Zombies: A Living History

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MOST people believe zombies are a relatively recent phenomenon that grew out of comic books, movies and TV.

Our current fascination is obvious with The Walking Dead on the small screen, movies such as the upcoming World War Z and even Britain’s annual Brighton Zombie Walk which will take place for a sixth time in October 2012.

This HISTORY special explores the real story of these flesh-eating horrors, beginning at the dawn of civilisation and continuing right through to today.
While the starting point for our modern view is George A. Romero’s 1968 movie The Night of the Living Dead, the first written reference can be found in the ancient Epic of Gilgamesh, mankind’s oldest work of literature.

We are then taken through the myths of various cultures across the ages and it’s no surprise that Europe’s Black Plague became one of the most prolific periods for zombie tales, because mankind was surrounded by sickness and death.

Of course, just one zombie would not be much of a problem at all but they always seem to come in packs, reflecting the way in which real-life communities have been overwhelmed by disease and armies of pillaging invaders.

Completing the construction of the creature familiar from modern fiction is the Western revulsion for cannibalism; and our concerns about mankind creating viruses and monstrosities by tampering with nature – as seen in the Greek myth of Prometheus, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and modern-day biological warfare.

The DVD then moves on from history, legend and fiction to the idea of the zombie apocalypse, treating it as though it might actually happen. Some of the same ground is covered as in that that famous Centers for Disease Control blog advising us on how to prepare for such an event.

The various presenters discussed their weapons of choice and there was also a short section on guns and ammo which, in the light of the Colorado cinema shooting, may prove a sensitive topic for some viewers.

There was a good use of contributors including Max Brooks, author of World War Z, who featured prominently.

Overall, this documentary special is well made and offered plenty of information and background to place zombies in a historical and cultural context.

It also introduced me to the terms ‘Bug In’ and ‘Bug Out’, the former meaning barricading yourself in a secure place and the latter meaning to flee to the wilderness. Now we will be able to tweet the correct phrases when the ravenous, gruesome hordes of undead are seeking their next meal on our doorsteps.

Zombies: A Living History is now out on DVD.