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Halloween Horror Celebration--Part 6...Zombies

Updated on August 10, 2010



Continuing my series of fictional monster related hubs, this entry concerns the history of those flesh eating fan favorites, the Zombies!


The idea of the Zombie originated in Afro-Caribbean cultures, associated with the practice of Voodoo. The original conception of the Zombie was that of a human turned into a mindless labourer for the Voodoo master, called a Bokor.

There's been much debate about whether or not there is any reality to the ability of a Voodoo practitioner to actually control another human being. Some experts such as Wade Davis who wrote "the Serpent and the Rainbow", believe that Bokor's can really control someone by numbing their mind into a compliant state using a special potion created with the poison of a puffer-fish, making the victim subject to the Bokor's commands.

However others, such as neurologist Terrance Hines, refute the possibility that a human brain could survive in such a state for an extended period of time. Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing believes that the story of zombies began when people with a type of dis-associative schizophrenia were manipulated into slave labor by Haitian land owners.

The word Zombie comes from the word 'Jumbie" which is West Indian for 'Ghost'. and another word of Congo origin, "nzambie" which is an Earthbound spirit. There's also the Kimbundu word 'nzumbe' meaning Ghost. The Haitian/Creole world 'Zonie' (Which is of Bantu origin) refers to a person who has returned from the dead but with no will of his own.

There has been a change in the traditional interpretation of the Zombie in the last few decades. While the original conception of the classic Zombie was as a normal human who's mind had been enslaved by a Voodoo master, the modern interpretation of the zombie is as a reanimated corpse that wanders mindlessly, killing and eating the flesh of any unlucky living person who crosses its path. They have no master, unlike the early zombies. Modern zombies subsist on human flesh and can infect another person with zombism by biting them.

Movies about Zombies:

The first movie to utilize a zombie as the threat was the silent German expressionist classic "The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari" (1919) about an evil hypnotist who travels with the mind-controlled Cesar in a cabinet, and often unleashes his zombie slave to do his nefarious bidding. Cesar was portrayed by Conrad Veidt.

The first major sound film about Zombies and Voodo was "White Zombie" (1932) starring horror film legend Bela Lugosi as a Voodoo master who menaces a pair of American newlyweds in Haiti.

In 1964 came the campy and not-too-well remembered "Zombies", which is justifiably forgotten. This was followed closely by a low budget film with one of the longest and silliest titles ever, "The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies".(1964) Soon after was another forgettable effort, "Plague of the Zombies" (1966). This was followed by the so-bad-its-funny "Astro Zombies" (1968). But in that same year, another film would come out that would change the way Zombies are seen on film and make them more marketable than they had ever been.

When George A. Romero made his low budget zombie flick "Night of the Living Dead" (1968) little did anyone know that he was about to turn zombies into one of the most popular and marketable movie monsters ever. The re-imagining of Zombies as an endless hoard of reanimated corpses running rampant and eating the flesh of their victims made this film into a huge success and changed the horror movie genre. This eeirie classic was the touchstone of the modern zombie film. Once considered excessively gross and gorey, it seems almost tame by the standards of subsequent zombie films.

Naturally, the success of "Night of the living Dead" led to a pair of sequels. "Dawn of the Dead" (1978) an apocalyptic thriller about the zombie population overwhelming the human race, and "Day of the Dead" (1985) the talkiest of the three films, which was about the last members of the human race hiding from the zombies in a bunker. Romero's trilogy is the ultimate zombie saga, and the standard against which all subsequent zombie films are judged.

Two spoofs of the Romero trilogy were released on the heels of 'Day of the Dead'. "Return of the Living Dead" (1985) and "Return of the Living Dead 2" (1988).

In 1990, Tom Savini filmed a scene-by-scene remake of "Night of the Living Dead", which is inferior to the original, despite the bigger budget.

One of the best and scariest Zombie films of recent years was director Danny Boyle's "28 Days Later" (2002) a frightening British production about an experiment that leads to a plague of Zombies. Cillian Murphy starred in this eerie epic. A sequel "28 Weeks Later" was released several years after.

Comedian Simon Pegg made a very funny zombie parody entitled "Shaun of the Dead" (2004). Filmed in England, this was a nice tribute to Romero's original zombie masterpiece.

In 2007 came the excellent Will Smith post-apocalypse zombie film "I Am Legend" based on a Richard Matheson's novel which had been filmed twice before ("The Last Man of Earth" in 1964 starring Vincent Price and "Omega Man" in 1971 starring Charleton Heston.)

The recently released "Pandorum" (2009) features a spaceship full of mutated zombies. Another new Zombie film is the funny horror parody "Zombieland" (2009) which combines the road trip genre with the Zombie Apocalypse genre to create a unique but entertaining hybrid.

Thats all for now. More monster musings in my next hub.


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