You know, it started a while back for me. I’ve loved horror of all kinds, vampires were HUGE in the 80’s and of course everyone remembers them but zombies were too. Most of the movies back then were cheesy, yes but it was the good kind of cheesy. The kind that those that grew with that, can look back on with fond memories. Now, my daughter on the other hand laughs at all things 80’s pretty much but she IS into zombies. And it may be because of her that I got into zombies.
But how did this zombie phenomenon start?
The actual definition of zombie is pretty simple:
zom·bie [zom-bee] noun
- 1. a. the body of a dead person given the semblance of life, but mute and will-less, by a supernatural force, usually for some evil purpose.
- b. the supernatural force itself.
The first known writing of undead is in the Sumerian writing, Epic of Gilgamesh.
- I will knock down the Gates of the Netherworld,
- I will smash the door posts, and leave the doors flat down,
- and will let the dead go up to eat the living!
- And the dead will outnumber the living!
Some of these writings were as early as 2150 BC!! That’s a long time for those zombies to roam around looking for flesh! But what exactly happened from 2150 BC until George R. Romero decided to write his epic Night of the Living Dead?
A draugr is an undead creature from Norse mythology, a subset of Germanic mythology. The original Norse meaning of the word is ghost, and older literature makes clear distinctions between sea-draug and land-draug. Draugar were believed to live in the graves of the dead, with a draugr being the animated body of the dead. As the graves of important men often contained a good amount of wealth, the draugr jealously guards his treasures, even after death.
The main difference between the Draugr and the zombies of today is that, although the Draugr lived in graves and seemed to be an animation of the dead, they didn’t crave flesh. Although if you were killed by a Draugr, you would also become one!! They craved killing people, sure, but lots of supernatural beings do, so I wouldn’t necessarily describe these particular beings as the zombies we’ve come to know and love/hate. But after years of hearing of the Draugr I’m sure we would all have nightmares of them eating us! Quite a few of the movies that were put out recently actually do have similarities with the Draugr so maybe it’s not a stretch to think that maybe the Draugr were the fathers of our current zombie beliefs.
And check this out! An actual law:
Haitian Penal Code:
Article 249. It shall also be qualified as attempted murder the employment which may be made against any person of substances which, without causing actual death, produce a lethargic coma more or less prolonged. If, after the person had been buried, the act shall be considered murder no matter what result follows.
Now if you think about it, the above does not describe the zombies as we think of them today. Yes, it does describe the definition of a zombie, sort of. But this person is actually never dead. So although the practice of making someone your slave can be done, it just doesn’t have the results that we see in the movies. Unless we’re talking Serpent and the Rainbow.
- So for actual zombies the lore just kind of stops there. The timeline jumps from 2150 BC to the 1800’s when Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein. Now I know this isn’t an actual zombie novel but I think like the Draugr she could have started the ball rolling. Then we have H.P. Lovecraft, who wrote Herbert West-Reanimater in 1921. This is the first place we see zombies as reanimated corpses with an uncontrollable temperament. They also were not called zombies nor were they eating flesh.
- Then we have the fabulous H.G. Wells. Here he introduces the idea that a virus can spread across the world and the only way to kill the people that have it? By shooting them. His virus however, infecting people simply by contact and made them listless, not ravaging flesh eaters.
- 1929 – The word zombie introduced to US by with The Magic Island by W.B. Seabrook
- 1932 – White Zombie, yet another film depicting zombies as mindless ghouls. Claimed to be the first ever zombie movie.
- Then in the 1950’s we had EC Comics who brought the more intense zombie. They also reintroduced Lovecraft’s zombies.
- 1954 – Richard Matheson’s tale about a lone man surviving vampires and Romero was greatly influenced by this story,
- 1968 – Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Also inspired a six film series.
- Dawn of the Dead’s release was 1978.
- 1981 – Hell of the Living Dead introduced a gas that was a contagion which also influenced The Return of the Living Dead. However those particular zombies only wanted brains, not just flesh.
- The 1980’s brought us a lot of silly, 80’s zombie movies. It wasn’t until Resident Evil, Dawn of the Dead remake and 28 Weeks Later, that zombies finally started looking really scary again. These 2000’s zombie movies also brought the zombies which were fast moving and could be more intelligent than their predecessors.
In his films, Romero “bred the zombie with the vampire, and what he got was the hybrid vigour of a ghoulish plague monster”.This entailed an apocalyptic vision of monsters that have come to be known as Romero zombies.
All in all if you notice the trend here, there is a person nearly every century that changes the way we feel and think about zombies. Romero took from many sources to make his Romero zombies and then people took from him to make them meaner, stronger, faster but still scary as hell zombies. Which was is it supposed to be? I’m not sure but I do know one thing. I freaking can not get enough!!!
- My favorite zombie movies: Dawn of the Dead the remake & 28 Days Later
- Favorite books: Apocalypse Z & Patient Zero
What are your favorites?
And for those of you who also can not get enough…
ZOMBIE giveaway – Apocalypse Z by Manel Loureiro (paperback OR kindle version) AND a 2013 Walking Dead Calendar!