Survival horrors, survival spaces: Tracing the modern zombie (cine)myth

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Abstract:

Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend (1954) is most notably remembered as being among the first works of fiction to graft the vampire and zombie mythos with dystopian elements. However, two of the novel's principal narratological features – namely, the fortified home or enclosure (i.e. the 'survival space') and infectious, undead millions, both of which have since remained staples in nearly every subsequent zombie narrative – have gone relatively unnoted. Thus, prompting this article are two things. First and foremost is the need to map out the structural principia upon which modern zombies have generally come to be defined. Second, and perhaps more crucial, is the need to resituate the (terato)genesis of the modern zombie cinemyth to Matheson's novel, which has been obscured or devalued over time by the work of George Romero and an ever-increasing body of films and video games that, like Romero's films, have appropriated these two essential elements of Matheson's work. My contention, however, is not to diminish the significance of Romero's filmic work and its impact on zombie cinema, but to recognize, rather, both Matheson's and Romero's respective configurations of the zombie mythos that have helped to institute the particular tropes with which film-makers and video game designers have embodied and continue to embody the figure of the zombie. For, it seems to me, and this shall be the chief position of this article, that the intricacies of the multi - rather than singly defended 'survival space' that Romero introduces in Night of the Living Dead (1968) have not only afforded the zombie subgenre its longevity, but more crucially, offer us the most compelling conceptual tool with which to trace the zombie?s trajectory in popular culture and media.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1386/host.2.1.41_1

Publication date: June 1, 2011

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  • Horror Studies intends to serve the international academic community in the humanities and specifically those scholars interested in horror. Exclusively examining horror, this journal will provide interested professionals with an opportunity to read outstanding scholarship from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, including work conceived as interdisciplinary. By expanding the conversation to include specialists concerned with diverse historical periods, varied geography, and a wide variety of expressive media, this journal will inform and stimulate anyone interested in a wider and deeper understanding of horror
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