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Seven Questions for “Zombies” Professor Jeffrey Mantz

By Jason Jacks on May 10, 2011

Jeff Mantz

Pop quizzes are not the only things to fear in anthropology professor Jeffrey Mantz’s new course Zombies. Launched last fall, the course is a literary and cinematic look at the living dead’s place in modern society.

So, why a class about zombies?

I made the mistake of mentioning my interest in zombies to a class full of anthropology majors. Once they sunk their teeth into that (so to speak), they would just not let it go.

How did you become an expert on the walking dead?

The term “zombie” has its origin in areas of the world within which I specialize as an anthropologist: the Caribbean and the Congo. I also have thematic interests in occult beliefs and religious and spiritual practices, and I have been an avid fan of the literary and film genre since I was a child.

What are your can’t-miss zombie movies?

Max Brooks’s World War Z is really a masterpiece. Others are George Romero’s Dead films, the Italian zombie film Zombi 2, and zombie-comedies Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, and Return of the Living Dead. Excellent recent films are Dead Snow, Deadgirl, and Planet Terror.

Why are there so many films about zombies?

I like to tell students this relates to cultural transformations of the post-September 11, 2001, era. But in fact, the explosion of the genre is probably a function of the expansion of independent filmmaking and the relatively cheap cost of producing a zombie film.

How would you rate the success of the course’s first semester?

Decent. I mostly was trying to work out some of the kinks in the course. I have a good idea now about how I intend to build a better zombie.

Should squeamish students avoid the course?

I actually include a waiver/disclaimer on my syllabus concerning adult content. But, then again, I do that in all my courses.

Anyone scream in class?

Only when I handed out the exams.

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