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American Zombie Gothic: The Rise and Fall…

American Zombie Gothic: The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of the Walking Dead… (2011)

by Kyle William Bishop

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This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A zombie film primer & appreciation
I was never really a zombie movie fan. '28 Days Later' was a favorite, but for non-zombie reasons. I loved that at times, it had such beauty that I hadn't seen in many movies, like the way rain was filmed, despite featuring a rage infection. It was because of this movie that I wanted to read this book: an analysis of all things zombie. But of course I had to be a bit familiar with more zombie movies if I was to know what was going on here. After scoring almost all the George A. Romero movies and remakes on ebay for $20, and seeing most of the other important zombie films, I was good to go. And I can say I really enjoyed most of these films, the first three Romero movies especially: Night, Dawn and Day of the Dead. Zombie movies, at least the good ones, have something to say, and those are the films that are discussed here. The films mainly in the 1980s that had less to say, less substantial metaphors for real society, are avoided in 'American Zombie Gothic'. I can't believe I'm saying this, but some zombie movies are classier than others.

'American Zombie Gothic' begins with describing the cultural and mythological origins of the zombie, mainly in Caribbean voodoo culture. For a people with a history of slavery and so much revolution, sometimes replacing their rulers on a yearly basis, there are many possible meanings for the word 'zombie': the fear of being enslaved again, or of being sold to the Bizango, the secret voodoo societies, for violating the "seven transgressions". The zombie provided the oppressed the opportunity to oppress. In some cases, being a zombie may mean being poisoned by neurotoxins in a puffer fish that gives the appearance of death, though the victim is sometimes buried alive. To the Caribbean people, the zombie itself was something to be pitied. What they were worried about, was becoming a zombie themselves, and this time, as an automaton, they wouldn't have a shot at revolution. You can decide if these real cases and others in this book make the cannibalistic, infectious and feral zombie reinvented by George A. Romero in 'Night of the Living Dead' and subsequent films, more or less scarier. Romero always has something to say. His films are a snapshot of what society had been concerned with at the time. For example, zombies continually consuming human flesh and the mall setting of 'Dawn of the Dead' condemned rampant consumerism and the extensive explanation of this in 'American Zombie Gothic' is brilliant. Romero's first four 'Dead' films are discussed in detail here: Night, Dawn, Day and Land. Romero likes to use the zombies to represent ourselves, and somehow the zombies are sometimes more humane than humans.

Bishop also discusses the movies of the 1930s and 1940s that used the zombie movie to benefit from the fears that whites had with possible reverse colonialism: whites becoming enslaved zombies by voodoo masters in black nations in movies like 'White Zombie' and 'I Walked with a Zombie'. I'm a bit disappointed Bishop didn't include another zombie film here: 'Chandu on the Magic Island', a completely kooky zombie film, which I only found because I thought it was in this book, but 'The Magic Island' by William Seabrook is a non-fiction book on zombies that was featured instead. The 1935 'Chandu' would have been a nice pairing with Bela Lugosi as the hero here, along side Bela Lugosi as the villain in 1932's 'White Zombie'.

Many interesting points are discussed here, though I would have liked to see more on '28 Days Later'. With the release of '28 Days Later', that was filming as 9/11 was happening, a zombie renaissance began, with many zombie films representing fear in a way that hadn't been present before 9/11. This is a must read for any zombie, horror or movie fan, and to anyone who isn't such a zombie fan, who doesn't see the importance of zombie films, here is a good place to start.. Though you certainly get more enjoyment out of it with each movie that you are familiar with that is discussed here. If anything, I'm pleased that I have found some movies to call my favorites, and I'd say I'm addicted to zombies now. I think the zombie "renaissance" is just beginning --one of my favorite shows, Community, recently had an episode featuring zombies (but to be fair, they are usually a show with a new theme every week). Since the living dead say so much about the living, I don't think they will be disappearing any time soon. ( )
  booklove2 | Jul 30, 2011 |
An interesting look at zombies in movies, their history, what influenced them and how they in turn influenced modern culture and have evolved over time.

I found I preferred the first chapter that dealt with the origins of the zombie, both as a real part of Voodoo and in films. He was his most concise and to the point at this point and the history itself is fascinating.

