Zombies have undoubtedly become one of the all-star players of Team Horror Villain because of the feeling of impending doom they inspire in audiences. But the walking dead have become integral characters for countless apocalyptic stories not only because of the whole “urge to masticate neuronal organs” thing, but also because of the way they reflect the mindless side of our own human behavior. To that end, the video essay below describes how zombies, and the dark psychic reflections they afford, emerged in the media after beginning as a component of Haitian folklore in the early 20th century.
The video essay is the latest from Nerdwriter1, the YouTuber responsible for describing unique angles of analysis for tons of movies, TV shows, music, art, and other pop culture topics—the breakdown of The Prestige is especially insightful for all you Nolan fans. This time around, the focus on zombies looks at how the creatures made the leap from Haitain folklore into the mainstream, and the journey, as expected, is pretty wild.
Two of the big highlights from the video are the first appearance of zombies in William Seabrook’s 1929 book, The Magic Island, and then the transformation of zombies into the vile, power-walking flesh munchers we’re familiar with today in George Romero’s 1968 film, Night of the Living Dead. There are obviously plenty of other zombie evolution events described in the video, but it seems like those are the two big standouts.
It seems that The Magic Island laid the groundwork for the modern zombie archetype, describing them as soulless human corpses taken from the dead and endowed with some semblance of life by a sorcerer, while Night of the Living Dead transformed those archetypal zombies into masterless creatures that endlessly march forward, chomp on fresh flesh, and turn the living into the undead by biting or clawing at them.
Nerdwriter1 notes Romero’s 1978 film, Dawn of the Dead, as his best, however, because he used zombies as a vehicle to critique consumerism. Which is obviously brilliant, but who else wants to see a horror movie with a horde of zombies under the control of a dark sorcerer? We’d pay good money for that!
What do you think of this essay on the origin of zombies? Let us know in the comments, living undead!