The zombies that we know and presumably love/fear may have infiltrated popular culture through books like H.P. Lovecraft's 'Herbert West: Re-Animator,' films such as George Romero's 'Night of the Living Dead' and TV shows like AMC's The Walking Dead (which returns Sunday, February 12th), but their existence isn't just limited to the page or the screen. Turns out, they walk among us. They have always walked among us. In fact, they are one of us.
The history of the undead reaches farther back into our culture than you might think, and not just as the lumbering metaphor of an apathetic public or mindless society. Here's a look at some of the most interesting facts of these lumbering masses.
The modern %22zombie%22 comes from a 1929 novel about Haiti
The idea of a walking, shuffling undead being first came into Western civilization's horrified consciousness with the publication of a jarring novel by William Seabrook called 'The Magic Island'. The travelogue details Seabrook's time in Haiti studying the native culture's Voodoo traditions. This included the resurrection of a dead man, a term he coined as a "zombie." The book inspired the classic 1932 horror film 'White Zombie' and marked the first appearance of the undead in film.
Zombies actually exist
As Seabrook established in his book, zombies are very real. Anthropologist Wade Davis led a legendary expedition into Haiti as part of his doctoral dissertation to discover the secret recipe to create zombies, an expedition so dangerous that one of his reviewers remarked, "Davis must be told he will be killed if he tries to do this work." He theorized that tetrodotoxin was the main ingredient in the potion for the zombification process and eventually obtained the full recipe and the settings required for zombification to occur. His discoveries were published in two books, 'Passage of Darkness' and 'The Serpent and the Rainbow,' the latter of which was turned into a Wes Craven film starring Bill Pullman.
There are several diseases that exhibit zombie-like symptoms
Just like the supposed virus that creates the hordes of hungry undead, the real world has several illnesses that can create similar symptoms, minus a great hunger for human brains. (At least for now, that is.) According to io9, sleeping sickness, for instance, occurs when parasites attack the brain and cause its victim to have slurred speech and loss of concentration that eventually prevents them from performing the most menial of tasks. Necrosis attacks specific groups of cells that creates a breakdown in communication between skin cells and the nervous system. Eventually, the skin begins to wither and rot while the victim's most basic functions shut down, one by one. Dysarthria affects the speech center of the brain and can prevent people from being able to control the volume of their voice or the ability to enunciate because of loss of control over one's vocal muscles. So, basically, they moan like a zombie craving brains.
The CDC has a site devoted to preparing for the zombie apocalypse
We may never see the day when the recently deceased have risen from their graves to feast on the living, but the Centers for Disease Control would rather be safe than sorry. One section of their emergency preparedness site is dedicated to preparing for a zombie disaster and lists several suggestions for how to prepare for the undead apocalypse. It urges residents to keep an emergency kit in their homes, map out an emergency plan with family members and plan an evacuation route. It's meant to be tongue-in-cheek as a viral method of increasing public safety awareness, but the CDC assures us that "If zombies did start roaming the streets, CDC would conduct an investigation much like any other disease outbreak."
Australia is the safest country for zombie attacks
If you've got a lot of frequent flyer miles, you might want to save them up for when the zombies decide it's time to take over the world because Australia might offer your best chance of survival. The staff of LiveScience conducted a global survey of the best "Safe Zones" in case of a zombie outbreak and Australia topped the list. Canada, the United States, Russia and Kazakhstan rounded up the top five. The countries were graded according to their global location, topography, weapon access, population and "military preparedness." Though if movies have taught us anything, the military guys in tanks are always the first to go.
The first zombie that appeared in 'Night of the Living Dead' became a prolific horror actor and director
Horror fans are some of the most obsessive movie fans in the business, bestowing film royalty on people who played the victim to monsters or crazed serial killers. Bill Hinzman became one of movie history's most famous zombies after he played the first brain-muncher to appear on screen in George Romero's 1968 classic 'Night of the Living Dead.' At the time, Hinzman was actually working on Romero's movie set as an assistant cameraman. He appears in the opening scenes of the film as the zombie attacks Barbara and kills her brother, Johnny, in the graveyard and sets the horrific story in motion. This led to other smaller roles as zombies in several B-movies, and even some directing work for horror films of his own such as 'The Majorettes' and 'FleshEater.' A regular on the horror and sci-fi convention circuit where he donned full zombie make-up for fans, Hinzman returned to the role that made him famous for a pizza commercial. Sadly, he passed away on February 5th, 2012 at the age of 75.
A zombie movie that cost $70 to shoot got a big screening at the Cannes Film Festival
As Romero proved, you don't need a big million dollar budget to produce a zombie film that can make audiences' shiver in their seats. The makers of the British zombie epic 'Colin' achieved just such a feat by producing their film for just $70. Word of mouth boosted its profile on the festival circuit, eventually scoring the filmmakers a massive screening at the Cannes Film Festival in 2009. Director Marc Price was able to keep his film under budget by soliciting zombie extras through social media sites and getting the make-up artist who worked on 'X-Men: The Last Stand' to oversee some of the bloodier special effects.
'The Walking Dead' contains a 'Breaking Bad' reference
The second season of AMC's 'The Walking Dead' contained a hidden reference to another popular AMC show that was only caught by the most astute fans. The episode titled 'Bloodletting' features some of the survivors searching for medical supplies to save T-Dog from dying from an injury. One of the survivors reveals he has several painkillers that could ease T-Dog's suffering, producing a bag of drugs that contains a blue crystallized substance similar to the type of crystal meth that Walter White perfected on 'Breaking Bad.' 'Walking Dead' comic book creator and show producer Robert Kirkman confirmed that the blue substance was all part of "a little Easter egg we were doing for AMC fans."
A doctor wanted to reanimate George Washington's body
The first President of the United States could have almost been the first "Zombie President" of the United States if one very whacked out doctor would've gotten his way. Washington's death in 1799 from a serious bout of pneumonia prompted a bizarre set of final requests -- the famed president didn't want his body buried straight away. Turns out Washington was afraid of being buried alive, so the family kept his corpse on ice for three days as they conducted his final arrangements. Physician and Capitol Building architect William Thornton showed up to pay his last respects to the late president and when he learned his body had been preserved, he asked the family if he could conduct a series of medical experiments to see if he could resurrect him by pumping his lungs with air and infusing a hearty amount of lamb's blood into his circulatory system. Thankfully, the family refused his requests. Imagine teaching schoolchildren about George Washington's undying quest for tasty brains.
A Haitian dictator was once rumored to have his own zombie army
The bloody legacy of François "Papa Doc" Duvalier--a man who ruled through fear, intolerance and unrelenting violence -- left a deep stain on the history of the Haitian people. Duvalier, a president for life who came to power in 1957, spent 28 years as Haiti's leader, embezzling aid meant to keep his people from suffering and ruling over them with an iron fist. (He was said to have killed 30,000 to 60,000 Haitians for daring to oppose him.) Most of his reign thrived through fear and his manipulation of local Voodoo customs. One legend claimed that Duvalier had established his own militia called the Tonton Macoutes by raising them from the dead and re-training them in their zombie states to carry out his bloody bidding. This brutal militia helped make Duvalier one of the most feared men in Haitian history.