Zombies: How to make em, and how to make em popular

by Roger Landes

The phenomenon of zombies is two fold, the obvious one being people rising from the dead to serve the living.  But the real enigma is how did a secretive Voodoo practice from Haiti find its way into our television screens and movie theaters (and on Memorial Day it can even be found on our streets!)

Zombie Walk Columbus has been running for years now.  It begins in Goodale Park and makes its way along High Street.  Thousands have taken part through the years and it has been welcomed as some sort of undead parade.  But, where did it all begin?  Where did the concept of the living-dead originate? And why do they need brains so badly?

Zombies: When the Dead Walk is a documentary that serves to answer these questions. It chronicles the cultural beginnings of the zombie ritual from Haiti all the way to its involvement in major motion pictures in the United States. The highlight of the documentary is Wade Davis, an anthropologist and writer who traveled to Haiti to find the formula used to create a zombie.

The film also does an amazing job of explaining how zombies have become such an integral part of modern day horror films.  After World War I, American troops were sent to Haiti to protect U.S. assets (mainly coffee and sugar).  When the troops returned, hundreds of soldiers were commissioned to record their tales amongst the Haitians.  This sparked a rash of novels and films distorting some of the Voodoo practices.

The initial popularity of Voodoo films in American can easily be attributed as Western fascination with Black culture, in particular the fear of it. The films manipulate Voodoo’s practices to appear particularly threatening, as nothing sells better to the American public than that which they don’t understand. But later filmmakers like George A. Romero tweaked the racist elements and something else evolved.  Our love for zombies comes from our fear of death.  Death is seen as the release from pain.  To not even achieve peace after death is, well, horrifying.

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