The Origins of Zombies

As you know, dear readers, I am quite the fan of zombies. Having finished up World War Z, I was reading through a bunch of zombie stuff, and I thought I’d write up my Origins of Zombies. By that I term I mean, “how are they created?”

The below approach is based on current (Western, I’d guess) popular culture rather than folk-lore.

Voodoo Zombies

From House of the Dead

Typically, coming from the Caribbean, this type of zombie is created by use of black magic. Some call that magic voodoo, others like to call it hoodoo. Either way, you’re screwed as you’re now under control of whoever applied the black magic to you.

There are two variants to Voodoo Zombies:

  • The Living Zombie: here the zombie is more a still alive person under a spell more than a zombie as we’d understand it. The zombie in this case either is under the control of a spell or some sort of compound. This may seem like a Bio Zombie (see below), but the idea is that there’s magic involved instead of science. The remarkable thing about this type of zombie is that people can be cured: the spell or effects of the drug can be reversed. Additionally, these zombies are typically not infectious. These zombies have a chance to remember their pre-zombie life. In some cases, such zombies have the same mental capacity as their pre-zombie self. Indeed, selves “zombie kings” made themselves into zombies to achieve a rotting immortality.
  • Undead Zombie: in this case, the black magic is used to raise the dead rather than make control the living in a zombie-like state. These are your normal zombies: they want to eat people and their bite or other “fluid exchange” creates a new zombie. These zombies know nothing of their pre-zombie life. Indeed, they’re often rotting and just shambling mounds of grave-gunk.

In either case, in most cases Americans are always running into these zombies in the Caribbean or Africa. The spread is usually from a “black” country to a “white” country, and the story arch is one of disbelief on the part of the white heros (though they’re warned by “natives” and those who’ve “gone native”), struggle, containment, and then failure to contain the zombies as one or two manages to get on an errant boat that happens to arrive in New York or some other American port.

House of the Dead

Exceptions to this general plot-line/story exist, for example, the House of the Dead world where Voodoo Zombies exist in multitude and seem more European than Caribbean. Important to this Voodoo Zombie sub-type is the fact that the zombies take many different forms, even some non-human. Demons are usually involved, perhaps the ones who created the zombies.

My Take

Voodoo Zombies have the potential for richest back story, for example, The Serpent and the Rainbow and the afore mentioned House of the Dead. They’re usually the most gory, but cheesy as most of these movies are from the ’70’s.

As The Living Zombie originates from real-worls folk-lore, that sub-type it’s the “realest” of zombies with a rich history of actual people claiming to have seen such zombies.

The idea of “zombie kings” is kind of fun, but it kind of ruins the whole point of zombies, namely, that they’re shambling hordes of flesh-craving ex-humans. Indeed, the sort of gothic, mentally burred alive nature of becoming a zombie doesn’t apply to zombie kings.

The Skeleton Key is an interesting variant on The Voodoo Zombie in that black magic is used by a pair of voodoo priest houngan and mambo [thanks to Jay for the wording] to switch their “selves” from old bodies to new bodies. Once they’ve shifted to the new bodies, they apply a debilitating drug or spell to their victim who then becomes paralyzed and mute. Not quite a zombie, but close in genre.

Bio Zombies

The Racoon City Times

These zombies are created by either genetic engineering or some sort of drug. There are two sub-types: Man-Made and Natural Bio Zombies.

Man-Made Bio Zombies

In most cases, esp. now-a-days, genetic engineering is involved with some sort of virus as the vehicle or cause of the “transformation.” Typically, a private pharama company is doing research for the military to create The Ultimate Weapon: a human converted into a zombie having (a.) near immunity, (b.) great strength, (c.) berserker determination to fight, and yet, (d.) are easy to control, at least as needed.

As The Ultimate Weapon angle indicates, these zombies are not always geared towards being shambling flesh easter. However, their bite usually does transform the living into the undead. Indeed, there’s usually a hierarchy of zombies starting with typical, slow and dumb zombies, to more monster-like zombies, all the way up to Super Zombies that can fire weapons and may even be sentient on the same level as Voodoo Zombie Kings. Additionally, Man-Made Bio Zombies are typically cross-species as seen best in the Resident Evil world where dogs are transformed into deadly zombie dogs.

