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"Here in the beautiful island of Haiti,"
"among the tobacco and cane sugar field workers,"
"Black magic, voodooism, or the worship of the Serpent, honeycombed the entire country."
When the US occupied Haiti for two decades in the early 20th century
It only intensified Americans' fascination
with a part of its religious culture known as
voodou, spiritual beliefs and practices
originating in West Africa where European colonial powers enslaved
thousands and thousands of people and brought them to the island in the previous centuries
That fascination, like the occupation, had a racist strain: a combination of fear, anxiety,
and hostility toward the so called black magic of
a primitive culture
It was during this period that this guy, William Seabrook, journalist
occultist and generally eccentric minor celebrity
visited Haiti to report on the occupation
but found himself drawn instead to voodoo
resulting in a 1929 book entitled the Magic Island.
Though it was and is accused of being sensational and insensitive,
the book captured the public's interest, and one chapter in particular
has had a lasting impact on popular culture.
In "Dead Men Working in the Cane Field", Seabrook effectively
Introduces the world to zombies.
"The zombie, they say, is the soulless human corpse, still dead,"
"but taken from the grave and endowed by sorcery with a mechanical semblance of life"
The zombies of Haitian folklore are controlled by a
sorcerer called a "bokor" who uses them for his own ends
often for menial work, resembling slave labor.
and by the way, they don't eat or crave human flesh at this point.
Once in the popular imagination,
It took only three years for this conception of the zombie to find its way to Hollywood
to a film industry eager for another monster
after the successes of Dracula and Frankenstein
Drawing from the Magic Island and a Broadway play,
1932's White Zombie became the first zombie movie ever.
Set in Haiti, the story stars Bela Lugosi as a voodoo sorcerer who helps a plantation owner
turn the object of his desire into a zombie so that she'll be with him
The terror here is in a white couple being controlled in the same way as the Haitians.
The bigoted subtext is all too obvious.
The White Zombie wasn't as successful as Dracula or Frankenstein.
It did spawn a number of zombie films along these lines in the following years and decades.
Each follows from the conception that Seabrook outlined in his book:
Slave-like henchmen controlled by a master.
In 1966, Hammer films' "Plague of the Zombies" created undead that look like the ones we know today,
But Haitian voodoo was still the touchstone
But in 1968, everything changed
thanks to this man, George Romero and his skeleton crew of collaborators
who made the zombie film that reinvented the genre:
Night of the Living Dead.
It's impossible to overstate Romero's impact.
Every zombie film, or comic, or TV show - Whatever made in the last 50 years
is a direct descendant of this film.
Romero changed the rules.
First and foremost, he dispensed with the master-slave dynamic;
his undead aren't under the control of anyone or anything
For some unknown reason - maybe scientific, maybe not -
they are reanimated as pure instinct,
scouring the earth on whatever limbs they have left seeking one thing:
the living.
"Medical authorities in Cumberland have concluded that in all cases,"
"the killers are eating the flesh of the people they murdered."
Romero's zombies devour living human beings.
They hobble forward awkwardly, but relentlessly
They're dumb, able to use objects as blunt-force instruments, but nothing else.
They can only be killed by being shot in the head or burned
and if one bites or scratches you, you'll die not long after,
then transform into one and pursue whoever is nearby,
family or not.
If these creatures don't resemble the zombies of Haitian Vodou,
That's because Romero didn't think of his undead as zombies.
In Night, they're called ghouls and they're derived more from Richard Matheson's novel
"I am Legend" than William Seabrook.
How these flesh eaters came to be known as zombies is a bit foggy,
But by the time Romero made the sequel, Dawn of the Dead, he adopted the name, too.
Whether there are enough similarities to consider
the pre-Romero and post Romero history of zombies continuous, is up for debate
What is clear is that when pretty much anyone thinks of zombies nowadays
They're thinking of Romero zombies.
One reason for this is that these are just creative primal monsters
But another reason I think why Romero zombies have been so lasting
is because his original trilogy, particularly the first two installments
are really outstanding movies.
Night of the Dead and its neo-realist black and white style
is a smart tightly crafted story made on a shoestring budget with a third act
That is an absolutely brutal and punishing
even now, fifty years later.
In Dawn of the Dead, his best film I think,
Romero keys in to the symbolic potential of his monsters
in a way that he was only hinting at in Night
The film, which takes place almost entirely in a mall,
uses zombies to critique consumerism
as the zombies lumber through this familiar place
we see our own behavior as a grotesque reflection.
A zombie's thoughtlessness, Romero understood, is the perfect mirror for our own.
These days, the zombie is everywhere.
You've seen the shows, played the games, watch the trailers.
It's more than firmly established as a horror trope,
which means that it'll likely stay with us for a very long time.
Its history is complicated, a tangle of appropriation and invention,
prejudice and creative genius and awesomeness.
In other words, it's a modern myth.
"I'm thinking zombies"
"What?"
"Y-you know zombies"
"ghouls"
"the undead"
Hey everybody, thank you so much for watching.
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