Love them or hate them, Zombies have been a staple in the horror genre and pop culture for decades. But where did our fascination with the living dead come from?
Many religions depict the dead returning to life: from polytheistic religions in ancient Greece and Egypt, to today’s Voodoo (or vodun) and the Old and New Testaments all depict a tale of resurrection or afterlife in which the dead are reanimated.
Stories of zombies have been found in literature as far back as 1697, although they are almost unrecognizable to our modern depiction of cannibalistic nightmares.
In film, many people first think of George Romero’s 1968 Night of the Living Dead. While this American horror classic did establish the modern pattern of what we think of with Zombies — reanimated corpses shuffling clumsily after the living to devour them — a number of zombie films were produced in the 1930s and 40s. Victor Halperin’s White Zombie — starring the famed Dracula actor Bela Lugosi — is often cited as the first, released in 1932. And yes, this is where the heavy metal band White Zombie got their name.
Zombies shifted in the 1990s and 2000s from slow Romero’s shuffling decaying corpses to the fast-moving, voracious creatures from our nightmares. Or mine anyway as this is where I fell off the zombie-loving bandwagon thanks to the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake. While I enjoyed the movie, I was pregnant at the time and the horrifying birth scene and resulting zombie baby was too much for me at the time. The fascination never truly left me, but I’ve been unable to watch fast zombies until recently.
Zombies have stayed in the forefront of entertainment with video games such as Resident Evil (which spawned a series of action movies starring Milla Jovovich) and books such as World War Z (later made into a movie starring Brad Pitt in 2013). In television, The Walking Dead (2010) dominated with 11 seasons and counting and unique spins like iZombie developed by Veronica Mars’ Rob Thomas both inspired by comics of the same name.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) even got on board and created a “Zombie Preparedness” website in 2011. Does the CDC really think zombies are a realistic concern? Not in the least. But it is a fun tool for preparing for various disasters, using zombies as a stand-in for various scenarios of doom. I used this tool in classwork for graduate school and to this day for writing fiction.
So why? Are zombies a reflection of modern consumerism? Or a metaphor for the mindlessness of modern western culture?
Digging further, there has been the supposition that zombies stem from our obsession with large-scale deaths following the WWII bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Researcher Angela Becerra Vidergar points out that we see spikes in interest in post-apocalyptic fiction–including zombies–clustered around similar crisis points such as 9/11. She proposes that it’s a way for us to “process the increased sense that human extinction could become a reality.”
This makes it no surprise our — ahem — appetite for zombies continues to be popular in a world held siege by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Regardless of the reason, no one can deny that like vampires, zombies have taken on a life of their own in modern pop culture.
Are you a fan of zombies or are they part of your nightmares?
I’ve included links to my favorite zombie movies and books along with my TBR below. Share your favorites! I’m always looking for more to add to my list.
Don’t forget to grab my short story Leak now available FREE at all retailers!
Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
Thicker than Blood series by Madeline Sheehan and Claire C. Riley (book 3 was just released!)
Flesh series by Kylie Scott
The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey
Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion
Zombie Preparedness by the CDC https://www.cdc.gov/cpr/zombie/
The Undead Eighteenth Century by Linda V. Troost (2011) at http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/M6PK6G
Stanford scholar explains why zombie fascination is very much alive by Kelsey Geiser, Stanford Report, February 20, 2013. https://news.stanford.edu/news/2013/february/why-zombie-fascination-022013.html
For a more in-depth analysis, you can read Angela Becerra Vidergar’s Dissertation “Fictions of Destruction: Post-1945 Narrative and Disaster in the Collective Imaginary” at https://stacks.stanford.edu/file/druid:ct352yp0031/Fictions-of-Destruction_becerravidergar_FINAL-augmented.pdf
*This website contains Amazon Affiliate links. These affiliate links allow me to gain a small commission when you click and buy products on those sites (it doesn’t cost you anything extra!).