Books

Roger Luckhurst's 'Zombies' Is Gory and Highly Informative

Zombies is just as much an anti-imperialist work as it is an historical examination of the walking dead.


Zombies: A Cultural History

Publisher: Reaktion
Length: 224 pages
Author: Roger Luckhurst
Price: $25.00
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2014-10
Amazon

In Zombies: A Cultural History, Roger Luckhurst chronicles the over century long development of the modern day zombie, which has come to represent the “depersonalized” masses, “flat-lined by the alien tedium of modern life.” This is very similar to Karl Marx’s theory of alienation, where the individual becomes estranged from those around him due to the stratification of social classes.

Despite the image we now have of the zombie, the brainless and deteriorated wonderer searching for human flesh, these creatures actually began as the zombi, an experiment in 19th century black magic. Conjured up by priests in Haitian voodoo rites, they were living beings, albeit without the turning mouse-wheel that made them human.

Although this way of life, which supposedly included cannibalism, can be seen by us in the modern industrialized world as backward and savage, Luckhurst argues that the indigenous people were indeed victims of foreign imperialism, enslaved by American colonists and sentenced to “social death”. Therefore, Zombies is just as much an anti-imperialist work as it is an historical examination of the walking dead.

Luckhurst states that a later interpretation of the zombie came from American citizens, who feared the victims of their Caribbean empire would rise from their dead-like state and invade them on their own turf. Ironically, these hypothetical revenge plots that played out in pulp magazines of the '20s and '30s would have been caused by the harsh conditions that they themselves inflicted on the native populations. This predicament also echoes the contemporary issues of immigration from Latin America to the United States, and the migration of refugees from the Middle East to the West.

Not only does Luckhurst delve into the history and deeper meaning of the zombie, but he also critiques some of horror cinema’s most unforgettable characters, such as Dracula, Frankenstein, and particularly, the Mummy. Contrary to popular opinion that Karl Freund 1932 horror classic, The Mummy simply depicts the clash of civilizations between the West and Egypt, the author insists that it is in fact an allegory for the British occupation of Egypt, and that the titular villain is exacting vengeance on his descendant’s oppressors.

Like William Seabrook’s Magic Island, Luckhurst dedicates a large amount of his time to the novel’s 1932 film adaptation, White Zombie, whose title inspired the name of Rob Zombie’s band.

Midway through the book, Luckhurst coins the term “Zombie Massification”, and applies it to the ideologies of fascism and Nazism, and the practice of McCarthyism. It's also during the first half of the 20th century that the distinction between the Haitian zombi (the singular spiritual missionary), and the American zombie (the multiple brain-dead fiends), is made. Like the authoritarian regimes and the suburban conformity of time, the term zombie came to symbolize the concept of like-minded mass movements.

George A. Romero’s game changing zombie films are some of the book's main focus points. Luckhurst makes the case that the original 1968 Night of the Living Dead, and particularly its 1990 remake, are commentaries on conservative America, as the packs of gun-totting zombie hunters sometimes mirror the very creatures they are putting down. Luckhrst also insists that themes of consumerism, militarism and class struggle are also touched upon in Romero’s later releases, such as 1978’s Dawn of the Dead, 1985’s Day of the Dead, and 2005’s Land of the Dead.

For the film buffs, the author also gives some production notes on '80s Cannibal Holocaust, where animals were killed in the making of the film and the director, Ruggero Deadato, was arrested for making a “snuff film”. Luckhurst also points out the influence that this Italian exploitative horror classic had on the found footage genre, whose notable titles include 1999’s The Blair Witch Project and 2009’s Paranormal Activity.

Now, in the digital era, “the zombie offers transmedial synergies for global entertainment corporations.” This is in reference to the Resident Evil video game series; the subsequent film adaptations starring Mila Jovovich, and the AMC hit televisions series The Walking Dead, based on the comic book series created by Robert Kirkman. Luckhurst is very critical of the 2013 blockbuster World War Z, where in true Biblical form, hoards of Arab zombies are mowed down as they relentlessly climb centuries old walls in order to infect the now heavily militarized Holy Land.

In his closing arguments, the author states that the current rendition of the zombie has become the epitome of globalization. Like Brad Pitt’s character in World War Z, the uniquely American flesh-eaters are being shipped overseas. The Walking Dead is now being broadcasted in the UK, and France has developed a zombie series of its own, The Returned, based on the 2004 film They Came Back. Like the online gaming phenomenon, Luckhurst notices that the zombie counterculture is uniting “dead-head”, regardless of national boarders.

Although Luckhurst doesn’t score any brownie points with us gamers when he, “can vividly recall being bitten to death” while playing the original Resident Evil, his work is certainly an entertaining history of those who continue to walk among us, even after death.

6
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

12 Essential Kate Bush Songs

While Kate Bush is a national treasure in the UK, American listeners don't know her as well. The following 12 songs capture her irrepressible spirit.

Music

Tatsuya Nakatani and Shane Parish Replace Form with Risk on 'Interactivity'

The more any notions of preconceived musicality are flicked to the curb, the more absorbing Tatsuya Nakatani and Shane Parish's Interactivity gets.

Music

Martin Green's Junkshop Yields the Gritty, Weird Story of Britpop Wannabes

Featuring a litany of otherwise-forgotten budget bin purchases, Martin Green's two-disc overview of coulda-been Britpop contenders knows little of genre confines, making for a fun historical detour if nothing else.

Reviews

Haux Compellingly Explores Pain via 'Violence in a Quiet Mind'

By returning to defined moments of pain and struggle, Haux cultivates breathtaking music built on quiet, albeit intense, anguish.

Reviews

'Stratoplay' Revels in the Delicious New Wave of the Revillos

Cherry Red Records' six-disc Revillos compilation, Stratoplay, successfully charts the convoluted history of Scottish new wave sensations.

Reviews

Rising Young Jazz Pianist Micah Thomas Debuts with 'Tide'

Micah Thomas' Tide is the debut of a young jazz pianist who is comfortable and fluent in a "new mainstream": abstraction as well as tonality, freedom as well as technical complexity.

Music

Why Australia's Alice Ivy Doesn't Want to Sleep

Alice Ivy walks a fine line between chillwave cool and Big Beat freakouts, and her 2018 debut record was an electropop wonder. Now, in the middle of a pandemic, she tries to keep the good vibes going with a new record decked out in endless collaborations.

Books

Five Women Who Fought the Patriarchy

Whether one chooses to read Square Haunting for the sketches of the five fascinating women, or to understand how misogyny and patriarchy constricted intellectual and public life in the period, Francesca Wade's book is a superb achievement.

Film

Director Denis Côté on Making Film Fearlessly

In this interview with PopMatters, director Denis Côté recalls 2010's Curling (now on Blu-Ray) discusses film as a "creative experiment in time", and making films for an audience excited by the idea of filling in playful narrative gaps.

Music

Learning to Take a Picture: An Interview With Inara George

Inara George is unafraid to explore life's more difficult and tender moments. Discussion of her latest music, The Youth of Angst, leads to stories of working with Van Dyke Parks and getting David Lee Roth's musical approval.

Music

Country Westerns Bask in an Unparalleled Sound and Energy on Their Debut

Country Westerns are intent on rejecting assumptions about a band from Nashville while basking in an unparalleled sound and energy.

Film

Rediscovering Japanese Director Tomu Uchida

A world-class filmmaker of diverse styles, we take a look at Tomu Uchida's very different Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji and The Mad Fox.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.