Zombies in History
1804: After a series of revolts, Haiti becomes “the first black-ruled independent nation in the Western Hemisphere” (Kee 10).
1800’s: The whites of the Western Hemisphere are terrified of the fact that Haiti’s slaves overthrew their white masters and gained sovereignty. Fear and ignorance result in unsubstantiated stories of voodoo cannibalism, grave robbing, and black magic (Kee).
1915: The US marines occupy Haiti. This occupation lasts until 1934 (United States Department of State).
1929: William Seabrook publishes The Magic Island, which includes a chapter on the zombie. Although Seabrook’s book does not mark the first appearance of the word “zombie” in America, it is widely accepted as the catalyst that made Americans aware of the zombie (Kee 13; Piepenbring). Seabrook describes zombies as reanimated corpses being used as slave labor in Haiti’s sugarcane fields.
1932: Kenneth Webb’s play Zombie opens in New York. In his review of the play, A. J. Brooks Atkinson links the concept of the zombie to depression-era Americans: “If zombies are those who work without knowing why and who see without understanding, one begins to look around among one’s fellow countrymen with a new apprehension” (qtd. in Kee 14-15). Born of racism, America’s fascination with the zombie has already become a tool for social commentary.
1932: White Zombie, the first feature-length zombie film, is released. White Zombie depicts a white woman who is turned into a zombie, raising questions about the difference between “us” and “them."
1930’s-1960’s: Zombie movies depict the zombie in a variety of ways—sometimes zombies are raised from the dead, as in Seabrook’s original definition of the term, and sometimes they are simply hypnotized, under a spell, or drugged. The overarching commonality amongst zombie stories from this era is that zombies usually A) have lost their own sense of humanity and B) are under a master’s control (Kee 20-21).
1968: Romero’s Night of the Living Dead is released, and the zombie as we know it today is born.
I don't have much to offer you by way of reviews yet, but check back often. This section will grow over time.
Check back often for my reviews on every zombie movie I can track down.
Let's be honest: the first question any decent writer should ask when he or she has an idea for a zombie story is, "Are there really any stories left untold about zombies?" As a zombie enthusiast, my answer is, of course, "Absolutely!" But that doesn't mean it's not a good idea to do your homework to make sure you're avoiding cliché and, instead, actually adding something to what many people would argue is a genre that has too much content to its name already.
As I work on a zombie novel of my own, I'm researching the rich history of zombies, from the legends of voodoo mind control to Romero's living dead to Kirkman's walkers, and all the blood and guts in-between. I want to know everything there is to know about zombies, to take apart the mechanisms of zombie stories and find out what makes them tick.
Check back often for my ongoing research into the history of zombies and zombie storytelling. In addition to reading up on zombie lore and its historical context, I plan to watch every zombie movie ever released (or at least, every one that I can find). I'll review those movies along with other zombie works here.
The Official Website of Author Ashley Cowger