With the popularity of TV shows like The Walking Dead and video games like “The Last of Us,” zombies have officially entered the current mainstream pop culture arena and don’t show signs of leaving. Originating from West African voodoo religion, the concept of a zombie came to America via the African slave trade (and America has dutifully appropriated the concept for its own profit, but that’s a discussion for another day). The voodoo religion still has cultural significance in the American South, particularly in New Orleans, as well as throughout South and Central America; definitions of what a zombie is in these cultures varies, but the most common and realistic explanation is that voodoo queens and priestesses would create “zombies” by administering a specific kind of herbal medicine that would lower an individual’s heart rate so much that they would appear dead, and then proceed to thoroughly terrify everyone when they broke out of their coffins. It was only a matter of time before this would become a popular horror movie trope.
In a rather interesting twist, a lot of zombie movies double as social commentary. This is probably because a zombie outbreak likely spells out the end of the world in a pretty horrifying way, and any extreme situation of that kind necessarily magnifies an individual’s or a society’s values. How would you react to a zombie apocalypse? How would your city or your country? These questions are at the forefront of any zombie film, and therefore those themes dovetail nicely with the other major appeal of any good horror movie: scaring the shit out of you.
Because, let’s face it, the genre of the zombie is one of the most fertile concepts in the entire horror catalogue. They are the anarchic, bloodthirsty monsters every horror movie ever has tried to create; with no emotions or values of their own, they exist (or, rather, ceased to exist) solely to terrorize, and killing one does not guarantee the extermination of the rest, creating an endless cycle of dread that can be used in a horror storyline in a number of different ways.