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The Evolution of Zombie Movies: From Haitian Voodoo to Post-Apocalyptic Horror

From Haitian voodoo legends to enigmatic viruses, from mundane to ambulatory, from unarmed to armed confrontation, zombie films are perpetually advancing. From shopping emporiums to express trains, from bare-handed to fully equipped, individuals of diverse races, genders, and social strata are perpetually engaging in combat with zombies on the silver screen… Zombie films have ingrained themselves so deeply in the collective consciousness due, to a certain extent, to the fact that zombies serve as a somber mirror reflecting our own humanity. There exists an enigmatic affinity between the faceless zombies and the living. As our estranged “kin,” their metamorphosis brings forth not only sorrow but also profound trepidation.

The Origins of Zombie Films

The horrifying entities personified by zombies undergo constant metamorphosis over time. In the 1930s, horror cinema gained popularity in Hollywood, with a series of iconic films such as “Frankenstein” (1931), “Dracula” (1931), “The Mummy” (1932), and “The Invisible Man” (1933) produced by Universal Pictures, achieving immense success. It was within this trend that the inaugural zombie film, “White Zombie” (1932), graced the silver screen. The film featured Bela Lugosi, renowned for his portrayal of Dracula. The narrative unfolds as a young couple toils on a plantation in Haiti, where the wife falls under the spell of a sorcerer employing voodoo magic, losing her soul and succumbing to becoming a mere pawn. The film introduced the concept of human zombies. Numerous plantation workers also fell victim to this transformation.

During this era, the depiction of zombies was entirely derived from Hollywood’s imaginative perception of Haiti and Voodoo. Between 1915 and 1934, the United States exercised military occupation over Haiti, generating significant interest among Americans through a multitude of reports and travel accounts. William Seabrook’s travelogue, “The Magic Island” (1929), intricately detailed Voodoo rituals and introduced the notion of zombies to Western readers for the first time.

The early zombie films bore distinct colonial undertones and predominantly unfolded amidst tropical rainforests. The depiction of zombies during this period did not align with the familiar image of semi-decayed monsters; instead, they represented individuals controlled by witchcraft.

“Shaun of the Dead” stands as a British horror comedy film directed by Edgar Wright, featuring the talents of Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, and others.

“28 Days Later” chronicles the escape journey of Jim, a bicycle courier, and three other individuals at the culmination of a zombie siege…

Over the subsequent decade, a myriad of zombie films such as “Ounga” (1936), “Voodoo” (1944), and “Walking with Zombies” (1943) adhered to this established pattern. These films boasted Caribbean cultural backdrops, imbuing them with an exotic brand of horror. However, zombies failed to attain the same level of popularity as other monsters during this early period, partly due to their portrayal as emaciated, slow-moving living beings, lacking elaborate special effects, and the intricate cultural and historical ambiance synonymous with vampires.

Following World War II, the image of zombies underwent further transformation, evolving into creatures fashioned by the deranged scientists of German Nazism.

Zombies and Apocalyptic Atmosphere

In the aftermath of World War II, the dawn of the space age and the looming threat of nuclear conflict overshadowed traditional monsters such as vampires and werewolves, remnants of the Gothic era. Unburdened by religious traditions, zombies became the easiest entities to assimilate into science fiction narratives.

To some extent, Don Siegel’s science fiction film “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956) adheres to the essence of early zombie movies. The plot revolves around the protagonist’s return to a small town after a meeting, only to discover that the townspeople have become strangers. It transpires that everyone in the town has fallen prey to pod-shaped aliens, capable of infecting other humans.

The role played by these alien creatures parallels that of voodoo sorcerers who employ spells to transform individuals into zombies, rendering them soulless, ambulatory corpses. Filmed during the McCarthy era, the movie reflects irrational fears by illustrating the parasitic nature of these humans, who relentlessly assault ordinary individuals.

The infamous “Plan 9 from Outer Space” (1959), directed by the renowned “bad movie” auteur Ed Wood, also falls within the realm of science fiction zombie films. The zombies depicted here resemble the familiar imagery ingrained in our minds. The film narrates the tale of a group of aliens who resurrect the deceased to exact vengeance upon humanity. These zombies, clad in the attire they were buried in and cloaked in dust, pursue their human targets with a slow yet unyielding determination.

During this period, American zombie films were influenced by popular comics and fantasy literature, brimming with an assortment of monsters and extraterrestrial beings.Zombie Films Evolve: Romero and the Modern Zombie

The modern zombie film genre as we know it today was largely shaped by the work of filmmaker George A. Romero. Romero’s influential film “Night of the Living Dead” (1968) redefined the concept of zombies and laid the foundation for the modern zombie archetype.

Romero’s zombies were reanimated corpses that craved human flesh and were depicted as slow-moving, mindless creatures. “Night of the Living Dead” introduced the idea of a zombie apocalypse, where society is overrun by hordes of the undead. The film was groundbreaking in its social commentary, addressing themes of racism, consumerism, and the breakdown of societal norms.

Romero followed up with several sequels, including “Dawn of the Dead” (1978) and “Day of the Dead” (1985), which further explored the zombie apocalypse scenario and delved deeper into the social commentary. These films featured more graphic violence and gore, becoming cult classics and influencing a generation of filmmakers.

The Influence of “Night of the Living Dead”

“Night of the Living Dead” not only revolutionized the zombie genre but also had a profound impact on horror cinema as a whole. It demonstrated that low-budget independent films could achieve critical and commercial success while tackling social issues.