In the remaining chapters he focuses primarily on the George Romero films, which while understandable got a bit tedious after awhile. I would have appreciated a bit more in depth look into other zombie movies as well, especially since he seemed to repeat himself multiple times in trying to explain and prove the theories about what influenced those movies and how he made them work.

Overall I enjoyed this book and it’s quite approachable and easy to read, even if you’ve only seen one or two zombie movies this book does a good enough job of fleshing out the whole genre that you don’t really need an expansive history with them get something out of it. ( )
  Kellswitch | Jun 17, 2011 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Very interesting and informative. I must admit, I didn't read it cover to cover. It is so like a text book, that I found myself looking for references to certain movies, time frames, etc. My daughter made an interesting comment: this would be a great reference for watching the films. Before watching one of the referenced films, look it up in the book and find out all the interesting info.

Mr. Bishop did an excellent job of researching (I'm an ex-English teacher, so I appreciate his annotations, research, etc) and his in-depth information can't be faulted by any means. However, if you don't enjoy reading text books, you might want to pass on this one. ( )
  LJF | May 8, 2011 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Zombie movies! End of the world, undead armies, mad chases, bloody conflicts; what’s not to love. The zombie movie has covered every emotion; laughter, horror, tragedy, romance, survival. What a rich vein in which to mine gold. I eagerly opened American Zombie Gothic thinking it would have an in-depth examination of the genre. Boy was I right …….and was I ever wrong.

No one can fault the author's in-depth analysis of zombie movies from their first appearance to the most recent fare. It is an impressive testament to his efforts. The problem is that this is by no means a mass market treatment of the genre. Disregard the graphic novel feel of the cover, this is a doctoral dissertation and it is written as one. It should only be broached by those looking for the kind of analysis that only excites the academic. I had a high school teacher who brought this level of analysis to Foundation. It took me over ten years before I was able to go back and appreciate the book as it was written not as what he thought every element symbolized.

I strongly agree with some elements of his theories. For example, his belief that the latest and greatest renaissance of zombie movies can be tied to 9/11 and the fear and uncertainty that generated in the average American. I always felt that Japan had such a plethora of post-apocalyptic movies due to the fact that they witnessed firsthand the devastation wrought by the dropping of the atomic bombs. This should be fascinating stuff but I felt like a student in Ben Stein’s class in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. In short, unless you are into academic dissertations, I would suggest avoiding the lure of this book. ( )
  MyBookishWays | Apr 22, 2011 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
American Zombie Gothic by Kyle Bishop is an awesome resource on zombies, especially for someone who loves zombie movies and books. I have always been somewhat embarrassed to admit that I love zombies, and have never been able to articulate why. Now I can quote Mr. Bishop's work as an explanation:

"Perhaps, then, zombie cinema is not merely a reflection of modern society, but a type of preemptive panacea, and that protective potentiality along gives the subgenre both great cultural significance and lasting social value."

As you can see from the quote, this is not light reading. However it is worth persevering, as it is valuable as a scholarly work and reference book. As other reviewers have noted, American Zombie Gothic puts the zombie phenomenon in perspective and context, as well as acting as a must-read reference of zombie materials. It introduced me to a whole new way of looking at (and justifying!) my zombie fascination.

Recommended for any zombie aficionado, or anyone wanting to understand a zombie aficionado. ( )
  cmwilson101 | Apr 16, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0786448067, Paperback)

Zombie stories are peculiarly American, as the creature was born in the New World and functions as a reminder of the atrocities of colonialism and slavery. The voodoo-based zombie films of the 1930s and '40s reveal deep-seated racist attitudes and imperialist paranoia, but the contagious, cannibalistic zombie horde invasion narrative established by George A. Romero has even greater singularity. This book provides a cultural and critical analysis of the cinematic zombie tradition, starting with its origins in Haitian folklore and tracking the development of the subgenre into the twenty-first century. Closely examining such influential works as Victor Halperin's White Zombie, Jacques Tourneur's I Walked with a Zombie, Lucio Fulci's Zombi 2, Dan O'Bannon's The Return of the Living Dead, Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later, and, of course, Romero's entire "Dead" series, it establishes the place of zombies in the Gothic tradition.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:48 -0400)

Provides a cultural and critical analysis of the cinematic zombie tradition.

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