Hundreds dashed through the rain, their clothes torn, blood smeared.
The zombies huddled under the shelter at Happy Hollow Park waiting out the storm.
Of course, the real undead wouldn’t care about a few rain drops.
These zombies, though, didn’t want their makeup to run before they got to walk, er, limp, in the Iowa City Zombie March, held Sept. 28.
Zombies have been invading Iowa City each fall since 2006. With the spookiest night of the year just a few weeks away, it’s perhaps no surprise that other events featuring these malaised monsters — everything from runs to proms — are increasingly common.
In the last few years, zombies have enjoyed a resurrection, so to speak, everywhere in popular culture.
Case in point is the success of AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” which premieres its fourth season tonight. The show is wildly popular, and the graphic novel that inspired it has had a cult following since it was first issued in 2003.
For further proof, merely look at the shelves in libraries, and book and movie stores. There’s plenty of, um, appetite for stories featuring zombies. Jane Austen’s classic “Pride and Prejudice” was rewritten to include the walking dead. Brad Pitt’s “World War Z” was one the summer’s biggest blockbusters.
The fascination isn’t obvious. Zombies don’t follow the formula for a typical trend.
Zombies don’t speak, so they don’t have witty comebacks. They don’t sparkle in the sunlight and woo teenage girls. They tend to limp. Don’t expect a breakneck chase scene.
Instead, “zombies are the everyman monster,” says Shawn Beatty, who organized the Iowa City Zombie March. “We’ve all felt, looked and smelled like a zombie at some time in our lives.”
Katie Johnson of Cedar Rapids says zombies represent the unanswered.
“Everyone can morph into a zombie so easily,” Johnson says. “It’s scary.”
Johnson, isn’t a fan of zombies. As the chairwoman of Metro North Rotary’s fundraising committee, though, she’s helping organize a zombie prom — Nightmare on Third Street on Saturday. The event put on by Metro North Rotary is a fundraiser for Metro High School.
“We kind of jumped on the zombie train,” Johnson says. “It’s going to be a good time.”
A good time always has been the emphasis of another popular zombie event — Run for Your Lives. Since its inception in 2011, more than 200,000 people have participated in the zombie-infested 5K obstacle course in 35 locations across the country.
The zombie infection has yet to invade Iowa, but there is a Night of the Running Dead race in Davenport on Saturday.
Run for Your Lives races are being finalized for the 2014 season and suggestions for locations in Iowa are welcome, says Lauren Gambler of Run for Your Lives.
“The incorporation of zombies and obstacles throughout the course gives participants a thrill,” Gambler says. “We encourage them to bring their closest allies to ensure survival of the apocalypse, but in the end, they may need to sacrifice a friend.”
That’s the thing about zombies says Ed Wenck, co-author of “Know Your Zombies: Test Your Brains Before They Are Eaten.”
“There’s always more of them,” he says. “There’s always another one behind the one that’s coming toward you.”
This warning also speaks to society’s fascination with zombies.
“Monsters are a metaphor,” says Kyle Bishop, an English professor at Southern Utah University and author of “American Zombie Gothic: The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of the Walking Dead in Popular Culture.” “What they can do is give life to the difficulties that we face.”
George Romero’s 1968 classic, “Night of the Living Dead,” was more than an introduction to zombies, Bishop says. The movie was a critique of the Vietnam War. Likewise, zombie movies released before and since were created to give credence to people’s fears of communism, consumerism and the breakdown of gender roles in American families.
“Few horror movies came out in the 1990s,” Bishop says. “Everyone was happy. Everyone was living large.”
Then 9/11 happened and America’s illusion of safety shattered.
Barna Donovan, a professor of communication and media studies at Saint Peter’s University, in Jersey City, N.J., works across the Hudson River from New York City.
Yet it’s not the threat of attacks that keeps him up at night. Instead, it’s Mother Nature; specifically hurricanes.
“I’m worried about another Hurricane Sandy,” he says. “I went through that last year.”
Zombies are similar to natural disasters, he says. There’s no rhyme or reason to their methods. They don’t plan, they just do. They are a completely mindless killing force.
“A zombie doesn’t want to establish a new world order,” Donovan says. “It doesn’t have a political agenda. You can’t bargain with it. It just wants to kill.”
In some ways, he adds, pop culture’s obsession with zombies reinforces society’s fragility.
“We live in a world that has so many conveniences, so much we have access to at the tip of our fingers, and it can just collapse,” Donovan says.
Consider the plot of “The Walking Dead.”
The modern world stopped existing months, maybe even years, ago. There are no ways to communicate other than face-to-face.
That plot element, says Joshua Joseph Baron, philosophy professor at McDaniel College in Westminster, Md., can be interpreted as social commentary on society’s reliance on technology and its affect on our relationships.
Another example is a photo circulating online recently depicting a line of people walking on the sidewalk, heads down as they stare at their SmartPhones. A caption asks: “What’s the point of being afraid of the zombie apocalypse when you’re already a zombie?”
In the show, grocery stores, farms and homes have been ransacked. When individuals aren’t fighting zombies, they’re fighting each other.
The show is a study in morality, as well as horror. But, Baron says, most people will agree there’s no need for an ethics discussion when it comes to killing zombies.
“Everyone agrees that killing zombies is good,” Baron says. “There’s no moral debate.”