As noted above, Bio Zombies occur when the associated virus is leaked. A system of containment follows, followed by “going in” to whip out the zombies. Military- Industrial Complex conspiracies are often unveiled as the pharma company, the military, or both are interesting in continuing research. These stories are usually pure action with some “oh shit!” pop-up moments spread through-out instead of stalking-horror.

Also, Man-Made Bio Zombies can be created from toxic waste, post-Nuke derbies, or other agents whose zombie transformative powers are unintentional. The Omega Man comes to mind, though The Family wasn’t so much a pack of zombies as a pack of ’70’s cold-war Nuke mutants. The terrible Redneck Zombies is more appropriate.

Natural Bio Zombies

In this case, instead of humans creating the Zombie Virus, it naturally occurs. For example, in the Max Brooks world of Zombies, the “Solanum” virus causes the initial out-break in China, where is spreads to the rest of the world.

These are inevitably “traditional zombies” through-and-through: slow moving, mindless, flesh-craving undead.

My Take

Natural Bio Zombies are one of the two core zombie types. If it weren’t for the possibility that Romero-world zombies were Space Zombies, they’d be “the majority” of zombies. In that sense, if the origin of a zombie is in question, it’s safe to assume it’s a Natural Bio Zombie. Stories like 28 Days Later walk a thin-line between Natural and Man-Made Bio Zombies, illustrating that humans can still intervene and make worse the Zombie Virus without decisively categorizing the resulting Zombie Mess as Man-Made.

On the other hand, I detest Man-Made Bio Zombies as they’re the ones the most as they’re prey to being made into Super Zombies, which is just fucking stupid. Running zombies are marginally OK, but Super Zombies are just the thing of sequel trash. Really, these are straight up Frankenstein’s monsters, but get lumped in with zombies. Furthermore, as pointed out above, the military aspect means that Super Zombie stories end up being shoot ’em up fests which, when you’re wanting a zombie movie, is like taking DayQuil when you really wanted to take NyQuil.

A much richer story would be had if instead of having to become zombies the humans remained more human like but had to sort out their new abilities and selves. For example, to story of Wolverine in the X-Men movie series. From that example, I suppose, mutants are much more to my liking in the story-space than zombies.

Space Zombies

Zombie from Undead

In this case, something from space — radiation, a meteor, or even aliens — comes to earth and creates the zombies. As noted above, the going theory is that Romero-world zombies are Space Zombies, but that’s based on intra-movie speculation itself.

These zombies are usually Traditional Zombies like the Voodoo Undead Zombie and the Natural Bio Zombie. In some cases, however, people can be transformed back to their human state as seen in excellent Undead. In a sense, aside from the non-terrestrial origin, Space Zombie could be consider Man-made Zombies: well, Alien-Made.

My Take

Aliens always have the high potential to be an interesting plot devise, but they’re easy to abuse as an easy one as well. I have no problem with any sort of Traditional Zombie created by whatever means, but, as with Man-made Bio Zombies, if things start to go more monster than narrowly zombie, I start rolling my eyes.

Quisling “Zombies”

Not technically a zombie, these are humans who’ve succumb to a sort of species Stockholm syndrome in which they identify and then take on the persona/life of zombies. As such, they just appear and act like zombies. Though their bite isn’t zombie infectious, their over-all dirtiness often means their bite has all sorts of other infectious problems.

I’ve only recently encountered Quisling “Zombies” in World War Z. But, it seems like it’d be a good Psychopaths for Dead Rising.

My Take

I’m not quite sure I’m fully bought into the Quisling “Zombie” yet. As the comments in other sections allude to, I’m pretty much a straight up fan of the traditional zombie. Variations from that always seem sketchy at first.

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7 thoughts on “The Origins of Zombies

  1. at last a theorist. a zombie theorist who has the balls to publish his theories.
    I dis like the super zombie and its ability to run for one reason I wouldn’t stand a bloody chance the shambling rotting corpse is a better bet if It didn’t catch me puking from the smell.
    Have you read the book Xombie. that is another good take on the zombie theory but it is us girlies that start it off.
    To top it all it really starts with shaun, a cracking brit flick
    full of Romcom zombies COOL

  2. um ohk. im writing a book on zombies, and its all gonna b completely different 2 what all the legends and stuff say.
    definitely not gonna b the traditional zombie, or anything near what u have mentioned.
    does anyone know the origin of like, the very first zombie??
    but, u have provided some very useful info here. :)

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