Although vampires, lycanthropes, ghosts and ghouls can all be petrifying in various different ways, there is something particularly chilling about the legions of the undead which have come to be known as zombies. Although zombie legends have their roots in Haitian Vodou and West African Vodun, the zombies which have infested popular culture for the past forty years or so can be traced back to the 1968 movie ‘Night of The Living Dead’ . Since then, these reanimated cannibalistic revenants have stiffly but unstoppably marched their way through numerous movies and TV series. Zombies entered popular culture in America in the midst of The Cold War and some of their initial appeal is linked to the concept of a profound psychological and ideological invasion at the heart of American culture. As the decades have progressed and fictional zombies have ranged further from their American heartland, their various depictions have perhaps horrified Western audiences on a more visceral level than other horror antagonists because they have held up a disturbing mirror to our societies which has reflected an inherent hypocrisy and moral decay which is far more disturbing than the decomposed flesh of the undead. This fascination has kept zombies in the limelight of popular culture for over half a century and because of this they remain a crowd-pleasing costume choice at Halloween.
Several different types of zombies have stumbled onto our screens over the years, so here follow five examples of the most fascinating sub-groups
1) The Generic Zombie (Romero Type)
With the movies ‘Night of The Living Dead’, ‘Dawn of the Dead’,’Day of the Dead’, ‘Land of the Dead’, ‘Diary of the Dead’ and ‘Survival of the Dead’, director George A Romero created a veritable zombie canon which brought the archetypal shuffling, slow, remorseless and blank-eyed zombie from the revolutionary era of the late 1960s straight through to the 21st Century. Although none of the movies is an official sequel, the zombie virus continues to plague the contemporary world of each movie and each highlights contemporary issues such as racism, mass production and consumerism and the series therefore infers a societal decay which accompanies and undermines supposed advances. Romero’s zombies are the types which rise uncannily from graves, transfer their infection through the means of a bite and have an insatiable appetite for human flesh. The original source of the zombie virus is never revealed in Romero’s movies; thus forcing each generation of fans to look deep within themselves in order to consider the zombie within!
2) Fast Movers (28 Days Later)
These zombies are depicted in movies such as ’28 Days Later’ and are not reanimated corpses but are living humans infected with a plague-type virus. Therefore, they can move much faster than their corpse-like cousins and have more stamina and vitality, at least in the short term. However, since they are still alive, they are more vulnerable than ‘true’ zombies and can be killed by starvation, thirst, serious wounds, the advancement of their infection or generally; any serious human affliction. In this type of movie, the source of the infection is usually clearer and the zombification is therefore less uncanny and supernatural, although no less terrifying.
3) Nazi Zombies
If Nazi soldiers and generals became the most terrifying contemporary historical examples of man’s inhumanity to man, endowing such Nazis with the powers of zombies through infection with a powerful radioactive element surely makes them the ultimate antagonists in any movie, game or TV series! Nazis of the Third Reich feature in games such as ‘Call of Duty: World At War’ and movies such as ‘Zombies of War’, ‘Oasis of the Zombies’, ‘Dead Snow’, ‘Shock Waves’ and ‘Zombie Lake’. Nazi zombies are vulnerable to a shot to the head and have been known to explode into clouds of radioactive gas when their torsos are peppered with heavy machine gun fire!
4) Inferi Zombies (Harry Potter)
The Inferi are reanimated corpses brought back to life by a Dark Wizard such as Lord Voldemort in order to perform any evil act which they are ordered to. Similar to some other zombie types, they have no free will, however they can be controlled by their evil reanimator; which distinguishes them from traditional zombies whose only subconscious driving impulses are cannibalism and the infection of those around them. Created through Necromancy, the Inferi were used as merciless foot-soldiers by Lord Voldemort in both the First and Second Wizarding Wars.
5) Voodoo Zombies
Voodoo zombies are the original zombies and the source inspiration of every fictional zombie which followed. These types of zombies still remain a common part of religious rituals and phenomena in West African Vodun culture and Haitian Vodou. Western observers may regard both of these cultures and their zombie phenomena as closely related to witch craft, although of course within the societies themselves the religions are perfectly legitimate and in Haitian Vodou, elements of Christian doctrine are mixed with traditional African spiritual elements. Various psychoactive substances and potions are said to be used in ceremonies which raise corpses from the dead, after which they have been reported to return to their communities in order to do the bidding of the Shaman who has reanimated them.