Evolution of the Zombie in Movies

Zombies first appeared on film in the Bela Lugosi movie White Zombie in 1932.  They were lumbering, blank-eyed creatures that were controlled by the evil character played by Lugosi.

These creatures neither killed nor ate people.  They only attacked people if they were ordered to by Lugosi.  Otherwise, they plodded around harmlessly, looking spaced out.

Jacques Tourneur directed the famous zombie movie I Walked with a Zombie, a slow-moving eerie horror tale set on a Caribbean island, harking back to the zombie myth that originated among Haiti’s voodoo worshipers.  Again, these zombies act like humans in a trance.  They shuffle around with staring eyes and show no interest in anything.

The modern zombie, the flesh eater, didn’t appear in the movies until George A. Romero’s groundbreaking low-budget shrieker Night of the Living Dead. These zombies, though nobody actually calls them zombies, shamble around like the older film versions of the zombie, with one important difference–they eat human flesh.  They are ghouls.  In fact, they eat any living thing, including insects.

Zombies evolved again in Danny Boyle’s zombie movie 28 Days Later.  Instead of being oafish creatures that trudge around with great difficulty, they now can run after their human victims.  In the sequel 28 Weeks Later, the zombies are even better coordinated and, as a result, faster still.

The theme of the “zombie apocalypse” appears in the ongoing modern evolution of zombies.  In 28 Weeks Later and similar movies, the zombies are taking over the earth and nothing can stop them.  The apocalypse is here.  Society breaks down into chaos and only isolated bands of human beings survive the plague.  These remaining pockets of humanity now have a bunker mentality and live accordingly, scavenging off the remnants of a collapsed civilization as they are attacked relentlessly by roving zombies.

As man’s fears keep evolving, so too will the face of evil, the zombie.