With Halloween upon us, I can only think of one word. Brains! Though George Romero’s 1968 film “Night of the Living Dead” is often considered to be the original modern zombie film, the first actually appeared nearly 40 years earlier in “White Zombie,” (1932) starring Béla Lugosi as an evil voodoo priest in Haiti who zombifies a beautiful young woman. In the years since, only a handful of zombie films have returned to their Haitian origins — most notably “The Serpent and the Rainbow.” – based off the novel.
Everyone knows the fictional zombies, but fewer know the facts about zombies. In Haiti, zombies were said to be people brought back from the dead (and sometimes controlled) through magical means by voodoo priests called bokors or houngan. Sometimes the zombification was done as punishment (striking fear in those who believed that they could be abused even after death), but often the zombies were said to have been used as slave labor on farms and sugarcane plantations. In 1980, one mentally ill man even claimed to have been held captive as a zombie worker for two decades, though he could not lead investigators to where he had worked, and his story was never verified.
Also in the 1980s a scientist named Wade Davis claimed to have found a powder that could create zombies, thus providing a scientific basis for zombie stories. Davis didn’t believe in voodoo magic. But he did believe that he had found something that could poison victims into a zombie-like state: a powerful neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin, which can be found in several animals including pufferfish. He claimed to have infiltrated secret societies of bokors and obtained several samples of the zombie-making powder, which were later chemically analyzed.
Davis’s claims were later challenged by skeptical scientists who regarded his methods as unscientific.
Maybe we don’t need to cover our heads so they don’t eat our brains after all. But it seems like the Zombies have taken over the world nevertheless. Even Universal Studios has created “The Walking Dead” attraction that will surly have fans running for the hills to save their brains