Yes, it’s that time for Zombies! Zombies have sort of transcended the aspect of horror, becoming a greater part of our pop culture thanks in part to older films like Dawn of the Dead, and even into such movies and games as Resident Evil and right on into romantic comedy with Shawn of the Dead. When an enemy becomes boring in a video game, just sprinkle with zombies and it’s brand new. After all, who doesn’t like shooting Nazi Zombies during a World War II zombie outbreak.
Zombies have infected (or more to the point, invaded) even books, with such tales as World War Z and the Zombie Chronicles by James Melzer. But where does this fear (or rather love) of the undead come from?
The first uses of the term zombie come from Haitian Creole, which describes the reanimating of a corpse for the purpose of completing menial tasks. This can also include a hypnotized person, bereft of conscious and only capable of basic motor skills and verbal abilities. No where was it mentioned that zombies would hunt the living to feast on their brains. For that, it lay almost completely in the area of fiction.
Zombies are common in Haitian lore, South African lore and in much of western African, especially in Niger. According to the tenants of Vodou, a dead person can be brought back to life (sort of) by a bokor or sorcerer. The zombie has no will of its own, and remains in the control of the bokor. In South Africa, it was believed that a person was sometimes killed and possessed as a part to become slave labour. In a zombie state, the person would no longer have a will of their own.
The fictional aspect of zombies takes into account some of what’s described above (though, what’s described above is very small compared to larger research). The first appearance of a zombie in popular culture was in the book The Magic Island by William Seabrook. Time magazine claimed the book introduced the word zombi to the English speaking world. The first film to have a zombie was in 1932 in the movie White Zombie with Bela Lugosi. The more current aspect of zombie appeared in George A. Romero‘s Night of the Living Dead which in turn was partly inspired by Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel, I Am Legend.
Zombie fiction has become a sizable subgenre of horror, and has been seen in books (World War Z, Zombie Chronicles), television (The Walking Dead), video games (Left 4 Dead, Resident Evil) and even movies (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Army of Darkness, Shawn of the Dead, Zombieland).
Zombies have even become part of real world culture, as cities around the world have seen organized Zombie Walks where people dress as zombies and walk through an urban area (shopping district) in an orderly fashion. Many of these zombie walks have become tied to a charitable organization such as the upcoming Toronto Zombie Walk which is helping to support the Canadian Cancer Society.
Are we over saturated with the walking dead? Who’s to say, but currently the interest in zombies doesn’t look to be dying out anytime soon.