Zombie Movies: Archetypical Horror Films
As mentioned in the Zombie Movie List and Top 10 Zombie Movies hubs, zombie movies have enjoyed a renaissance since 2002. However, the genre has existed for nearly a hundred years. The first ever zombie film is believed to be the 1920 silent horror film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, directed by Robert Wiene, written by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer and starring Werner Krauss. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is said to be the first film to pioneer the horror genre and to introduce the twist ending. However, it is a far cry from the zombie apocalypse movies that have gone on to shape the genre since 1968’s Night of the Living Dead. However, zombie movie fans will be pleased to know that the first ever horror film could arguably be called a zombie movie.
The most common type of zombie movie is based on a zombie apocalypse. Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend (1954) is said to be the first to portray this type of scenario, although the creatures in the book have as much resemblance to vampires as they do to zombies. However, the apocalypse scenario has become far more synonymous with zombies than vampires. The I Am Legend novel has been made into a number of films featuring prominent leading men of the time, namely The Last Man on Earth (1964), with Vincent Price, and The Omega Man (1971), featuring Charlton Heston. The 2007 version, I Am Legend stared Will Smith and was featured at number three on the Top 10 Zombie Movies hub. Importantly, I Am Legend inspired 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, which was to become the seminal zombie film.
Night of the Living Dead
Night of the Living Dead was directed by George A. Romero who also co-wrote it along with John A. Russo. Russo and Romero went on to craft the zombie movie genre. Romero, the Godfather of zombie movies made the famous ‘Dead’ films, featuring:
- Night of the Living Dead (1968)
- Dawn of the Dead (1978)
- Day of the Dead (1985)
- Land of the Dead (2005)
- Diary of the Dead (2007)
- Survival of the Dead (2010)
Meanwhile, John Russo started a different continuity following Night of the Living Dead. Russo wrote the 1977 Return of the Living Dead, which went on to spawn five movies starting with The Return of the Living Dead (1985). The ‘Living Dead’ series of films are more comedic than the ‘Dead’ series.
What makes a Zombie Film?
Zombie films can vary greatly. However, a standard zombie apocalypse film usually has a variety of key elements. These include:
- A zombie outbreak occurs. However, despite what people see, they often deny that it is happening. This is particularly true when they see one of their family members is infected. This causes the outbreak to grow into a pandemic.
- Authorities usually deny the outbreak until it is too late, then they do something very drastic, increasing the damage of the outbreak.
- A small group of survivors, often with stereotypical and contrasting movie character archetypes band together to try and survive the outbreak. Well developed characters are killed off throughout the movie, often with another member of the group having to put them down. It is common for a bitten survivor to hide the bite from the rest of the group.
- Zombies, lots of zombies. These can be reanimated undead, or infected humans but have lost their humanity. Depending on which type of zombie it is depends on what qualities they will have. The infected are usually faster and stronger than the undead, which meander slowly. Either way, almost all zombies crave human flesh to eat. If the zombies are infected humans, then the cause is often accidental biological warfare release or science experimentation gone wrong.
Over the last forty years, zombie movies have become known as the most gruesome of all horror movies. As much attention to detail as possible is shown to make zombies look like the reanimated corpses they are as well as showing the necessary horrific violence needed to kill one. Zombie films, as with many in the horror genre, embrace their b-movie heritage and do not take gaping plot holes or a lack of character development too seriously.
What is a Zombie?
Zombies have their roots from cultures from all across the globe. For example, zombies can be traced back to West African Vodun, Haitian Vodou as well as in South Africa and even Tibetan folklore. Generally a zombie is a reanimated corpse, seemingly without its former intelligence or even awareness. In the ancient stories these undead have often been brought back to life by some form of witchcraft.
The term zombie comes from the Haitian Creole word ‘zonbi’ and the North Mbundu word ‘nzumbe’. It began entering popular culture as early 1929 novel The Magic Island by William Seabrook. 1932’s film White Zombie, directed by Victor Halperin, had the term with current spelling in the title.
Zombie traits usually vary from movie to movie, but quite often contain the following elements:
- No intelligence or self awareness
- Crave human flesh or brains to eat
- Recent adaptations have those who get bitten by zombies and live become zombies themselves.
- Will survive any punishment except piercing of the brain
- Tend not to acknowledge each other
Want to Learn more about Zombies?
The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead
The Zombie Survival guide is an integral piece of literature for anyone who wants to survive a zombie horde or just wants to learn more about zombies. While it is written as a survive guide, a large proportion of the book is aimed at explaining what a zombie is. Understanding zombies is an important aspect to enable people to survival.
The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead is a fun and surprisingly insightful read for anyone interested in zombie media or who ever has the odd fantasy about apocalyptic scenarios.
The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead is written by Max Brooks and illustrated by Max Werner. It is available as an ebook, softcover or as an audio book on cd.
The Best Zombie Films
There have been hundred of zombie films over the last ninety years. For zombie movie junkies, who rejoice in a lack of story and budget, there is probably too many to ever see. However, there are a number of zombie movies that stand above the rest. Here are the zombie movies that both fans and casual viewers should see:
Braindead also known as Dead Alive 1992)
Director Peter Jackson has come a long way since he created, Braindead/Dead Alive, one of the goriest movies of all time back in New Zealand in 1992. Before the days of computer animation, Jackson constructed this horror comedy using garden shed technology, ingenuity and perseverance.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
As mentioned earlier, Night of the Living Dead is the seminal zombie movie. However, the genre has evolved considerably since then. The undead were not even referred to as zombies in Night of the Living Dead. This description would come in future movies. George A. Romero directed as well as co-wrote it with John A. Russo.
Dawn of the Dead (2004)
The Zach Snyder directed remake of the 1978 George A. Romero's 1978 movie of the same name. Dawn of the Dead is heavy in action and gore, as well as all parts integral to a classic zombie movie. It stars Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber and Mekhi Phifer. Dawn of the Dead was number five on the on the Top 10 Zombie Movies hub.
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Edgar Wright directs his familiar team Simon Pegg, who Wright also co-wrote with, and Nick Frost in this 2004 zombie comedy. It contains all the necessary ingredients of a zombie apocalypse film and is more of a tribute to the genre than a parody. It was number two on Top 10 Zombie Movies hub as the second best zombie movie of the last ten years.
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