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What are Zombies?

Zombies have their roots in Haitian voodoo folklore.
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  • Written By: Kathy Hawkins
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 11 September 2014
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In popular culture, zombies are people who have died and been reanimated as mindless, nearly invulnerable monsters that band together and attack the living. They are also known as "the living dead," "the walking dead," or "the undead."

Though many people are familiar with zombies from horror movies, TV shows, and video games, their history dates back hundreds of years, to stories in Haitian Voodoo folklore. In the Haitian culture, there are hundreds of stories of people dying and being brought back to life by a witch doctor; the reanimated person has no awareness of who he used to be, though he is not dangerous to others.

Zombies did not gain a strong presence in American popular culture, however, until the 1968 release of George A. Romero's classic horror film, The Night of the Living Dead. The film featured slow-moving, violent, cannibalistic zombies, and many critics believe that it sparked a new era in horror film-making. Romero has directed numerous sequels to the film, all using zombies to represent a critique of society.

A recent British film, Shaun of the Dead, released in 2004, was a parody of Romero's movies about zombies, billing itself as a "zom-com" or "zombie comedy." Other famous zombie films include Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson's Braindead, which was titled Dead Alive for its U.S. release, and a 2004 remake of Romero's Dawn of the Dead.

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Zombies have also been frequently used in TV shows, such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and frequently appear in many video games. In Michael Jackson's famous "Thriller" music video, he and a large group of corpses become zombies and perform a dance routine — the 14-minute clip is one of the most famous music videos in history. Zombies also have a strong presence in music, with bands like metal group White Zombie and 1960s pop group the Zombies naming themselves for the mythical monsters; the Cranberries also had a popular single called "Zombie."

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Discuss this Article

AshleyWolfe
Post 4

I'm not sure if i believe in zombies. but what i do know is, if they are real, they look like normal human beings. I've heard stories about people being seen walking around town when their record states they died like 20 years ago or whenever they died. but sometimes this also could pass as paranormal activity or demonic paranormal activity.

Glasshouse
Post 3

I have a great book by Max Brooks called The Zombie Survival Guide. The book is a manual that tells how to survive the undead apocalypse. It talks about everything from myths and truths about zombies to what types of weapons to use, to living in a world dominated by the undead. The book also has a back section that chronicles different cases of undead attacks across the globe and across history. This book is a little creepy, but fun. It is definitely a book that any zombie phobe should keep on hand.

Amphibious54
Post 2

@ Babalaas- There was actually a special on television (history or National Geographic) that describes the story you are talking about. An American scientist actually documented a person in this state in the mid-80s and the pictures are somewhat famous zombie pictures. The Voodoo sorcerer is actually called a Bokor, and they are sorcerers of the more unholy type. The special was about an hour, and it was an interesting look into the rituals that inspire zombie legends.

The special concluded that the stories could very well be plausible. Expert opinion was obtained and stated that if the poison were administered in the right quantities, a person could slip into a paralyzed, near dead state and still survive. There are actually documented cases of Fugu poisoning in Japan where someone who was thought dead actually returned to life a few days later. There are also puffer fish in the Caribbean that contain this poison, so it is readily available. Sometimes the science behind these legends is just as fascinating as the legend itself.

Babalaas
Post 1

I used to have a book called unsolved mysteries that had an investigation into real zombies. There was a story that i remember about documented cases of zombies, people coming back to life after being dead for several days. It actually described a voodoo ritual from Haiti that involves drugs, beatings, paralysis and near death to turn a hated person into a zombie slave.

Basically, the witch doctor uses a tetrodotoxin (the toxin found in the puffer fish) to paralyze the victim and lower the person's metabolism so they are in a near catatonic state. Once the person is placed in this state, they are beaten, tortured, even buried. If they survive this torture and don't overdose on the poison, the voodoo magician then administers a drug cocktail that causes brain damage, effectively erasing their mind, and leaving them in a state similar to a lobotomized person. This disoriented person is then an indebted servant until they die.

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