Cinema and Media Studies Zombies in Cinema and Media
by
Sarah Juliet Lauro
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0263

Introduction

Zombies had a moment in the first decade of the 21st century. Whether this was the result of a reinvigorated interest in the boundary line between life and death due to advancements in medical technology, or was the fallout of apocalyptic panic brought on by the turn of the millennium, or whether it was, more simply, due to a capitalizing by the entertainment industry upon the success of the zombie video games that became popular in the late nineties, one cannot say for certain. Nonetheless, the cinematic zombie experienced a “renaissance” in the new millennium, and scholars of cultural critique responded with a boom in the production of articles, books, and book chapters. Scholars from a variety of disciplines turned their theoretical apparatuses to the examination of the living dead to investigate the history of this monster and seek to answer what its rise to prominence in popular culture signified. As the number of zombie films in production increased—answering a cultural demand that included new variations on the monster and new spins to the cinematic genre, creating zombie comedies and even zombie rom-coms—the number of scholarly articles similarly snowballed: academia, in short, fell prey to zombie fever. Anthologies were published by various university presses, and a glut of articles on zombie films and zombie narratives in other media were published in diverse academic journals. Because of the recent flurry of attention to the zombie, this still seems a young field in some sense, even though White Zombie, the first zombie film, was made in 1932 and the genre experienced its major pivot in the late 1960s with Romero’s revision to the mythology in Night of the Living Dead. Long considered a trope belonging to an inferior grade of B-movie, zombie cinema has only recently garnered serious and widespread attention. The bulk of the annotations provided here might be thought of, then, as “new releases,” but now-classic contributions to the study of zombie cinema, some of these produced in the 1980s, are also included. The state of the field, as it exists in the early 21st century, is made up of reference works and guides to zombie cinema, monographs devoted specifically to the zombie and zombies in cinema, studies that contextualize the zombie alongside other monstrous figures in both monographs and edited collections, anthologies either devoted to general study of the zombie or focused on specific texts and themes, and scores of articles.

Reference Works and General Guides

There are a handful of volumes that provide the intrepid investigator with an introduction to the world of zombie films in the form of a guidebook. Most of these provide a tour of the history of zombie cinema, proceeding chronologically or alphabetically, and giving a thumbnail sketch of each and every “zombie” film made. Naturally, each of these reference works comes with its own explanatory model of what is and is not a zombie film, as the editor or author explains in an introduction or preface how the genre is delimited for his or her volume. Each author will have unique prejudices about the differences between the differently dead, the inhuman reanimate, and the “zombie” proper: Kay 2008 even includes an appendix to the collection of reviews and materials that lists twenty-nine “zombieless zombie films.” To get the fullest picture of the field, therefore, one should consult all volumes. Naturally, as a monster that has changed significantly throughout the history of cinema, these volumes’ prefatory notes lend a kind of voiceover narration to the zombie’s transformation across the century. Some of the guides included here—Dendle 2001, Dendle 2012, Russell 2014, and Kay 2008—run the gamut, presenting the full history of the zombie film within a certain period, as from 1932 (the year White Zombie, the first zombie film, was released) to the date upon which the guide was published. The original offerings of Russell and Dendle have been reissued or expanded since their initial publication to reflect the most recent wave of zombie films in the new millennium. However, Slater 2002 concentrates on a particular subset of zombie films—Italian exploitation cinema, depicting cannibals and other flesh-eaters—while Rhodes 2001 is a compendium studying the history and production of a single film, White Zombie. As reference works, these volumes provide many visuals from the films, including stills and publicity shots, and a range of appendices and indexes point the way to further ways of reorganizing or reconceptualizing the films that are included in the guide, by director, country of origin, and such. In addition to reviews and short essays, the guides may include promotional materials, interviews with persons involved in the film’s production, and primary materials like publicity announcements and posters.

  • Dendle, Peter. The Zombie Movie Encyclopedia. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2001.

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    Prefaced with an introduction that defines and delimits the genre of zombie films, designating its various periods and movements, like “The Early Film Zombie (1932–1952)” and “The Mid-’80s Spoof Cycle,” this encyclopedia provides alphabetized entries on every zombie film made of the period; its catalogue is both exhaustive and thoughtful; see for example, the inclusion of Weekend at Bernie’s II.

  • Dendle, Peter. The Zombie Movie Encyclopedia. Vol. 2, 2000–2010. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2012.

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    This book follows a structure like that of the first volume, Dendle 2001, with an introduction meditating on the state of the field, followed by alphabetized entries on the films of the period, and then appendices which list the films chronologically and by country of origin. In addition, this volume includes a useful appendix on zombies in short film and serials.

  • Kay, Glenn. Zombie Movies: The Ultimate Guide. Chicago: Chicago Review, 2008.

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    This is a colorful chronologically organized guidebook of film synopses, reviews, interviews, and publicity, with chapters divided by decade. A clever review system designates the film’s quality: “So bad it’s good” is a designation. An appendix on “Zombieless Zombie Films” like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1922) is of use for those interested in broader conceptions of the zombie.

  • Rhodes, Gary D. White Zombie: Anatomy of a Horror Film. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2001.

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    This book contains everything one could want to know about the production of a single film, White Zombie, directed by Victor Halperin and released in 1932. In ten chapters it discusses everything from the context of the voodoo mythology referenced in the film to the director’s other works. In addition, sixteen appendices present primary materials like press clippings and publicity.

  • Russell, Jaime. Book of the Dead: A Complete Guide to Zombie Cinema. London: Titan, 2014.

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    Organized into chapters that address key moments in the zombie’s cinematic development, such as the “Atomic Interlude” of the mid-century or the “Splatter Horror” of the eighties, this book is encyclopedic in its address of zombie films. Reissued from the original 2006 book (FAB Press), a thirteenth chapter addresses more recent cinema. Its annotated filmography, with brief alphabetized film summaries, is a fabulous resource.

  • Slater, Jay, ed. Eaten Alive! Italian Cannibal and Zombie Movies. London: Plexus, 2002.

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    This volume concentrates on Italian exploitation films featuring either cannibals or zombies; Slater’s introduction explains the overlap and the difference in these monsters. This collection of short film essays, film “reviews,” and interviews with people involved in a film’s production also contains many full-color illustrations and publicity materials. A chronological filmography with brief synopses is included as an index.

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