Before Night of the Living Dead: Early Zombie Movies
by Aaron Seminoff
December 06, 2016
George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead premiered back in 1968, shocking audiences and pretty much becoming an instant cult classic horror film. Zombie movies and television shows are more popular than ever, but the zombie horror movie genre goes back decades before Night of the Living Dead. The concept of the undead in folklore, as well as in literature, existed way before movies came on the scene. What are some of the early zombie movies before Night of the Living Dead? Here’s a short history:
White Zombie (1932)
Generally thought to be the earliest zombie film, White Zombie, starring Bela Lugosi, is the story of a man who enslaves people by turning them into zombies, including a pretty young woman lured to Haiti for just this purpose.
King of the Zombies (1941)
A plane crashes on a Caribbean island during World War II and the survivors end up at the spooky mansion of a mysterious doctor. They soon discover that the doctor is turning people into zombies…for the German war effort, of course.
Voodoo Island (1957)
Boris Karloff stars in this movie about a rich guy who wants to develop an island rumored to be cursed by zombies. He hires a myth-buster to prove the rumors false. Zombies turn out to be the least of their problems on this weird island.
The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake (1959)
The Drake family has been cursed for 200 years because of evil deeds done by their ancestors. A Swiss doctor and a tribal witch doctor—both undead victims of the Drakes—seek revenge on the family over the generations.
The Curse of the Doll People (Munecos Infernales) (1961)
A Mexican entry in the zombie genre, this movie is about a group of men who steal an idol from the temple of a voodoo priest. Bad idea, as he sends zombies called “doll people” after them as punishment.
The Last Man on Earth (L’Ultimo Uomo della Terra) (1964)
This joint Italian-American movie starring Vincent Price is notable for being an adaptation of Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend. Price plays Dr. Robert Morgan, the last man on earth after a plague has turned everyone else into vampire-like zombies—or almost everyone else, as he discovers when he meets a mysterious woman.
Movie images via IMDb.