It amazes me just how much staying power zombies have in our pop culture. We’ve been making horror films and television shows featuring zombies for decades now, and it doesn’t look like zombies are going to go away any time soon.
Now, what’s interesting is that what a zombie actually is has changed over time. Originally, zombies in films followed the logic of the zombies from Haitian lore. For those that are unfamiliar, these zombies were basically just undead servants. I’m actually kind of surprised that this interpretation of zombies isn’t more popular today. There are plenty of businesses and wealthy people in the world that would love to have employees that they don’t have to pay or feed.
There were quite a few films with this type of zombie: 1932’s White Zombie, 1941’s King of the Zombies, and even science fiction films like 1959’s Plan 9 From Outer Space all featured this type of zombie. The plot of these films was always similar: a villain was raising an army of zombies to do their bidding.
Then in 1968, the concept of what a zombie was changed forever with the release of the film Night of the Living Dead. In this film, the dead start rising with no explanation. The main characters of the film have to run and hide in order to survive. This is the first movie where zombies eat people; in every prior film, zombies were merely mindless minions. I won’t spoil the ending for those of you that haven’t seen the film. The film is in the public domain, so you should be able to find it pretty easily if you’re interested.
On a side note, the movie never refers to these creatures as zombies. George Romero himself referred to them as ghouls, which makes a bit more sense. The term “ghoul” had long been used for someone that consumes human flesh, just like the creatures in Night of the Living Dead. However, pretty much everyone considers this film to be the prototypical zombie movie, so we’re kind of stuck with referring to them as such.
After the success of the film, the two men behind the film had a falling out and went their separate ways. However, due to the original film having never been copyrighted, both filmmakers were able to make their own sequels to the original movie. George Romero’s contributions to the series were 1978’s Dawn of the Dead, 1985’s Day of the Dead, 2005’s Land of the Dead, 2007’s Diary of the Dead, and 2009’s Survival of the Dead. Meanwhile, John A. Russo continued the series with the more comedic The Return of the Living Dead in 1985, followed by 1988’s Return of the Living Dead Part II, 1993’s Return of the Living Dead 3, and 2005’s Return of the Living Dead: Necropolis and Return of the Living Dead: Rave to the Grave.
The George Romero sequels were the beginning of the trend of using zombies as a political statement. It’s actually a pretty powerful statement, but an extremely demeaning one as well. The idea is that whatever movement or ideology is being represented is made up of nothing but a horde of mindless, murderous savages that will either devour you or turn you into one of them. This argument has been used to condemn consumerism, communism, both liberalism and conservatism, and so on.
The John A. Russo sequels were less focused on horror, and more focused on comedy. There was still plenty of blood and gore in these films, for those of you that like that sort of thing. These films were also made in the era when a lot of horror films also had a lot of nudity and sexual references as well. I guess there was a lot of crossover between hardcore horror fans and people that desperately wanted to see someone naked.
I’m not going to go into any specific zombie movie in any great detail because, honestly, they all kind of have the same plot. The zombies show up, kill a lot of people, and then the main characters either die or escape. There’s not a whole lot of variety in these films.
I should probably talk about the popular show The Walking Dead here. I’m not going to because I’ve never actually watched the show. I may try to catch up on it at some point, but if you haven’t guessed at this point, I’m not really a fan of zombie films and television shows.
I will admit to being a complete hypocrite, however, as I have played tons of video games that feature zombies as the main enemy. Games like Resident Evil, Dead Rising, and Dead Island are way more fun than you would think considering that you’re killing a bunch of slow-moving zombies (yes, I know that zombies are not the only enemies in these games). They also have about as much plot as your typical zombie movie, but not many people play a zombie game for the plot.
That’s about all there is to say about zombies. Tomorrow, we’ll discuss the last type of beings from beyond the grave (that I can think of) to regularly have their own stories: ghosts!