A strange body of work
: the cinematic zombie

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis investigates the changing cinematic representations of a particular figure in horror culture: the Zombie. Current critical perspectives on the figure of the Zombie have yet to establish literary and cultural antecedents to the cinematic portrayal of the Zombie, preferring to position it as a mere product of American horror films of the 1930s. This study critiques this standpoint, arguing that global uses of the Zombie in differing media indicate a symbolic figure attuned to changing cultural contexts. The thesis therefore combines cultural and historical analysis with close textual readings of visual and written sources, paying close attention to the changing contexts of global film production and distribution.

In order to present the cinematic Zombie as a product of historical, geographical and cultural shifts in horror film production, the thesis begins by critiquing existing accounts of Zombie film, drawing attention to the notion of generic canons of film as determined by both popular and academic film critics and draws attention to the fractured nature of genre as a method of positioning and critiquing film texts. In this, an interdisciplinary approach, drawing on the methods of cultural-historical and psycho-analytical critiques of horror film, is appraised and then applied to the texts under discussion. The first chapter positions a working thematic and visual deconstruction of the Zombie as an embodiment of the abject, positioning it as a result of changing cultural discussions in fiction on the nature of death and burial. This establishes a thematic framework to apply throughout the following chapters, noting alterations to representations. The second chapter offers a historicised account of appearances of the fictional Zombie before American cinematic productions of the 1930s, critiquing claims that this is the only original production context for the Zombie. The third chapter charts the changing production contexts of American Zombie film until the mid 1960s, to introduce the critiques of authorial importance placed upon the works of George A. Romero, which are discussed in Chapter 4. This critique in turn questions established notions of generic canon and international influence, which are discussed in Chapters 5 and 6. These chapters question the idea of American filmic product dominance in national contexts, charting the discussions of the Zombie body found in differing national cinemas. It is shown that dialogues of representation can be both nationally specific and meant for global audiences, brought about by the changing production and exhibition markets of the 1970s onwards. This in turn challenges the idea that the American model is the dominant representation in the contemporary Zombie film, discussed in Chapter 7.

The thesis therefore charts three separate areas for discussion, that of historical, cultural and production contexts that can be held accountable for changing cinematic representations. Particular attention is placed on the thematic and visual use of the Zombie within differing media and firmly position cinematic representations as indicative of wider changes in popular media and their intended audiences. The thesis therefore offers a detailed historical and cultural taxonomy of Zombie film, furthering previous studies, but also presents a more detailed exploration of cultural contexts than previous critics have attempted
Date of Award2010
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorLincoln Geraghty (Supervisor) & Sue Harper (Supervisor)


  • Zombie
  • Doctoral thesis
  • Cultural History

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