The First Zombie Movie
Quick, what was the first ever zombie movie? Betcha don’t know. Don’t feel bad. I didn’t know either. In fact I would dare to say that most people wouldn’t know, not even hardcore zombie marks. That honor actually belongs to the French silent film J’ACCUSE (in English, I ACCUSE), created in 1919 and directed by Abel Gance. Meant to capitalize on the all too fresh horrors indelibly imprinted in the French public psyche by the first World War, and perhaps to help expiate some of them, J’ACCUSE may be all but forgotten today except among film scholars but was powerfully effective at the time of its release. (It’s still powerfully effective now, for that matter.) Something that lends the film special poignancy is the fact that the zombies are portrayed by actual French soldiers who were on furlough. Within a few weeks of the filming of the movie, four out of every five of them would be killed in battle.
The zombies of J’ACCUSE don’t attack people. They aren’t craving brains like the cartoon zombies of later generations. They simply want to be remembered. After they’ve shown themselves to the “folks back home,” they quietly return to their graves.
Social subtext in zombie movies didn’t begin with George Romero after all.
WAYNE MILLER is the owner and creative director of EVIL CHEEZ PRODUCTIONS, specializing in theatrical performances and haunted attractions. He has written, produced, and directed (and occasionally acted in) over two dozen plays, most of them in the Horror and True Crime genres. He obtained a doctorate in Occult Studies from Miskatonic University and is an active paranormal investigator. Is frequently told he resembles Anton Lavey. And Ming the Merciless.
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