It is interesting to note that the original definition of the word ‘zombie’ differs significantly from that of the current popular depiction. Initially, the zombie concept was an element of the Haitian African-American religion known as Vodou (often inaccurately referred to as Voodoo). In this context, the term zombie is used to describe a deceased individual who is revived and has their every action governed by a sorcerer or bokor. The revived subject is thought to have no will of its own and is said to remain in a ‘zombie-like’ state. It is believed that the bokor captures and stores the victims soul (or zombi astral) in a jar or bottle, which can be either be used to strengthen their powers or sold on to clients as a good luck charm.
This process was investigated by Canadian anthropologist and ethnobotanist Wade Davis who, in his travels to Haiti in the 1980s, claimed that this ‘zombified state’ could be induced pharmacologically (i.e. drug-influenced). This is achieved through the use of compounds such as tetrodotoxin (toxic substance derived from puffer fish). This paralysing agent is thought to reduce heart and respiration rates to such an extent as to leave the subject displaying symptoms of clinical death, and, hence, they are treated as such. Having been buried, it is believed that the subject is then exhumed and partially revived by its possessor who then uses the ‘zombie’ for their own personal gain (i.e. manual labour etc.). The understandably intense trauma suffered by the victim may play a major role in the manifestation of their zombie-like attributes (confusion, limited speech, memory loss etc). Inspired by his findings, Davis went on to write several best sellers including Passage of Darkness (1988) and The Serpent and the Rainbow (1986) – which has since been transformed into a successful motion picture of the same title, (1988, director: Wes Craven). However, the credence of Davis’ studies has remained a topic of speculation within the scientific community.
The flesh eating fiends that we are familiar with today are largely down to the work of Mr George A. Romero (a legend in this field) which will be discussed in subsequent sections.