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Z Is for Zombie

Scifi cinema is — without a doubt — zombie-mad. But ask anyhow how flesh-eating monsters have to come to occupy such a central place in pop culture, and you’re likely to get a blank stare. Though many theories abound, one film stands out as the driving force behind shaping how we view zombies today: George A. Romero’s sixties classic, Night of the Living Dead.

Romero’s film took zombies — once associated with shamans and voodoo — and science-fictionalized them. In Night, a satellite from Venus explodes in the upper atmosphere, spreading an extraterrestrial radiation across Earth that causes the dead to wake. Thus the modern zombie was born.

The zombie subgenre has hewed closely to this archetype. In Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, the Rage virus is caused by genetic tinkering. In Dan O’Bannon’s Return of the Living Dead, zombies are unleashed after a laboratory spill of an experimental chemical. In the Re-Animator series, the dead are injected with a Day-Glo formula; like Frankenstein, they’re chemically awakened.

While zombies are often associated with horror, it is scifi that gives them their current cannibalistic un-life and their status as cautionary symbols of science run amok.

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