In terms of response and traffic, my post Everybody Loves Zombies had an overwhelming response. Also, zombie penguins. Which made me stop and think… why, exactly, does everybody love zombies? Where did we even get the idea of zombies? Why won’t this zombie thing go away? So, in order to stop having audienceless monologues like a supervillain without the lair, I will be writing a few posts on zombies. This first one: zombigenesis. Where did zombies come from?
There are stories from cultures all over the globe that feature animated corpses. Anchimayen, basically zombie children, in Spain. The draugr, who guards graves in Norway. The jiang shi, from China, Vetala from India.
The zombies in books, graphic novels, and movies, mostly have their origins in the zombies of Voudoun. Practitioners believe that they are corpses controlled by bokor, Voudoun sorcerers who practice black magic. One scientist (for more on this, see his book The Serpent and the Rainbow), whose specialty is ethnobotany, thinks that the zombies are created by basically drugging someone out of his/her mind, including ingredients that make the victim extremely suggestible. Like being frequently dosed with Rohypnol. Incredibly creepy, but not exactly raising the dead.
Why, though, have zombies captured our collective imaginations? The first zombie movie came out in the late 1930s, and since then it’s been a genre that just won’t… die. Sorry, had to. Also, let’s not just look at zombies that are called zombies. What about mummies? Basically zombies, but more stylishly dressed. What about people that are just empty shells, being controlled by alien puppet-masters? Still zombies. If you expand your definition of zombie to anything where someone that is dead, and despite that is still walking around (debating inserting joke about bible being original zombie story), zombies show up even more often than you think.
Is it a fear of death, of the body’s fragility, that makes us fascinated by zombies? Because the zombies aren’t showing up in rom-coms (Corpse Bride excepted, and really anything by Tim Burton), they’re in some of the most disturbing books and movies of all time. Is it literally coming face-to-face with mortality, in all it’s scariest , lingering, painful forms (radioactivity, virulent disease, evil magic)? The desire to be able to kick the ass of Death, preferably with a sawed-off shotgun, a la Bruce Campbell?
Or maybe we just like being grossed out.
My first zombie experiences were Thriller, and The Hilarious House of Frankenstein (I don’t remember which came first), both of which featured Vincent Price, possessor of the world’s creepiest voice. I know my sister agrees, because I used to use his part of the “Thriller” track to send her fleeing out of our shared room. I still love B-movie zombie flicks more than sincere horror. Bruce Campbell will always hold a special place in my heart. Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2, Army of Darkness… For books, after the ones I have already mentioned, I will note The Cell, by Stephen King. Good, classic, hide-under-the-blankets horror.
So. Where did your love of zombies start?