Ourselves Made Other: 'Zombies! An Illustrated History of the Undead'

Jovanka Vukovic sends us down a blood-splattered path of low-budget gore, zombie/porn mash-ups, and the seemingly endless entries of the Resident Evil franchise.

Zombies! An Illustrated History of the Undead

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Length: 176 pages
Author: Jovanka Vukovic
Price: $17.99
Format: Paperback
Publication Date: 2011-03

What accounts for the current popularity of zombies? These shambling messes of rotting flesh don’t just pop up in movies anymore; they crawl out of books, comics, video games, television, and they even appear in real-world cities during annual Zombie Walks. Vampires are easy--they’re all about sex -- but zombies, Jovanka Vukovic writes, area “ourselves made other”.

Zombies are monstrous versions of ourselves, sometimes wandering slow and alone, other times frenzied and part of a pack. “They symbolize the temporary relationship with our bodies,” Vukovic writes. That goes a long way toward explaining our continued fascination with the things. None of us wants to die, but to take a peek behind the veil is very tempting, like looking up a “death clock” online to find out what day you’re going to die.

Vukovic’s lavishly illustrated book covers the broad scope of zombie history, from the ancient Egyptians’ worship of Osiris and the belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ to the latest splatter films. The word “zombie” entered the Oxford English Dictionary in 1819, and the public’s fascination with the phenomenon rose from sensational travelogues like Patrick Lufcadio Hearn’s 1889 essay on Haiti, “Country of the Comers-Back”. Vukovic notes her book is less than comprehensive, but the early chapters on the zombie’s Haitian origins and its relevance to that island’s troubled history provide a firm historical footing for the guts and gore to come.

American fascination with Haiti peaked during the military’s occupation of 1915, Vukovic writes, and this interest carried over into the talking film era. It was in the movies that zombies began to flourish. The Bela Lugosi-starring White Zombie (1932) was American’s first zombie film, and many more followed. The early films stuck primarily with the Haiti/voodoo connection and, as Vukovic tells it, many producers simply slapped the dreaded z-word onto films that were simply rehashes of earlier works. Here, the short chapters of the book begin to sag, the plots of these largely forgotten B-movies translating as poorly to the page as they did to the big screen.

Things get interesting again in the '50s when zombies became a metaphor for the loss of autonomy under communism in films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Of course it’s Night of the Living Dead, released in 1968, and its 1978 sequel Dawn of the Dead, which codified the modern zombie. (Writer-director George Romero provides the introduction for this book, a ringing endorsement if there ever was one.)

After the big bang created by these films, zombies spread throughout Europe and Asia, and Vukovic sends us down a blood-splattered path of low-budget gore, zombie/porn mash-ups and the seemingly endless entries of the Resident Evil franchise. There’s a bit of everything in here, from the Zombeatles to the Bruce Willis, Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn film Death Becomes Her.

These sorts of books aren’t comprehensive because a complete history would fill many volumes and cover everything from the slave trade in the Caribbean to adult films of the '70s. As it stands, the book is a welcome addition to the zombie hordes currently descending upon bookstores. Zombies! An Illustrated History of the Undead distinguishes itself with humor, insight and lots of gory pictures. Every chapter serves as an introduction to this wide and varied genre, and is a good jumping-off point for learning to love the undead.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.