Zombies have changed over time. From the African-Caribbean religion known as Vodou, the Zombie was a mindless slave. This slave was often an enemy or one who had committed an affront to the master intended. Created out of revenge and dominated with a combination of herbs, chemicals and/or some serious bad shit, these slaves would spend the rest of their “undead” lives in a fugue-like state. And in this state they were subject to the total will of their masters.
Fast forward to something a little more modern. Everyone loves to put everything in movie terms. And everyone loves to give credit to Romero for the modern Zombie. Yes, he has his place in the world of the undead. But there were some key players there hanging out once he had already arrived.
Take H.P. Lovecraft for example. Aside from being considered the greatest horror writer of the 20th Century, he was also pretty down with the concept of the living dead. Now, don’t get me wrong, I know your gona spring Mary Shelly and her Frankie baby on me in like two seconds, but hear me out. Doc Frank and his ‘son’ Adam were mere child’s play to what Lovecraft does with one of his greatest characters: Herbert West. A lot of folks will point to Frankenstein and claim that this is one of the true origins of the Zombie genre. WRONG. The Doc was trying to CREATE life. Herbert West was trying to BRING PEOPLE BACK FROM THE DEAD. Need I say more?
I thought so.
So Lovecraft pops up in the 20’s with this wild assed story about a geeky grad student who creates a formula for reanimating FRESH corpses. The emphasis is on FRESH here kids. The more deteriorated the body is, the more difficult it is to reanimate. Total bummer. Oh and did I mention that his subjects display violent behavior. Maybe he shoulda thought about that before he reanimates folks who are capable of TEARING HIM LIMB FROM LIMB! I mean I woulda been seeking out the paraplegics. Same results, less chance of death. What is interesting about this form of animated dead is that even though Romero’s version of the Zombie is universal, Lovecraft’s version is closer to the modernized “infected” Zombies in such gems as 28 Days or the remake of Dawn. Fast, strong and deadly. Yum!
It’s not fair not to give Romero his dues. He is the master, and deserves the praise. His 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead put Zombies on the freakin MAP! However, Romero confesses that he drew inspiration for the concept from another equally frightening story about infected displaying Zombie-like symptoms, the 1954 book I am Legend by Richard Matheson. And btw, don’t get me started on the embarrassment that was Will Smith’s remake. Go out and get yourself a copy of The Last Man on Earth (1964), which is actually 4 years earlier than Romero’s own film. Hell I believe it is public domain now so just torrent the hell out of it! Starring Vincent Price, the greatest actor EVER.
Where was I? Oh, yes. Zombies. With Romero paving the way for the modern concept of what the Zombie is ‘supposed’ to be, movies flooded into our cinemas and once the VHS player was available, into our homes. I won’t waste time listing the entire database of Zombie movies out there. You can use the internets. You have gotten this far, figure it out for yourself. I won’t even be tedious with highlights of some of my personal faves. I just thought it was interesting to point out how much film and literature has changed the concept of what the Zombie is now as opposed to what it used to be. Zombies were once in service to US. If you were vengeful enough or had what it took to pursue the cause, a slave was in the making. But now, Zombies are our enemy. We fear the idea of our own friends and family rising against us. We fear losing control.