They may not be as romantic as vampires, but zombies have been enjoying a rise in popularity in film and television in the past several years thanks to television shows like The Walking Dead, Age of the Living Dead, and Fear the Walking Dead and blockbuster movies like World War Z, Warm Bodies, Shaun of the Dead, and 28 Days Later.
Humanity’s fear and fascination of the dead walking have been around since ancient civilizations though. Archeological finds have dug up graves where skulls were smashed and separated from the rest of the skeletons, bodies weighed down by heavy stones and, in the case of Ancient Greece, by amphoras—assumedly to keep the bodies from getting up from their graves. But the word “zombi” came from Haiti, where Voodoo is practiced. However, their zombies are people who are revived by voodoo practitioner called bokors. The zombie revived by a bokor is forced to become his mindless and soulless slave for all time. For a nation with a history of slavery, this was the worst thing that could happen to a person.
The first zombie stories
Probably one of the first stories written about the undead was Philinnion and Machates by Phlegon of Tralles, the Greek author of the Olympiads. It’s about a young woman (Philinnion) who died and came back to life and returned home to have a lot of sex with her parent’s guest (Machates). Ironically, she died again soon after telling him that the gods of the underworld approved of her resurrection. But perhaps the most famous of them all is the monster created by Mary Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein published in 1818. The monster was reanimated via lightning and displayed all the classic characteristics of a zombie (minus the eating brains part and with emotions).
The term “zombie” was only introduced to the English-speaking world in 1819 by the poet Robert Southey in his book History of Brazil. A century later, W.B. Seabrook wrote the novel The Magic Island that introduced the concept of zombies to the United States. The book was about Haitian voodoo cults and their zombie minions. Three years later, the movie White Zombie was released in 1932 starring Bela Lugosi.
Zombies make it to Hollywood
However, we didn’t get the now-ubiquitous, slow-moving but relentless flesh-eating zombies until George Romero’s genre-defining Night of the Living Dead in 1968. There have also been many versions since then such as: zombies made in labs (Resident Evil), running zombies (28 Days Later), intelligent zombies (Day of the Dead), brain-eating zombies (Return of the Living Dead), hilarious zombies (Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland), romantic zombies (Warm Bodies), even shark-fighting zombies (Zombie Flesh Eaters). The causes for the zombiepocalypse vary from extra-terrestrial sources, biological warfare, virus, demonic possession, the biblical apocalypse.
While the popularity of zombies cannot be disputed, network TV shows have cemented its status as monster du jour in pop culture, particularly The Walking Dead, which has become the most-watched shows in its steady nine seasons run so far.
For as long as people still fear the dead and being eaten, it doesn’t look like the zombies are going away any time soon. They are known for their relentlessness after all.
Catch up on all seasons now and be the first to stream season 9 of The Walking Dead on FOX+ starting Oct. 8, 11:30 a.m.. New users can now download FOX+ from the App Store and Google Play store for a free 30-Day trial.
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