Imagine it’s the 1970’s,
All the world’s leading climatologists believe an ice age is coming. All the geologists are saying we are living in an interglacial period which is due to end, ice ages are the earth’s natural state and interglacial periods in earth’s history tend to last 10,000 years so ours is reaching its natural conclusion. The US National Academy of Science has just produced a major investigation proving global cooling. Since the 1940’s the global temperature has been dropping. Climatologists wonder could all the pollution we are producing going into the atmosphere be blotting out the sun and accelerating the coming ice age.
History teaches me I’d better get my winter clothes and to be ready for 2010.
Day of the Triffids – John Wyndam (1951)
The origin of the modern zombie genre starts with John Wyndam’s book The Day of the Triffids which sets most of the genre presidents.
In the book a meteor shower hitting earth causes a new kind of radiation which blinds anyone who sees it. Meanwhile scientists are farming a giant intelligent plant called Triffids all over the world for an oil substitute.
With virtually everyone on earth blind bar a few people who missed the meteor shower civilisation instantly collapses and the book become a story of what the few sighted people left do. Things get immediately worse as the Triffids escape from the secure farms and begin hunting and eating the blind survivors.
The few survivors rather than banding together develop several different philosophies on what to do, elitist groups believe in abandoning the blind and preserving the sighted, some believe in the sighted helping the blind even if they have to force them to do so, some want to war with the Triffids, some seek remote sanctuary others scientific solutions. Issues of forced breeding to repopulate the human race and even feeding the blind to the Triffids to protect the sighted come up.
The Day of the Triffids then effectively creates the modern Zombie genre.
1- Human meddling with science created the monsters
2- Civilisation breaking down
3- How the few people left alone survive
4- Carnivorous man eating monsters roaming the country
5- How will people politically organise themselves after post-civilisation
6- Man proving more evil than the monsters
While the Day of the Triffids creates all these presidents the book overwhelmingly considers the fifth one the most important. This changes the book from being a simplistic horror novel in a deep social critique.
I am Legend – Richard Matheson (1954)
I am Legend was the first novel to be based upon The Day of the Triffids and takes up the modern Zombie theme. It also adds another important piece to the genre,
(7) Looking at the situation from the monsters side as well as the survivors.
Like Day of the Triffids the books considers the social critique aspects the most important not monster killing which is the total opposite of the two movies made of it which poorly represent what the book is saying.
The Romero movies were the first modern genre Zombie movies to be made. The first movie Night of the Living Dead looks on the surface simply to be a survival movie, from The Day of the Triffids it take the end of civilisation theme and how a few people alone survive (or don’t) and the carnivorous monsters theme. But what makes the movie great is none of these, it’s that Romero recognised the Triffids and Legend emphasis on social critique as being the most important. The differing views of the people, demographics of the protagonists and how this effects their relationships is what make it a superior movie. With Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead, this is taken a stage further as we see Romero bases his next two movie entirely on Wyndham’s theme of differing ways of how people survive and organise society after organisation breaks down. The zombies like Triffids are secondary to the plot and the real evil is done by men. In Land of the Dead Romero continues with the social critique emphasis but adds from I am Legend the aspect of seeing the story from the monsters point of view.
28 Days Later
This was the movie where The Days of the Triffids came full circle where Danny Boyle made a version of the book replacing Triffids with diseased Zombie-esque people. He stuck to the familiar themes of the novel. The disaster was man made, there’s a survival tale and carnivorous monster but this is merely the sub plot. Remaining true to The Day of the Triffids the main theme of the story is a social critique, the men are the real evil as they try to come up with a solution to order post apocalyptic society, Windham’s usually ignore theme of forced breeding is also introduced.