focusing on some of your more recent articles, they dive deeper into topics such as the scientific likelihood of water-breathing zombies or the medical explanations of how zombies could obtain super-human strength; how do you decide on article topics? Do you aim to inform readers with facts or open the topic up for discussion?
Luke: Although I’m credited as the author, many of these articles actually spring from the contributions of our Advisory Board and members. Our online community is incredibly engaged and constantly send us articles, research papers, and stories.
We also receive many links via our social media accounts including Facebook and Twitter. In fact, some of them are downright weird. I must admit that the Zombie Research Society attracts an “eccentric” audience… to say the least!
As the Editor in Chief, I must gauge the interest in any topic and weigh it against our dedication to the historic, cultural, and scientific study of the living dead. We always aim to educate and inform our readers, members, friends, and followers.
But we also have limited resources, authors, and contributors. So, as much as I would like to cover the release of every major zombie film and video game, we must put our focus on education; first and foremost. Of course, if any of your readers are interested in joining our team – we would be happy to have them!
Lauren: Even more recently, you were used as a zombie expert reference for a children’s book series titled, Zombie Zone, written by Ruth Owen and published by Bearport Publishing. How did this project come about? Do you think zombies are of growing interest to elementary school aged kids? Has the general age of horror fans shifted towards a younger audience?
Luke: That is a brilliant observation because zombies are generally viewed as a movie monster best-suited for adults. But, like Zombeastic itself; our mission is to bring all things spooky out of the dark and into the discussion. And that includes the classroom!
I don’t believe that the living dead should be relegated to R-rated horror films. Much like Star Trek inspired an entire generation of astronauts, scientists, and physicists; the Zombie Research Society would like to encourage the next generation to invest in biology, epidemiology, or neurology.
So, I was delighted when Ruth Owen reached out to us regarding her recent Zombie Zone series for Bearport Publishing. It was entertaining and educational, but also age-appropriate; and I was more than happy to be a part of it!
Lauren: What level of cultural significance do you think zombies hold in today’s modern society? Why is our popular culture flooded with TV shows and films centered around them and the somewhat ‘inevitable’ apocalypse?
Luke: I believe that the zombie zeitgeist has passed. Both Z Nation and iZombie are entering their last seasons, and fans are seemly becoming bored with The Walking Dead. We’ve seen running zombies, talking zombies, funny zombies, even romantic zombies.
The living dead have been deconstructed and reinterpreted so many times, and in so many ways, that their original appeal has been almost forgotten. But the essence and allure of zombies, and apocalyptic fiction in general, lies in fear.
Whether that fear is the collapse of society, or the inevitability of death, it will always be relevant. So, I’m sure that the genre will continue to live on despite its waning commercial appeal, because these themes are universal and timeless.
Lauren: Another quite broad question, do you think the horror genre is at its peak now? Is there some sort of correlation between the increase of zombie pop culture and the current state of affairs around the globe?
Luke: The obvious answer is to claim that the popularity of horror films, and zombies specifically, are directly related in some way to the social or political climate of the United States. You can find endless dissertations to support that claim, but it simply isn’t true!
The living dead underwent their most significant transitional phase from voodoo to ghouls in comics of the 1950s; the era of Leave it to Beaver and The Donna Reed Show. These were hardly tumultuous times for the United States, but the concept is so ingrained in modern academia that it’s hard to argue otherwise.
Instead, I believe that the popularity is due to something much more mundane – money. It only takes one successful film or television show for the rest of the industry to hop on the bandwagon. After the success of The Walking Dead for example, the SyFy channel premiered Z Nation, and CW quickly followed with iZombie. The same is true for film and literature, and it’s always been this way.
Of course, the writers can use, abuse, and recontextualize zombies to create wonderful stories, make powerful statements, comment on our society, or push an agenda. But when the audience begins to dwindle, and the money dries up, the genre will quickly return to its rightful place on the fringes of popular culture.
Lauren: To throw the conversation back to some lighter topics, could you tell us some of your favorite zombie films and why they stand out to you?
Luke: I will always love Night of the Living Dead. Although it was released the same year as blockbusters like Planet of the Apes or 2001: A Space Odyssey, it felt raw and immediate; almost like a documentary. And it still does to this day!
Despite my previous comments, I also really enjoy zombie comedies! I think Shaun of the Dead is absolutely brilliant, and Zombieland is wonderful as well.
But mostly I stick to the classics; Dawn of the Dead, Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2, and the plethora of awful foreign films from the 1970s and 80s. Apparently, there’s just something about bad horror movies that I absolutely adore.
Perhaps it’s due to my love of Mystery Science Theater 3000, but I’ll take a badly dubbed copy of Zombie Lake over a slick Hollywood production like World War Z any day!
Lauren: What about zombie literature? Do you have any favorite books focused on the undead? Recently I’ve made the observation that it’s much harder to find a good zombie novel as opposed to a fantastic zombie film, why do you think that is?
Luke: Our Advisory Board have published a number of books including Theories of International Politics and Zombies, Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep, and Matt Mogk’s masterpiece Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Zombies!
I mostly read nonfiction; history, politics, and biographies. My zombie collection is much the same, and mainly consists of science, theory, or survival manuals.
So, I can’t really speak to the lack of great zombie novels. However, I suspect the publishing industry has fallen into the same trap as film and television itself; oversaturation.
Authors, looking to make a quick buck, probably cashed in on the popularity of zombies and eventually flooded the market with horrible books.
Of course, there’s also something inherently visual about a post-apocalyptic landscape, crumbling buildings, and walking corpses. So perhaps the genre itself is best suited for film. Then again, I was a film student…so I may be biased!
Lauren: Lastly, what can we expect to see from you and the rest of the Zombie Research Society in the future? Any major plans coming up for 2019?
Luke: The Zombie Research Society constantly receive interview requests; we enjoy appearing on all sorts of amazingly interesting podcasts, television programs, etc. And we will continue to do so throughout 2019 – so keep your eyes open!
But our recent appearance at the Zombie Apocalypse Medicine Meeting at Arizona State University reminded us that we also need to get back on the road and reconnect with students, academics, and most importantly our fans.
So, we plan to visit more schools, speak at more colleges, even attend more comic book and horror conventions in 2019. The logistics are a nightmare, but we love meeting our members, friends, and followers…live and in the flesh!
Speaking of members, we’ve received hundreds of requests to resurrect our official membership program as well. And we’ll be making an announcement regarding that sometime soon; so stay tuned for more details.
In the meantime, please visit us @ZombieResearch on Twitter and Facebook. Or stop by our official website online at http://www.ZombieResearchSociety.com – we always have amazing new articles on the history, culture, and science of the living dead; because what you don’t know can eat you!
Luke’s full contact information:
Luke W. Boyd
Editor in Chief
Zombie Research Society