While the term "zombie" has come to be one of the most popular sub-genre fads of our time, its origins in popular culture reach back to the early 1900's, when the word "zombie" was first introduced in the novel The Magic Island written by William Seabrook, a self-proclaimed cannibal.
The zombies in those times, however, were far different from than those we idolize today. In the early days of the zombie horror genre, Haitian voodoo priests were responsible for casting spells over their newly created "zombies" and these zombies would mindlessly wander, following only their master's commands. After appearing in several stories, slowly becoming a more common villain in literature, zombies leaped to film, first appearing in the cult classic White Zombie, the movie from which 's original band got their name. Then on October 1, 1968 's classic cult film Night of the Living Dead premiered and shook the genre.
Romero and his friends were often kept busy shooting commercials, but that line of work failed to satisfy the artists in them so they decided to make a horror film to fill the box office need for the bizarre.
After numerous script rewrites featuring aliens, corpses, teenagers and science fiction horror cliches of the time, Romero took three days and essentially created an idea where the dead would stop lying dead and once again walk among the living with an insatiable craving for human flesh. He based his idea loosely on 's I Am Legend. From there, the movie took off and launched several sequels, comic books, merchandise and remakes. Although the name was never mentioned in the movie, Romero referred to them as "ghouls", the audiences coined the term "zombie" and with this the Zombie movie sub-genre was born.
The Zombie Lull
Since Romero's zombie flicks hit theater's throughout the 70's and 80's the zombie culture phenomenon was taking off.The first big instance of the zombie genre passing into another medium would be the 1996 release of the popular video game that launched a franchise of more games, movies, novels and comic books; Resident Evil. The genre was rocked with each new emerging story line into the zombie network. Origins for the zombies were always up for debate and changed constantly between mutated people, an evolved virus or a rock from outer space. Opposite to how fast the zombie movement rose to fame, the hype slowly dwindled as Hollywood spewed out numerous mediocre and forgettable zombie flicks into a sea of overlooked zombie media. Then in 2002 a huge shift came to the zombie world and their popularity once again skyrocketed.
The Zombie Revival
In 2002 two major zombie films premiered; the British zombie horror film 28 Days Later directed by and the unfaithful adaptation of Resident Evil directed by . Both movies were hugely successful box office hits and led to sequels and fan followings. 28 Days Later was a bit of a flop as far as money earned goes in the UK, but was a big sell in America and over time became a big hit and revolutionized the zombie genre. These new and improved zombies were faster and stronger leading to a more terrifying experience for zombie aficionados. Although some people moaned about how these new zombies were too far from what zombies were supposed to be, it became the new form. In 2004 Romero's Dawn of the Dead was remade with 's directorial debut and this upgraded version of the cult classic featured these new and improved faster zombies, solidifying these enhancements in zombie cinema.
A Change in Format
Since the revival of the genre the public has been bombarded with all sorts of zombie merchandise or media. Hot Topic may have helped the revival by selling all sorts of zombie based merchandise including toys based on the movies, fake zombie blood, shirts with zombie related content and tons of merchandise from the game Plants vs Zombies, which also helped relaunch the zombie interest and market it to new audiences. New zombie movies with new concepts come out every year; this year we saw Warm Bodies, a Romeo and Juliet remake with zombies and World War Z, a heavy film adapted from a popular novel by , an icon in the zombie literature world. We also have the "Crossed" comic books which take zombies to an all new level and instead of having them become actual zombies, they are instead deranged psychopaths with a craving for rape and dismemberment. There's a popular web series released by Machinima called Bite Me and an unber popular television show on AMC, The Walking Dead.
Re-inventing the Zombie
What really makes the zombie genre so enticing, frightening and enjoyable is that essentially it is a genre based around the end of all humanity where other human beings are violent enemies and we have to do all we can to survive.
In a zombie apocalypse, we can kill without remorse, we can do whatever we want for there are no longer any rules. Although many zombie fans heavily critiqued World War Z for not following the rules of the zombie genre and being PG-13 which forbids the amount of gore a zombie flick usually requires, the movie itself was far from disappointing. Some of the scenes were so intense it was surprising they managed to get away with only a PG-13 rating. The stakes were high and the threat was intense. Most zombie movies just go through the motions and fill out the zombie formula, but WWZ really managed to change the genre again. The depiction of zombies was of course using the newer, more terrifying variety, which led to large mobs flooding and raging like water against a wall as they attacked the cities and devoured the populace. The performances were great and it was nice to see Brad Pitt return to film after such a long absence. A sequel has also just been announced.
The genre has been changed and redefined time and again and will continue to adapt along with society as time goes on. Although it goes against the unwritten law of zombie films, it is a breath of fresh air to hear zombies referred to as 'zombies' in a movie. Let's be realistic, if a zombie invasion happened, it would be more logical to call them zombies, because we already know what a zombie is, it's not a secret.