British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

Zombies: A Cultural History

The shift in Chapter 6 is representative of the problems facing any commentator on zombie culture: how to deal with the amount of primary sources that begin to emerge after the 1960s. In chapter 7 Roger Luckhurst wisely follows other commentators in opting to focus on the works of George Romero through his discussion of Dawn of the Dead (1978). This bridges the gap nicely between American and Italian film representations in the 1970s and 1980s, but unfortunately also means that other representations outside the most well-known texts are ignored: Luckhurst does not acknowledge the quantities of low budget or fan-made zombie films of the 1980s and 1990s, for example. Finally, in Chapter 8 he attempts a wide ranging discussion of modern texts, including the Resident Evil (2002 +) texts, World War Z (2013) and ongoing television series The Walking Dead (2010 +). These are thoughtful illustrations of changing embodiments of fear, introducing many new concepts to the reader such as the medicalisation discourses of death and epidemics in popular culture. However, the overall impression is of trying to cover too much material and too many approaches, to conclude that the zombie can be both emblematic of homogenized global culture but also nationally specific.

… the book is an engaging overall history for students and teachers of zombie culture generally

The book is an engaging overall history for students and teachers of zombie culture generally, with specific cultural interpretations and narratives introduced clearly. For those intending to teach or study zombie film/literature, the book is very useful in its overview of key texts and ideas, but is not an exhaustive history. The sections and arguments detailing the pre-history of the zombie are particularly useful for those engaging in teaching racial and colonial/post-colonial studies of culture.

For those seeking additional material, the edited collection by Shawn McIntosh and Marc Leverette Zombie Culture: Autopsies of the Living Dead ((2008), Scarecrow Press) offers a number of essays on specific aspects of zombie culture, including Italian zombie films and Tanya Krzywinska’s detailed approach to zombie video games. Kyle William Bishops American Zombie Gothic: The Rise and Fall and Rise of the walking dead in popular culture (2010)Mc Farland and Co.) is an interesting cultural history (anticipating the historical structure Luckhurst uses) that positions the zombie as belonging specifically to the American gothic.

More recently, and a result of the Zombosium conference at Winchester University in 2011, Laura Hubner, Marcus Leaning and Paul Manning’s edited collection The Zombie Renaissance in Popular Culture (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015) offers a good introductory section on the vitality of the zombie in popular culture, before branching into specific case studies on media forms, fans and interpretations of the zombie. A similar approach is evident in Screening the Undead: Vampires and Zombies in Film and Television, (Tauris, 2014) with editors Leon Hunt, Sharon Lockyer and Milly Williamson providing three sections of the book on vampires, zombies and ‘hybrid’ horror texts and monsters. In terms of more popular criticism of zombie film, Book of the Dead: The Complete History of Zombie Cinema by Jamie Russell (2005) FAB Press) is a good overall listing of zombie films from the 1930s onwards. It includes chapters based on periods of zombie film production, with a lively discussion of made-for-video and fan zombie films, but its value is in its use as a reference guide for film titles and details.

For specific discussions of George Romero, Tony Williams The Cinema of George Romero, Knight of the Living Dead (Wallflower, 2004) is an authoritative and detailed discussion of his career and consistent thematic concerns, and is highly recommended. There are also specific discussions of his work in Kim Newman’s Nightmare Movies (2nd Edition, 2011, Bloomsbury Publishing). An excellent text by the noted reviewer and horror fiction writer, this is a approachable starting point to engage students with histories of horror and notions of national history and trauma, as well as case studies of horror film directors.

Dr Emma Austin

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