History Of Zombies

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Zombies, the ultimate monster in my view, but just where did they come from (other than out of the ground), what is their history and what does the future hold for these almost unstoppable hordes of undead.

It seems that a ‘zombi’, from the Haitian word for the spirit of the dead is the most likely origin of our modern day zombies. Voodoo priests, or ‘Bokors’ give the subject a black powder, made from ground plants and animals that contain the neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin which can cause paralysis and death. The theory is that the toxin is applied either onto the skin or is ingested where upon a death like state will occur.

The victim is then buried by the grieving family and later the Bokor would remove the person from the grave and while physically they would actually still be alive their minds would be erased, turning them into mindless drones. An important distinction between Haitian zombies and the more modern flesh eaters is that the people are not afraid of zombies, only afraid of becoming zombies.

Zombies found their way onto the silver screen as early as 1932 with White Zombie, which is generally considered the first ‘true’ zombie film. This class of film is still going strong with World War Z, starring Brad Pitt due for release in 2012. I will go into more detail about zombie films in another article as the subject is too great to be covered in a small paragraph.

Zombies in TV don’t seem to have the same prominence of the big screen and I find this a little surprising, as zombie films tend to be low budget making them ideal candidates for TV with their more modest funds. However in recent times zombies have made more of an appearance on our screens with special Halloween issues of The Simpsons and South Park. Dead Set, a made for television short film featuring Davina MaCall as one of the best zombies I have ever seen based around the Big Brother TV set. The Walking Dead has made the leap from comics to TV series, and while only staying vaguely on topic with regards to the actual plot remains a well received series with series 2 just released for US viewers.

The most famous zombie appearance in music is surely in Michael Jackson’s 1983 Thriller video featuring a dance line of our rotting friends which is still one of the most copied dance routines. Other famous names with zombies include Billy Idol - Dancing with Myself, The Gorillaz – Clint Eastwood, showing cartoon undead gorillas doing the Thriller dance as well as a whole host of other musicians, mostly from the rock genre.

Zombie books can be traced back to as early as 1921 H. P. Lovecraft’s Herbert West: Re-animator, all about a doctor who brings the dead back to life through use of a serum, clearly inspired by Haitian voodoo. More modern day takes on the zombie can be seen in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. The popular World War Z book is now being made into a major big screen movie.

Zombie comics, while seeming to have got off to a slow start with 1991 Deadwalkers but have made up for it with an (undead) army of comics that followed, new releases appearing at their peak every month inspired from a variety of sources such as zombie films, Night of the Living Dead, or from video games, such as Resident Evil.
Zombies have long featured in video games, as far back as 1984 we have been slaying the undead hordes in The Evil Dead, a game of the film with the same name on the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum with 2008 onwards being especially good for the video game zombie industry. Zombies finally seem poised to make the leap into a full massive multiplayer online (MMO) game from Undead Labs where there is a persistent world that you can join up with others to make a lasting community of survivors.

So what of the future. Of course zombies will continue to be popular, indeed in times of trouble there is a surge in popularity in our green and rotting cousins. There will continue to be new and devious ways in which they can rise again and maybe, just maybe, it could happen for real. But that’s a topic for another day (of the dead)

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Article written by Theresa Harrison

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