Brains! A Zombie History Lesson
I have always been a fan of zombies, but only recently has my interest “risen from the dead” so to speak, and I actually even look for the cheesiest movies out there to satisfy my cravings. Zombies have now become an obsession of sorts for me.
Zombies are rooted deep in history, back as far as the 1700s, but the zombie as we know it probably originated in the early twentieth century. Writers such as HP Lovecraft dabbled in tales of the undead, but the turning point in the American version of the zombie culture was the 1932 film, White Zombie. There is a story about how, during political unrest in Haiti (this was about 1915), a mob of citizens showed their anger towards the government, which had murdered over 150 political prisoners. They did this by catching a certain general, tearing his limbs from his body and then displayed across the city as a warning. This escalated things which led to USA’s intervention. The possibility exists that these events led to some sort of rumours, all starting from the news that was reaching the US. Sound very zombie?
During the 30’s up until the Great Depression the Voodoo zombie dominated despite HP Lovecraft’s stories of the undead. In the 40’s horror had started to reach its saturation point in film and the comedy zombie tried to rear its ugly head. This is probably due to the war and the fact that woman and children were the target market and zombies didn’t go down too well. During the 50’s the alien zombie and atomic zombie popped up but very few of these films were really worth watching unless you are a huge fan (like me).
Then George Andrew Romero came along and wrote and directed his first movie called Night of the Living Dead, which he independently produced as well in 1968. This movie started the new direction in zombie that took hold in the 70’s ending in Romero’s follow up Dawn of the Dead in 1978. He portrayed zombies as undead, rotting corpses and the idea stuck. While you would recognise the zombies in White Zombie, there is no mistaking the difference between the two. It is well known fact that Romero’s zombie movies were a social commentary on life at the time of their release as well from the chaotic 60’s to the consumerism in the 70’sand so on. Strangely enough io9.com did research a while back which resulted in an article: War and Social Upheaval Cause Spikes in Zombie Movie Production. Of course, as is true with any study done, especially one on the interwebs, results can always show what we want them to. A lot of the zombie films of the late 60’s and 70’s were very cool and worth looking into.
In the 80’s the Italians took over the zombie genre while Hollywood went all slasher-crazy. A conversation with a friend of mine recently though, led to an argument over the idea that Jason Vorhees of Friday the 13th fame was in actual fact, a super-zombie… thoughts? Not to say the 80’s never had it share of brilliant movies, but nothing revolutionary. This went on into the 90’s before zombies decided to shift to video games. In 1996, Capcom released a game in Japan called Biohazard, which became Resident Evil in Europe and the US and Sega also release a shooter called House of the Dead. At around about the same time, a movie called Scream gave horror in general, a shot in the arm and saw renewed interest in the classic horrors including zombie films. As in the 80’s hundreds of movies were made, many good, but more that were plain crap.
In the new millennium, Hollywood seemed to take interest in some big budget zombie-based movies ending up in a new set of Romero films, a series of Resident Evil films based on the 90’s video game, 28 Days Later (which spawned a sequel and comic book) and more like 2006’s Fido and 2009’s Zombieland . The new millennium seemed to like the viral zombie more than any other.
To really appreciate the world of zombies you have to watch the good (The Dead series, Fido, Zombieland) with the (not so bad) low budget masterpieces like Zombie Strippers & Zombies! Zombies! Zombies. They are awesome!!! No matter how cheap or how bad the acting is, I take satisfaction that never ever will Hollywood be able to take zombies and turn it into a romantic piece of crap (think Twilight *vomit*), so I take the bad acting and everything that sucks in it’s stride.
There is a recent gem I came across, the Japanese movie, Kyonyū doragon: Onsen zonbi vs storippaa, or if you prefer its English translation, Big Tits Zombie… I can’t joke about that, even translating the actual Japanese title gives you the title: Big Dragon Zombie Strippers. And let me tell you this one has it all, geisha zombies, schoolgirl zombies, samurai zombies and even a stripper who becomes a zombie with a fire breathing razor toothed snatch.
Zombies in printed media have stuck more or less to the idea of Romero’s undead zombie and the modern viral as opposed to the voodoo zombie. Max Brooks‘ awesome book, World War Z is a crowning achievement for the printed world of the zombie in my opinion, as it actually explores what happens to governments and the average person in a crisis such as the zombie apocalypse and as the full title suggests, is “an oral history of the zombie war”. This is followed closely by Stephen King’s The Cell and Max Brooks’ other novel, The Zombie Survival Guide. There are others, such as the mash up novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, but have a look at The Buyer’s Guide to Zombie Books for the good ones.
The most notable printed form of zombie right now, has to be The Walking Dead monthly comic book series, published by Image Comics. It has resulted in a TV series produced by AMC and has secured the rights for a second season with 13 episodes. Reception for the TV series has been pretty good, but as of episode five, aired a few days before this post, has started deviating from the comic book series, which could be a good or bad thing. Time will tell how successful the series turns out to be, but I hope it isn’t screwed up by the writers and producers, because I have recently started reading the comic and it rocks.
While doing some research for this post, I also discovered that World War Z is being made into a movie, starring Brad Pitt.
- A history of zombies in America [Video] (io9.com)
- Brad Pitt to Star in WORLD WAR Z? Adaptations of ZOMBIE SURVIVAL GUIDES in the Works? (collider.com)
- Extra Punctuation: Why We Love Zombies (escapistmagazine.com)
- What’s the Best Zombie Movie? (media.gunaxin.com)
- “Walking Dead reborn” and related posts (thehullabaloo.com)
- When The Zombie Apocalypse Comes, Brad Pitt Will Be At Your Side!! (aintitcool.com)
- ‘Zombie Survival Guide’ Author On ‘World War Z’ Movie, ‘The Walking Dead,’ And… Rom: Spaceknight! (splashpage.mtv.com)
- Zombies: A Terrified Appreciation [SNFF] (gawker.com)