A brief History on the Origin and Intertwine of the Vampire and Zombie.
Not many are aware of it, but the walking dead have a history, one that pre-dates the movies. The best place to start would probably be pre-medieval Europe. Legend and folklore have long held that sometimes, when a person dies with unfinished business, he may rise from the dead to finish it, or to seek revenge for some evil doing. There have been numerous stories that describe an evil murderer being killed by the dead. These walking dead sometimes devour their victims and continue to live as long as they can eat living flesh and blood. The early European stories always described these flesh-eating, blood-sucking creatures as being dead looking. Their appearance ranged from very fresh (just a blue-white pallor) to very rotten (black, bloated and stinking). Besides the obvious differences between these creatures and true Zombies (or Jumbies), these pre-medieval European creatures do not follow any master. They are slave to no one, except their eternal hunger. They rise from the grave and seek the living all on their own. They hunt flesh . . . living flesh. These creatures do seem very much like our favorite grave-leaving, flesh hunters that starred in cult movies like George Romero’s Dead trilogy, Richard Mathesons Last Man on Earth, Oasis of the Zombies, and Night of the Zombies. What do you think these hideous, rotting corpses bent on eating human flesh, sucking blood, and exacting revenge were called by the early Europeans? Wampyres! (Pronounced: vam-pie-er) Yes, that’s right! Vampires! They are the original vampires that have been re-written and romanticized by writers for centuries.
In time, some very interesting Rumanian rulers were labeled “vampires” for their indulgent, bloody criminal-punishing techniques. They became the subjects of many fiction writers, immortalized to most in the classic Dracula by Bram Stoker. These writers drew from actual historical writings and local legends and, with a little imagination, creatively devised their own creatures. Modern literature is so completely saturated with this fictional image of the vampires, that when anyone says “vampire,” we don’t see the original decaying creatures for which the name Wampyre was created, we see the fictional fang-growing, Gothic, aristocratic rulers of a crumbling European empire.
The History Of The Zombies That We Now Know
Paralleling this evolution, movie-zombies have gone from being depicted as actual Zombies, to Wampyres, to a strange blend of the two. They have become a risen abomination of humanity, out of control, with a lust for living flesh. Actual Zombies can be found in such films as White Zombie, I Walked With a Zombie, and Serpent and the Rainbow. These films show us Voodoo in action. We have Voodoo priests that turn the dead, and sometimes the living, into Zombies. Another movie that shows Zombies as slaves of a master (in this case a master race from outer space) is Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space. It shows us aliens from outer space asking the age-old question, Hey! What do voodoo priests got that we ain’t got? In movies like Dawn of the Dead, we’re not sure what raised the dead. In one of the scenes at the beginning of the film, there is a struggle between the SWAT team and some people in a room. If you look closely, you can see a table in the foreground that is covered with what appears to be a Voodoo altar of protection. In Lucio Fulci’s film Zombies, the director shows you that Voodoo can make the dead stand up and walk. You constantly hear the Voodoo drums being beaten in the distance. We never discover if the drums are the handy-work of the Houngans creating the Zombies or if these are the drums of the Islanders trying to ward off the evil that is plaguing them. The
creatures in Zombies are more like the Wampyres of old, but with a Voodoo twist. What we do know is that the dead have come back to suck the blood from the living. Houngan Zombies also have no way of creating other zombies. However, if a vampire bites you and doesn’t rip you apart, you become a vampire. Just like in the movie Zombies. This is a prime example of the initial blending of Zombie and Wampyre lore.
In the early fifties, an American writer named Richard Matheson wrote a book of fiction based on the European Wampyres and the modern romantic Vampires. The creatures in his book I Am Legend looked like the dead, rotting Wampyres, but grow fangs, hate sunlight and garlic, and can be killed by driving a stake through their hearts. The strange twist of this story is that man created these Vam-pyres. They were mistakenly risen by science. I suppose they could be called Z-am-pyres. Richard Matheson’s book I Am Legend tells the story about how society is ever evolving. Sometimes when we evolve too quickly, we undergo a revolution. His Zampyres are nothing more than a group of revolutionaries bent on the destruction of the Old World. They can attain their goals by killing the main character, Robert Neville. Neville is the last true human on Earth, hence the movie adaptation of the book The Last Man on Earth. Later there was another, starring Charlton Heston, called The Omega Man, but we won’t go into that.
In 1968, George Romero released Night of the Living Dead. In this movie, the Earth was plagued by zombies (really Wampyres) — a revolutionary force that wrenches control of the Earth from human society and ultimately replaces it with its own. Sound familiar? Yes, Romero was
inspired by Mathesons I Am Legend. Night of the Living Dead has its differences though. The origins of George’s zombies are never explained. Neither light, garlic, mirrors, or stakes through the heart damage them. Only destroying their brain can kill them. The zombies in Night of the Living Dead are really Wampyres of the ancient world. They are here for unfinished business, and that business is to destroy the human race before it destroys itself and everything else! More recently, the movies have devised new causes for the creation of our dead friends. These range far beyond a Voodoo priests ranting and raving, or the desire to right a wrong done to them. In films like Astro Zombies, Garden of the Dead, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, Zombies 3, and Return of the Living Dead, science either makes a very bad booboo, or intentionally creates zombies using something besides Voodoo magic. In Astro Zombies, the creatures are created to work in the harsh conditions of outer space, but find themselves on Earth terrorizing young ladies. In Garden of the Dead, some angry prisoners inhale formaldehyde to get high, die and return to destroy their captors. In Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, entomologists create a machine that only affects the underdeveloped nervous systems of insects. This machine causes the insects to attack and devour themselves leaving our farms and gardens insect free without harmful poisons. Perfect, except for one thing we didn’t count on. The nervous systems of the dead have decomposed to the level of insects. They are affected by the machine and begin eating human flesh.
The Dead Rise In Zombies 3, the germ warfare scientists in the military develop a means to create an army of the dead. These soldiers cannot be killed except by a shot to the head. The problem is that they also spread the germ through biting and scratching. Once the living are infected, they too become zombies. (The zombies in Zombie 3 are some of the most spastic zombies ever shown on film next to those in Return of the Living Dead.) Return of the Living Dead shows us how a military screw-up can put a dangerous germ warfare chemical into the hands of a couple of medical supply warehouse workers and ultimately destroy the world.
The difference between all the Zombies/Wampyres depicted previously, and the dead in Return of the Living Dead is sheer aggressiveness! Return zombies are hell-bent for BRAINS! and cannot be killed. Hack off a limb and it will drag itself toward you for
BRAINS! Thus, the legions of horror moviegoers have intertwined zombies and “BRAINS!” in a match made in Hell.
In sum, zombies in film have evolved from the reanimated slaves of Voodoo priests to Wampyres from ancient Europe, back to zombies raised by science, instead of Voodoo, that eat flesh like Wampyres and are totally out of control. George Romero once said, “I have always thought of the zombie as the ‘blue-collar’ monster. Zombies are the kind of horror that anyone can someday become! So, no matter how average, weak or insignificant you may have felt while alive, once dead, if you can manage to sit up, even for a moment, you too could strike fear into the hearts of the living!”
Picture: George Romero often known as the Father of the Modern Zombie
Source: “All Flesh Must Be Eaten” RPG Game