An Exploration of Zombies in Literature and Film (by Maria Ramos)
Guest Blog by Maria Ramos
Maria is a writer interested in comic books, cycling, and horror films. Her hobbies include cooking, doodling, and finding local shops around the city. She currently lives in Chicago with her two pet turtles, Franklin and Roy.
You can follow her on Twitter @MariaRamos1889
Find her earlier guest blog about Bram Stoker’s Dracula here..
An Exploration of Zombies in Literature and Film
Following the success of AMC’s runaway hit The Walking Dead comes Fear the Walking Dead, the network’s spinoff series set to premier later this summer. The Walking Dead is based on the comic book series of the same name created by Robert Kirkman, and now the prequel series will also fall under the same universe, with a rumored timeline meet up later on in the series. But these tv series aren’t the only popular zombie fiction to have been adapted from a literary medium – or vice versa.
The term “zombie” can be traced all the way back to its Haitian roots growing from the religious practice of voodoo. The first use of the term in popular culture is pinpointed in Western literature in William Seabrook’s 1929 novel The Magic Island. This concept was used again in the 1932 Bela Lugosi film White Zombie, and was the general perception of the zombie until George Romero’s seminal 1968 film Night of the Living Dead, which posited zombies as harbingers of the apocalypse, reanimated by unknown forces and in thrall to nothing but a hunger for living flesh.
Following Romero’s resurgence of the zombie, the genre continued to expand, including several adaptations. Not only have zombies taken on various appearances throughout the years, their speed, intelligence, and the way the virus is transmitted varies greatly. Tony Burgess’ 1995 novel Pontypool Changes Everything, about a virus spread via the use of language that drives victims into a rage, was adapted into the 2008 film Pontypool. This fast moving, low budget horror films success is due in large part to Burgess adapting the material for the screen himself.
Warm Bodies, the 2011 novel by Isaac Marion and a modern zombie romance making reference to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, takes place in a world where zombies retain some of their sentience. Save some minor changes, most of Marion’s novel successfully made it to the screen intact in the 2013 film adaptation – a charming and lively experience that stands out against the grisly nature of most zombie stories.
As some of the adaptations remained similar to their counterparts, others altered aspects of the storyline or elements of the zombies resulting in dramatically different movies. World War Z, a novel by Max Brooks, delves into the themes of isolationism, survivalism, politics, and the ineptitude of world governments in the face of a rapidly escalating crisis. Unfortunately, a screenplay rewrite for the 2013 film adaptation left behind much of the book’s premise turning it into an action movie and resulting in the title being the only thing the movie had in common with the novel.
Alternatively, some movies have merely been loosely based on zombie lit, as is the case with H.P. Lovecraft’s novella Herbert West – Reanimator as the inspiration for the horror comedy Re-Animator. Lovecraft’s themes of misanthropy and insanity, and his preoccupation with visceral imagery are all present in the film. The popularity of Re-Animator and the huge cult following Lovecraft’s work resulted in a recent release of a comic adaptation of the film. Likewise, Night of the Living Dead, Shaun of the Dead, and 28 Days Later all spawned graphic novels, and a novel based on Dawn of the Dead by George A. Romero was subsequently written by Romero himself.
Similar to The Walking Dead series, at times it is necessary to change plot specifics, as some of the book’s developments would not work well on the screen. Many argue that this enhances the viewing experience for fans of the book, as plenty of surprises still lie in wait for them. With Fear the Walking Dead (premiering on AMC through DTV and Hulu) being a prequel series to both the comic book and tv series The Walking Dead, viewers truly have no idea what they’re in for.
Zombie fiction continues to be a template onto which authors and directors can project fears and attitudes that reflect modern culture. This has led to the acceptance of the genre even by those who aren’t into horror, which in turn has led to the proliferation of more zombie stories, a trend not likely to stop anytime soon.
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