Zombies - From Haitian Folklore to Hollywood
ZombiesZombies are the only Cinema monsters without previous reference on horror literature. Only on a book about folklore research “The Magic Island” (William Seabrook, Alexander King) we can find the first reference about Zombies as a believe among the Haitian islanders and rumors among the African slaves in Caribbean. There are significant differences between the archetype of Hollywood zombies and Haitian folklore zombie. Cinema presents Zombies as returned dead ready to conquer earth by expanding a disease. Hollywood zombies are unstoppable flesh eaters. On the other hand according to Haitian tradition Zombies are not necessary dead and they are not eat flesh they are weird human beings walking on night around cemeteries.
After the release of the book “The Magic Island” theater was the first art to create an artistic project based on a Zombie concept. In 1932 took place the stage play “Zombie”. The same year cinema introduced the archetype of Zombies in film “The White Zombie” (Victor Helperin, 1932). The film “White Zombie” was produced on a minimal budget by using the already used in films Frankestein and Dracula sets and the available cast form Universal Studio (Bela Lugosi). The theme of the film is about a mad scientist (Muder Legendre) who used a special drug to turn the local citizens of an island into an army of Haitian Zombies. The film is excellent and it achieved a huge commercial success.
Later in 1936 Halperin brothers tried to repeat the success of the film “White Zombie” by producing a sequel film with the title “"Revolt of the Zombies"”, the theme of the film is about the creation of a Zombie army in Cambodia. As result, the Helperin brothers created a new sub - genre, the military zombie sub genre. The film “The Revolt of the Zombies” was not a great commercial success as the initial film “White Zombie” but influenced the film industry and and the creativity. Later Jean Yarbrough in 1941 directed the film”King of the Zombies” and in 1943 Steve Sekely directed the film “Revenge of the Zombies” both films share the same theme mad Axis scientists trying to use zombies for world domination.
In 1941 Jacques Tourneur directs a masterpiece of horror cinema and in my opinion the best Zombie film ever “I walked with a zombie” by adding another aspect to Zombie mythology, the mental illness. The film “I walked with a Zombie” asks a question to audience “what if, the Zombie is a mental ill person.
After two decades Hammer Studios produced the film “The Plague of the Zombies” (John Gilling, 1949) the theme of the film is about the exploitation of cheap labor with poor white villagers turned into Zombies for use as labor slaves.
(to be continued)
I walked with a Zombie
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