Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Zombie Movies

Ever since Bela Lugosi's "Murder" Legendre ordered the revived corpses of his plantation workers to shamble across the screen in White Zombie (1932) it has been the Cinema which has most influenced our perception of the walking undead. The same producers failed to repeat their success with Revolt of the Zombies (1936), but Bob Hope's comedic encounter with a zombie in The Ghost Breakers (1940) set the tone for such poverty-row movies as King of the Zombies (1941), Revenge of the Zombies (1943; vt The Corpse Vanished UK), Voodoo Man (1944) and Zombies on Broadway (1945 vt Loonies on Broadway UK). Val Lewton's I Walked With a Zombie (1943) was an atmospheric reworking of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre (1847). Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis remade the Hope vehicle as Scared Stiff (1953), but in Creature with the Atom Brain (1955), The Gamma People (1955), Teenage Zombies (1957), Invisible Invaders (1959) or the infamous Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) the walking undead of the 1950s were more likely to be scientifically created than the result of supernatural sorcery, as in Voodoo Island (1957; vt Silent Death UK), The Zombies of Mora Tau (1957; vt The Dead that Walk UK) and Night of the Ghouls (1959). Barbara Steele was menaced by revived Black Plague victims in the Italian Terror Creatures from the Grave (1965; ot Cinque Tombe per un Medium) and a Cornish graveyard gave up its dead in Hammer's The Plague of the Zombies (1966). But it was director George Romero's low budget Night of the Living Dead (1968), about an alien contamination which transformed the newly dead into cannibals, that became a cult hit; it spawned two direct sequels, Dawn of the Dead (1978; vt Zombies UK) and Day of the Dead (1985), and inspired numerous imitations. While continental European cinema added explicit gore to the mix in such films as Bracula – The Terror of the Living Dead (1972; ot La Orgia de los Muertos; vt The Hanging Woman UK), Horror Rises from the Tomb (1972; ot El Espanto Surge de la Tumba), Vengeance of the Zombies (1972; ot La Rebellion de las Muertas), The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue (1974; ot No Profanar el Sueno de los Muertos; vt Don't Open the Window US), Zombie Holocaust (1979; ot La Regina dei Cannibali; vt Doctor Butcher MD [Medical Deviate] US), Zombie Lake (1980; ot Le Lac des Morts Vivants), Zombie 3 (1980; ot Le Notti del Terrore) and countless others, such movies as Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things (1972), Neither the Sea nor the Sand (1972), Messiah of Evil (1973), Sugar Hill (1974; vt Voodoo Girl UK), Shock Waves (1976; vt Almost Human UK) and Dead & Buried (1981) at least attempted to do something different with the genre. Spanish director Amando de Ossorio chronicled the exploits of the blind undead Templarios Knights in Tombs of the Blind Dead (1971; ot La Noche del Terror Ciego), Return of the Evil Dead (1973; ot El Ataque de los Muertos sin Ojos), Horror of the Zombies (1974; ot El Buque Maldito) and Night of the Seagulls (1975; ot La Noche de las Gaviotas), while Italian director Lucio Fulci carved out his own niché with Zombie Flesh-Eaters (1979; ot Zombi 2; vt Zombie US), City of the Living Dead (1980; ot La Paura nella Citta dei Morti; vt Gates of Hell US) and The Beyond (1981; ot E tu Vivrai nel Terrore ... L'Aldila; vt Seven Doors to Death US). Writer/director Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead (1982) reinvented the mythology for a new generation, and he returned with a superior sequel/remake, Evil Dead II (1987) and a silly third instalment, Army of Darkness (1992). Michael Jackson led the walking dead in an exuberant dance routine for the extended music video Thriller (1983) (> Rock Videos), and the zombies that supposedly inspired Romero's 1968 movie formed the basis of a trio of belated spinoffs: The Return of the Living Dead (1984), Return of the Living Dead Part II (1987) and Return of the Living Dead 3 (1993). Not to be outdone, Romero himself produced a colour remake of his original as Night of the Living Dead (1990) dir Tom Savini. Wes Craven's The Serpent and the Rainbow (1987) was a serious attempt to adapt Wade Davis' nonfiction book about voodoo in Haiti, but more typical of this period was such exploitation fare as I Was a Teenage Zombie (1986), Redneck Zombies (1986), The Video Dead (1987), Chopper Chicks in Zombietown (1991) and Braindead (1992; vt Dead Alive US), which took the zombie theme to new extremes of absurdity. At least Weekend at Bernie's II (1992), in which the titular character was periodically revived by the spell of a voodoo priestess, was supposed to be a comedy. [SJ]

further reading: Classic Movie Monsters (1978) by Donald F Glut; Zombie: The Living Dead (1976) by Rose London; The Dead that Walk (1986) by Leslie Halliwell.

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.