The zombie apocalypse will not be televised. Or so it seemed. Zombies seemed to take over the big screens early in the 21st century, but until “The Walking Dead” TV land was a relatively zombie-free zone. At least on a weekly basis. Which isn’t to say that zombies haven’t had their freedom to roam the corridors of weekly entertainment venues. And, much like the zombies on the big screen, the zombies on the small screen have proven to be a versatile kind of monster.
Interestingly, one of the first appearances by creatures that may be termed zombies popped up not on a horror show, but a science fiction show. Heck, not just a science fiction show, but the science fictions show. The episode is titled “Catspaw” and its original airing was just shy of Halloween. Hence, the horrific aspect. In fact, “Star Trek” decided to go all out on the horror aspect in advance of Halloween 1967 as “Catspaw” features not only zombies (including members of the Enterprise crew) but a black cat, witches, a haunted castle and dark magic.
The Wild, Wild West
The steampunks known as Jim West and Artemus Gordon go straight to the factual heart of the matter to provide us with their TV zombies. Zombies today are made mindless robots courtesy of everything from virus infections to weird weather disturbances but if you want to get to what reality there is in the zombie culture, you have to look to voodoo. The voodoo ritual that creates a zombie is nothing at all like the modern zombie culture. “The Night of the Undead” episode of “The Wild, Wild West” takes West and Gordon to New Orleans where any good zombie episode should go. Provided, of course, that budget limitations keep Haiti off the map. Ultimately, not all TV zombies are zombies of the sort you expect. Keep in mind that actual voodoo zombie ritual has nothing to do with bringing the dead back to life, but instead focuses on making the living a kind of dead man walking.
This 1970s TV-movie has all the ingredients for some first rate zombie scares. Modern viewers may find the sight of a city completely deserted as a result of the zombie apocalypse rather passe, but a scene in “Night Slaves” in which a very small town that looks like something from a western set is utterly uninhabited may have had the power to induce nightmares. “Night Slaves” plays with the possibilities of zombies in the way that most TV zombies are not really zombies at all. Let’s just say that those of you with some metal in your body may be ahead of the game when everyone around you started acting like a zombie.
The Dead Don’t Die
What would happen if you took some gangsters from a Warners Brothers movie of the 1930s and dropped them into a Haitian zombie horror movie? The result might be something like the 1975 zombie TV-movie “The Dead Don’t Die” except that it would be significantly better. “The Dead Don’t Die” deserves a high place within the context of the history of TV zombies because despite the fact that it was made after “Night of the Living Dead” it has the guts to stick to the roots of voodoo in its depiction of zombies. That’s gotta count for something.
“Dial Z for Zombie” is the title of the segment within the “Treehouse of Horror” episode of “The Simpsons” that remains one of the best of their yearly Halloween offering. Each segment quality entertainment. The zombies appear in the final segment and includes the iconic line “Show’s over, Shakespeare!” This is also the episode in which Homer gets to live out his dream of shooting next door neighbor Flanders under the pretense of killing zombies.