Zombies have come a long way since they were first recorded in 1819 in Brazil by poet Robert Southey. They have had many ups and downs throughout the decades. Zombies have evolved from mindless monsters to in-depth flesh-eating characters with thoughts and feelings. These are just some of this genre most notable milestones every zombiholic should know.
First Word: Return of the Living Dead
Despite having the Dead moniker Return of the Living Dead was not made by George A. Romero. It was written and directed by his partner Dan O’Bannon who helped created Night of the Living Dead in 1968. This 1984 classic takes place at a fictional warehouse in Louisville, KY called Uneeda Medical Supply. Warehouse foreman Frank is taking a new hire Freddy around for a tour of the facility. During the tour, Frank loosely ties in the events of Night of the Living Dead by telling Freddy a story about one of their chemicals named 2-4-5 Trioxin that spilled in Pittsburgh and reanimated the dead. He later goes on to say the government quickly contained and cover the whole thing up by altering the paperwork. He tells Freddy that some of the cadavers from this incident are stored in the basement in special gas tanks to prevent another outbreak. Frank decides to show Freddy these tanks but accidentally breaks one open sending the gas fumes throughout the facility and into the cadaver cold storage. Meanwhile, Freddy’s punk rocker friends grow tired of waiting for him to get off work and decide to go inside to retrieve him instead, this causes more confusion and a bigger mess for these two warehouse workers.
Good news for us that Frank did more than just release a deadly gas in this film. He actually opens two doors in this famous horror genre. Anybody that has dressed as a zombie on Halloween can be seen stumbling around the party uttering the famous line ‘Brians’. What you might not know is that this has been the only recorded time zombies have spoken in the history of zombie films, and is the only word they’ve ever said. The word ‘Brians’ is now so ingrained in the zombie folklore that when you think of zombies you can’t help but say the word now. Speaking zombies isn’t this movie’s only milestone though, they also created what we call the ‘Runner Zombie’. Instead of slow-moving ones, we see often in the movies, this film steps it up a notch and has them chase you down like wild animals. Well played, Dan, well played.
First Use of Tools: Day Of The Dead
Day Of The Dead is the third installment of George A. Romero’s famous Dead series. This film was the first scientifically ordinate film as a major plot point is about finding a cure to the outbreak.
It follows a group of military personnel and scientists living in an underground government bunker called The Everglades. The scientists are working hard on a cure to help stop the outbreak and save mankind, in exchange they get full military protection. A scientist named Dr. Logan decides to teach a zombie named ‘Bub’ to use tools to make him a functioning member of society. Dr. Logan believes zombie can be trained to be more docile despite the protests from his colleagues and guards. His experiment is quickly ended when communication breaks down completely and two officers are killed by zombies.
First Time in Love: Warm Bodies
We all remember our first love. So, how could we forget the 2013 romantic film Warm Bodies.
The story follows a zombie named R who lives at the local airport. While enjoying a nice lunch he develops a series of memories and falls in love with a human survivor named Julie. Julie gets quickly overrun by zombies during a supply run and R steps in to save her life. Both hold out on a plane and wait for the zombies to disperse. Julie realizes R isn’t a typical zombie and tries to help him regain his human side. Meanwhile, R is helping her get back to her fortress without being eaten by his zombie friends.
First Video Game: Castlevania
Resident Evil may be the first fully zombie orientated video game, but zombies made their first appearance in 8 bit in the 1986 NES classic Castlevania.
The game follows a man named Simon Belmont as he makes his way through Dracula’s castle with a very fashionable whip. There are 18 stages of gameplay where you will encounter a multitude amount of classic movie monsters like Frankenstein’s monster, Igor, the Mummy Man, and so on. In the end, Simon must face off with Dracula himself. The zombies are throughout the game as Dracula’s evil henchmen. Since it’s 1986 release it has been made into multiple sequels as well as a popular anime series on Netflix.
First Comic Book: Tales of Terror
Tales of Terror were designed by EC Comics in the early 1950s. EC Comics was found in 1944, and at the time all of their comics had wholesome and religious themes design to educate children. But, when the company started to suffer in 1944 after it’s owner, Maxwell Gaines, died in a boating accident he’s son William Gaines decided to merge with DC Comics, and that is when things turned dark fast.
