Zombies are fictional undead creatures created through the reanimation of human corpses. Zombies are most commonly found in horror and fantasy genre works.
The term comes from Haitian folklore (Haitian French: zombi, Haitian Creole: zonbi) where a zombie is a dead body animated by magic. Modern depictions of zombies do not necessarily involve magic but invoke other methods such as viruses.
Zombies have a complex literary heritage, with antecedents ranging from Richard Matheson and H. P. Lovecraft to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein drawing on European folklore of the undead. George A. Romero's reinvention of the monster for his 1968 film Night of the Living Dead led to several zombie films in the 1980s and a resurgence of popularity in the 2000s. The "zombie apocalypse" concept, in which the civilized world is brought low by a global zombie infestation, became a staple of modern popular art.
The English word "zombie" is first recorded in 1819, in a history of Brazil by the poet Robert Southey, in the form of "zombi". The Oxford English Dictionary gives the origin of the word as West African, and compares it to the Kongo words nzambi (god) and zumbi (fetish).
One of the first books to expose Western culture to the concept of the Vodou zombie was The Magic Island by W.B. Seabrook in 1929. This is the sensationalized account of a narrator who encounters voodoo cults in Haiti and their resurrected thralls. Time claimed that the book "introduced 'zombi' into U.S. speech".
In 1932, Victor Halperin directed White Zombie, a horror film starring Bela Lugosi. Here zombies are depicted as mindless, unthinking henchmen under the spell of an evil magician.
Zombies, often still using this voodoo-inspired rationale, were initially uncommon in cinema, but their appearances continued sporadically through the 1930s to the 1960s, with notable films including I Walked with a Zombie (1943) and Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959).
George Romero's Zombies
How these creatures came to be called "zombies" is not fully clear. The film Night of the Living Dead made no spoken reference to its undead antagonists as "zombies", describing them instead as "ghouls" (though ghouls, which derive from Arabic folklore, are demons, not undead). Although George Romero used the term "ghoul" in his original scripts, in later interviews he used the term "zombie".
The word "zombie" is used exclusively by Romero in his 1978 script for his sequel Dawn of the Dead, including once in dialog. According to George Romero, film critics were influential in associating the term "zombie" to his creatures, and especially the French magazine "Les Cahiers du Cinéma". He eventually accepted this linkage even though he remained convinced at the time that "zombies" corresponded to the undead slaves of Haitian Vodou as depicted in Bela Lugosi's White Zombie.