With the recent increase in popularity of zombies, I thought it would be interesting to dig up (pun intended) some history about our “undead” friends. A zombie is defined as, “a fictional undead being created through the reanimation of a human corpse.”
The first zombie movie was White Zombie, released in 1932. The movie was based on the book The Magic Island by William Seabrook, and tells the story of a young woman’s transformation into a zombie because of a spell delivered by an evil voodoo master.
One of the most popular zombie movies, and the first film to depict zombies as reanimated cannibalistic cadavers, was Night of the Living Dead. Starring Duane Jones and Judith O’Dea, the film was a low budget production, completed for $114,000. The movie went on to be a financial success and a cult classic grossing $12 million domestically and $18 million internationally.
Night of the Living Dead eventually received critical acclaim and has been selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry, as a film considered to be “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”.
The undead have always been popular characters in horror films and television programs in one form or another. However, the recent increase in popularity is mainly due to The Walking Dead television program that premiered on October 31, 2010 on AMC and has gone on to consistently increasing Nielsen ratings. This has been unusually high for a cable series.
The term zombie comes from Haitian folklore, where it means a dead body that is reanimated through various methods, usually magic. However, the modern depictions of zombies don’t always involve magic but often popular science fictional methods like radiation, metal diseases, viruses and scientific accidents.
The zombie belief has its roots in traditions brought to Haiti by enslaved Africans, and their individual experiences in the New World. The belief is that the voodoo deity Baron Samedi would collect them from their grave to bring them to a heavenly afterlife in Africa (Guinea), unless they offended him in some way.
If this happened, they would be forever a slave after death, as a zombie. A zombie could also be saved by feeding them salt. Several scholars have pointed out the significance of the zombie figure as a metaphor for the history of slavery in Haiti.