Romero’s film inspired a wave of zombie movies in the 1970s and 1980s, many of which embraced the gore and violence introduced in his works. Filmmakers like Lucio Fulci with “Zombie” (1979) and Dan O’Bannon with “The Return of the Living Dead” (1985) contributed to the growing popularity of zombie films during this period.

Resurgence and Reinvention

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, zombie films experienced a resurgence and reinvention. Filmmakers like Danny Boyle with “28 Days Later” (2002) and Zack Snyder with the remake of “Dawn of the Dead” (2004) introduced fast-moving zombies, injecting new energy and intensity into the genre. These films combined elements of horror, action, and suspense, appealing to wider audiences.

Additionally, comedy-horror hybrid films like “Shaun of the Dead” (2004) directed by Edgar Wright brought a fresh and humorous take on the zombie genre. This film, in particular, became a cult favorite and showcased the potential for blending comedy and horror in zombie storytelling.

The Influence of Zombie TV Shows and Games

Zombie-themed television shows, most notably “The Walking Dead,” also played a significant role in popularizing the zombie genre. “The Walking Dead,” based on the comic book series by Robert Kirkman, premiered in 2010 and became a massive success, attracting a dedicated fan base. The show focused on character-driven narratives set in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by zombies.

Zombie-themed video games, such as the “Resident Evil” series, “Left 4 Dead,” and “Dead Rising,” also contributed to the genre’s popularity. These games allowed players to immerse themselves in zombie-infested worlds, further expanding the reach of the zombie obsession.

Zombies Today: Diverse Representations

In recent years, zombie films have continued to evolve, exploring new themes and presenting diverse representations of zombies and the apocalypse. Films like “Train to Busan” (2016) from South Korea and “The Girl with All the Gifts” (2016) from the UK have garnered critical acclaim for their fresh takes on the genre.

Moreover, zombie films have increasingly delved into social and political commentary. Films like “Get Out” (2017), directed by Jordan Peele, and “Cargo” (2017), starring Martin Freeman, use the zombie trope to explore issues of race, colonialism, and survival in a post-apocalyptic world.

The future of zombie films remains uncertain, but their enduring popularity suggests that the genre will continue to evolve and captivate audiences with new interpretations and narratives. The zombie archetype, with its capacity for social commentary and exploration of human nature, will likely endure as a powerful metaphor in cinema.

  The emergence of zombie bloody comedies also conforms to the typical development cycle of genre movies. Until the emergence of “Shaun of the Dead” (2004), the trend of comedy in zombie movies reached its peak. The appearance of zombies in the film allows new-age British otakus to get rid of their zombie-like living conditions and gain the motivation to take action. However, the ending of the film is shocking. It seems that the end of the world will never come again, and zombies continue to live together with humans.
  With the improvement of digital special effects technology, zombies have once again become the best carrier to express the ever-present threat. In Hollywood movies such as “Resident Evil”, “I Am Legend”, “28 Days Later” and “World War Z”, zombies have become increasingly unfamiliar to us and often have great mobility.
  Many of these zombie movies have strong military overtones, and the government’s mysterious plans and conspiracy theories, as well as various irregular military operations, have become new sources of fear.
“Desire of the Living Dead”

  Zombies, as monsters between the living and the dead, have broken all the taboos placed on individuals by human society. They unconsciously continue the desires they had when they were alive and repeat their past behaviors day after day. Or on the contrary, it is the humans who have survived the zombie apocalypse who have truly lost their taboo restrictions and pushed their desires to the extreme in a world that has lost order, while the zombies retain a trace of humanity.

The film “World War Z” starring Brad Pitt.

  The mall is a very important setting in a series of George Romero’s films. In “Dawn of the Dead” and the remake directed by Zack Snyder, survivors of zombie attacks gathered in shopping malls, which became the last bastion of human society. Zombies will wander around the places they loved in life, as if they have become living people again by continuing to shop; and the survivors who take refuge in shopping malls enjoy shopping a lot among the rich and useless products. carnival.
  Here, the mall is both a refuge and a prison, a satire of the consumerism in which we find ourselves. As consumers, we essentially share the same desires as zombies. It’s just that their desires are purer and more direct, and they are bodies driven entirely by desires.
  Consumerism and the desire for carnage reach an extreme in George Romero’s Land of the Living Dead (2005). In the film, Kaufman’s Tower is the ultimate symbol of consumerism. This modern building that integrates office buildings, shopping malls and apartments, and its residents in suits and ties, hold the ultimate power of human society in the zombie apocalypse. All residents outside the tower are enslaved and driven by the desire of this giant tower of consumption, and zombies are the targets of random slaughter for fun. It wasn’t until the zombies in the image of gas station workers regained their wisdom and used human weapons to start a zombie revolution, exchanging the desires of the “living dead” with their positions of power, that everything was liberated.
  Although the world is riddled with holes, mankind has not given up hope of healing and restoring order. In the 2007 version of “I Am Legend”, although Robert was already alone, he still insisted on looking for a vaccine. When zombies entered the series and appeared on televisions in thousands of households, we saw similar plot methods in “The Walking Dead”, recalling the peaceful life before the zombie outbreak and calling for the return of the nuclear family. Although they have been completely changed by the apocalypse, the journey continues. Just like the ending of “28 Days Later”, “Hell” and “Hello” are only separated by a thought.

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