Bishop, Kyle Raising the Dead: Unearthing Research Proposal

Pages: 6 (1511 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Film

¶ … Bishop, Kyle Raising the Dead: Unearthing the Non-Literary Origins of Zombie Cinema

Journal of Popular Film and Television- 33, Number 4, Winter 2006, pp. 196-205 - Article

The very nature of the monster in the zombie movies is that they do not think or speak, they merely act. This means that unlike most other monsters in the horror genre, there is no literary precedent. This unique representation of the monster instead embodies Sigmund Freud's concept of the uncanny, which means that it lends itself better to representation on film as opposed to in the written word.

Renewed Interest in the Zombie Movies

Although the horror genres has been a mainstay of cinema the world over, different elements of the genre have surged and receded in popularity. This article begins by reviewing the recent revival in interest of the zombie movie. Examples which are given to illustrate this point include the releases in the 2000s of Resident Evil, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, both based on popular video games; the re-make of Dawn of the Dead; and the comedic version of the zombie film Shaun of the Dead. The author also cites that there have been dozens of low-budget zombie movies released directly to DVD, or made specifically for television. This is not necessarily any different to over the last few decades, but rather it is the popularity of the mainstream films which indicate a return to favor for the genre.

Popularity of Zombie Films

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The author next goes on to analyse the reasons for which zombie films have remained popular over the past fifty years. Bishop claims that zombie films are different to others within the horror genre due to their ability to make the audience think, as opposed to being merely a form of mindless entertainment.

Origins of the Zombie

Many of the well-recognised creatures from the horror genre have had a literary precedent of some sort prior to being seen on film. The most popular monsters such as vampires and re-animated corpses are cited as examples. In contrast to this, zombies do not have any direct antecedent in literature form.

TOPIC: Research Proposal on Bishop, Kyle Raising the Dead: Unearthing the Assignment

Zombies first began to appear in movies in the 1930s with Victor Halperin's White Zombie, but the "classic" zombie horror movie is credited to George a. Romero in the 1960s. These early films focused on a whole army of reanimated corpses whose sole aim was to slaughter and eat the living. Bishop goes on to list the generic conventions of the sub-genre, which are merely that ordinary characters in ordinary places are confronted by the unexpected appearance of an army of flesh-eating zombies.

The origins of the zombie are in Vodoun folklore, and unlike other types of monster, the origins are purely American rather than cross-cultural. The ability of Haitian priests to induce a drug-induced state of zombification has created a superstitious fear of what are termed "the living dead." This is similar to the superstitious fears found elsewhere in the world, and Bishop explains that zombies are able to instill fear due to their having been able to destroy the natural order of death.

The evolution which occurred from the 1930s, where zombies were portrayed according to how Westerners viewed Haitian tradition was brought about predominantly due to comics. Notably, horror comics from the 1950s such as Tales from the Crypt appealed to young people who were still coping with the real-life horrors of the Second World War. This allowed them to portray very graphic versions of monsters, such as the zombie, which changed the way it was envisaged, making it possibly more horrific.

Singularity of the Zombie

Freud defines the concept of "uncanny" as "that species of true manifestation of this fear occurs, therefore, when a repressed familiarity (such as death) returns in a disturbing, physical way (such as a corpse)" (p. 201). This was not a new idea when zombies were brought to life in the cinema. Bishop argues that instead, the singularity of zombies within the horror genre is brought about by their lack of human behavior. All other creatures which are presented as examples, such as vampires, werewolves, ghosts and even Frankenstein's monster, all have humanistic traits. It is the fact that zombies do not speak, think or feel which lends their presence to cinema as opposed to literature.

In addition, despite the lack of humanistic features, the zombie was once a human and on rising remains a human corpse. Bishop therefore argues that this too adds to the striking and frightening aspect of the film, along with the other classic tradition of zombie movies in which protagonists eventually succumb to becoming antagonists.


Bishop succeeds in bringing a historical perspective to an element of the horror genre where origins and history may often be overlooked. He also succeeds in demonstrating the singularity of zombies as a creature within the genre. However the piece does not succeed in demonstrating the uniqueness of the zombie film in relation to other films in the horror genre.

Scholarly Value

Bishop's academically sound review of the origins of the zombie film no doubt adds to the understanding of the category of film. It provides a historical overview of a category of film which may too often be seen as one of purely entertainment value. As with all films in the horror genre, there is however no doubt that the origins are important elements of culture and folklore. The essay thoroughly reviews the folklore origins of the creature which is today known as the zombie, and cites relevant historical works which describe the Haitian traditions from where the concept came. In addition, the piece references the various films from elsewhere within the horror genre that have influenced the evolution of the zombie film. This facilitates the possibility of understanding how the genre may also develop further into the future of cinema.

Are Zombie Movies Really Different?

While there is clear scholarly value to the piece, there are some elements to the argument which may be questionable. The arguments given generally support the concept of the zombie as a creature being unique, but do not necessarily support the concept that zombie films themselves are unique within the horror genre. Discussion in the article also highlights that while the actual creature is different to others in the horror genre, the other elements of the film are largely borrowed from earlier horror films, and also from many literary sources. For example books such as Richard Matheson's I Am Legend also depict the apocalypse-style scenarios which are ever present in the zombie genre, only with different monsters involved. This is suggestive that the zombie horror film is not so much a unique type of horror film, but more a recent evolution of the more traditional horror films featuring the undead.

In addition, it may also be argued that while there is no literary precedent to the zombie this does not necessarily make it entirely unique. Although Bishop claims that there is no literary precedent for the zombie movie making it unique within the horror genre, it is described in the piece as "a live-action comic book brought to the big screen" (p. 197). He also discusses in detail the role which comics played in the evolution of the zombie, from the earliest creatures-based heavily on Haitian versions, to those seen on film today. This indicates that while the written word may not have contributed to the development of the creature, film is not the only medium to have done so. In addition, the fact that the zombie is based heavily on Haitian folklore by Bishop's own admission makes it the same as other creatures in the horror genre. For example vampires and ghosts were part of folklore long before being incorporated into novels by Western authors. The fact that zombies have never… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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