By Elaine Lies
TOKYO (Reuters) - Zombies, the ugly cousin of more popular creatures such as werewolves and vampires, are experiencing a boost of fame that will finally get them some attention, according to Otto Penzler.
The editor of a recent anthology devoted solely to zombies believes they have been overlooked for too long.
"Vampires that we've seen from 'Dracula' to Anne Rice's Lestat, to the Stephenie Meyers characters -- they're well-dressed. They're articulate. They're educated. They have good manners. They just happen to have this little quirk of biting people in the neck and drinking their blood," Penzler said in a telephone interview.
"Zombies are really ugly; they don't look good in evening clothes. They're a different thing altogether. They're more extreme."
His anthology, "Zombies! Zombies! Zombies!" looks at zombie stories from as early as those by Edgar Allan Poe and Sheridan Le Fanu to tales published within the last two decades, including one by Stephen King.
But as Penzler read through hundreds of stories, he realized there had been a fundamental shift in how the creatures were perceived with 1968 and George Romero's iconic "Night of the Living Dead" as the turning point.
"I had to expand the common usage these days, which now means bloodthirsty risen from the dead, want to eat brains and human flesh," said the writer who has also worked on a collection of vampire tales.
"But that's not always what zombies were, they were simply dead people -- dead people brought back to life. So many of the stories in the book are about that kind of zombie, not just the gory, brain-eating terrorists."
He said the trend, especially in recent years, was for stories to become more bloody, more gory and more disgusting, but he tried to include a range of styles from the more subtle and meditative early tales to the modern ones full of fear and violence.
Pulp magazines of the mid-20th century were a key source for the tales, including often obscure publications.
"A lot of them are really scary, but without too much of watching the crunching of the skull, and the sucking out of the eyeballs and the brains," he said.
The number of zombie stories is limited because they are far less versatile than ghosts or vampires, and Penzler said that while the zombie boom is likely to continue for a while, it will eventually run its course.
What will be next? Perhaps werewolves or there will be a revival of interest in aliens.
"All kinds of threatening entities have an appeal. People like to be frightened," he said. "It's a more extreme society (these days) -- and I don't think you get much more extreme than the nihilistic view of what zombies are."
(Reporting by Elaine Lies; editing by Patricia Reaney)