Shortly after the merging EC comics went on to create Tales of Terror. Unfortunately, the comic book series hit another roadblock since at the time using the word ‘Terror’ in the title meant they were automatically banned from selling it due to the strict comic code regulations of the 50s. So, tired of fighting, the company decided to change their title to one we all know better, that title was Tales From the Crypt. The creators eventually gave up on this series in 1955 after countless battles with Comic Code Authorities over its dark and graphic content. By this time they stopped production they had only produced 27 issues of Tales From the Crypt. It didn’t become a household name until the now-famous HBO TV series with the same title aired in 1984. George A. Romero stated in an interview that EC Comics were his biggest inspiration behind Night of the Living Dead. Just a neat little fact I thought you would want to know.
First Story: Herbert West–Reanimator
Herbert West-Reanimator is a short story published by horror legend H.P. Lovecraft in the 1922 issue of Home Brew magazine. It’s a six-part story being told through the eyes of an unnamed narrator who is Herbert West’s only friend.
The story begins at Miskatonic University with a young medical student admiring West’s work in human anatomy. The two-men are working on an organic machine to restart life. Based on our previous knowledge we all know how well this plan is going to work out from them. Well, to save you time and fear of spoilers I’m not going to say any more on that. If you wish to read it I’m sure you can find the stories online or in any H.P. Lovecraft collection.
First Movie without a Major Character Death: Zombieland
Sure, a lot of people died during Zombieland that guy at the grocery store, the city of Columbus, and Bill f**king Murray (still makes me cry every time), but none of the main cast dies. Dying is a huge part in zombie films, so fans were shocked to see all four characters live to see another day.
For those who don’t know Zombieland is about this weak, nerdy kid named Columbus who claims to have survived as long as he did by following a set of rules he mentions throughout the movie. Along the way he runs into a major zombie-killing bad a** named Tallahassee who reluctantly agrees to help Columbus get home to, you guessed it Columbus. The two later get robbed by a couple of girls named Wichita and Little Rock who need their supplies to get to an amusement park in California. The four eventually agree to help each other out until they can no longer stand each other’s company. This turns into one crazy road trip as the gang battle zombies and each other as they make their way to the west coast. Despite the TV series having a major flop back in 2009, the franchise has a sequel planned for October 2019. Let’s see if they continue this trend.
First TV Show: Dead Set
You thought I was going to say The Walking Dead right? Well, despite popular belief The Walking Dead was not the first time zombies trying to get us through our TVs. That title goes to a short-lived British series in 2008 called Dead Set.
Dead Set is a fictional show design to look like Big Brother, but in the middle of a zombie outbreak. Unfortunately, the houseguests are unaware of the undead dangers that lurk outside. Not a whole is known about the show since it only ran, for one season and a few episodes are available on YouTube if interested in giving it a watch.
First Feature Length Zombie Film: White Zombie
I’m sorry to burst your bubble zombiholics, but Night of the Living Dead is not the first zombie movie. He may have created the flesh-eating monsters we love today, but the first official zombie flick goes to White Zombie.
White Zombie is an old black and white film from 1932 starring Bela Lugosi and Madge Bellamy. It may be less popular then it’s horror film companions of a similar time with it’s over the top plot and poor acting, it is still a film that withstood the test of time. Garnett Weston based the screenplay on William Seabrook’s novel The Magic Island, that was published in 1929.
The story follows a young couple named Madeline and Neil who traveled to Haiti to get married. As soon as they arrive they attract the attention of an evil voodoo master named Murder Legendre. When they reached their marriage venue the owner Charles Beaumont quickly falls in love with Madeline and seeks Murder’s help. Murder said they only way he could have Madeline is by making her his zombie with a special potion. At the wedding, Beaumont slips her the potion and Madeline quickly dies. After her funeral, the two men go to her grave and finish resurrecting her. Meanwhile, a drunk and distraught Neil has a strange dream about Madeline and gets the sudden urge to go to her grave. He is shocked to find it is empty. Desperately needing answers, Neil goes to the local missionary run by Dr. Bruner who informs him that Madeline is now a zombie and the two men begin a rescue mission to save her. If you enjoyed White Zombie, check out its 1936 sequel Revolt of the Zombies.