The History of Zombies – in film
The History & Evolution of Zombies – the zombie curse
Before 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, zombies were a completely different animal. They were not raised indiscriminately by radiation, a falling comet or biological warfare chemicals. Nor were they the result of a viral outbreak, a bacterial insurgence or some alien biology.
Raising a zombie was a deliberate action and event, engaged to do the dirty work for a specific person or master. The zombie would be raised through voodoo ritual for a specified purpose and reason, whether it was jealousy, revenge or unrequited love. The zombie was a dead person reanimated through ritual ceremony by a voodoo high priest /priestess or a witchdoctor. At other times a zombie was a dead person reanimated through a curse or spell by a witch. Either way, the zombie had to be created by some occult magic. There was no danger of becoming a zombie yourself, unless of course you angered the witchdoctor. The word Zombie, itself, is from the Haitian or Creole word that meant, reanimating the dead through Voodoo magic.
The old zombie served the same purpose as today’s Terminator robot – an unstoppable machine that could not be reasoned with or detered with bullets. The zombies did not need to eat people and did not attack bystanders unless they interfered with carrying out their commands. Here is a history of some zombie films until 1970, most of which follow the old zombie guideline (And one TV show from 1975). I left out comedies and one musical.
List of early Zombie Movies - voodoo curse in nature:
The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari (1920)
White Zombie (1932) – Bela Lugosi
Revolt of the Zombies (1936)
King of the Zombies (1941)
Revenge of the Zombies (1943)
I Walked With a Zombie (1943)
Zombies of Mora Tau (1957)
The Dead One (1961)
I Eat Your Skin (1964)
Terror Creatures from the Grave (1965)
The Plague of the Zombies (1966) Hammer Films
Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974) Season one – episode: The Zombie (one of the last voodoo zombie stories to be in film) This classic episode follows the tradditional Hatian Voodoo curse using ceremony, proper terminology and details of voodoo zombie ritual and practices.
Last Man on Earth (1964) Vincent Price – One of the 1st big studio films to show a plague or disease as the reason for a zombie outbreak. Later remade as The Omega Man (Charlton Heston) and I Am Legend (Will Smith).
The Astro-Zombies(1968), Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959), and Teenage Zombies (1959) – All had reasons for zombie outbreaks other than Voodoo. However, it was most likely George Romero’s, Night of the Living Dead that put the nail in the coffin for the occult and ritual based zombie. (He, he, nail in the coffin… get it?)
Bury Me Alive (1957), can be found on many zombie lists but no information about a zombie film of this name by producer, Charles Marquis Warren can be found.
Castle of the Living Dead (1964) is also on many zombie movie lists but is not a zombie movie at all.
Horror at Party Beach (1964), although the word zombie is used in this film, the creature is a fish-beast resembling Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Of all the early zombie films, my favorites are, The Plague of the Zombies, The Last Man on Earth and Kolchak: The Night Stalker – The Zombie episode. Some of the others, I have not seen and some of the early ones are difficult to watch because of the slow pace and low-budget. I also own, White Zombie, Revolt of the Zombies, King of the Zombies, I Walked With a Zombie.
The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari is ripe for a remake and would be best done by Tim Burton with Johnny Depp playing the guy (zombie) in the cabinet.
As always, If I missed anything, please let me know. Input is always welcome. And now, some pics: