This book provides a comprehensive history of the zombie in modern popular culture, going above and beyond the place of the zombie in horror cinema to include the emergence of the monster in the English language, how it first came to be known, and what the earliest understanding of the term was - needless to say, this book is engaging, exhaustive and hugely interesting.
Russell begins his analysis by looking at the West's earliest encounters with the 'zombie', citing travel writer and occultist William Seabrook as a key figure in the zombie's introduction, thanks to his tales from the 'wilderness on the American doorstep' that was/is Haiti. His writing came at an opportune time (for him), as his expeditions there coincided with a huge surge of public interest in the country, not least because of the USA's military involvement with the much-troubled island nation. As a readership, the American public devoured information on Haiti with the same gusto that the cannibalistic movie zombies would devour the living in later incarnations - and it didn't hurt to make those formative accounts pretty salacious. Hence, tales of undead workers, mind control and voodoo were gladly received. With the inception of cinema, and the industry's liking for creature features, it wasn't long before the zombie began to emerge on screen - albeit with varying degrees of creepiness, and notwithstanding some pretty crappy efforts during the 'Poverty Row' development of the zombie genre, which regressed considerably from the genuine unease of Lugosi's White Zombie.
Russell then charts the development of the zombie creature through some fairly rough times during the end of the 1940s and 1950s, and its radical transformation, by a filmmaker by the name of George A. Romero in the late 1960s. Romero's Night of the Living Dead breathed, err, new life into a flailing genre where the zombies were becoming little more than jaded stooges used to 'terrify' the likes of Bob Hope! Romero happened upon the now-seemingly-so-obvious idea of making the zombies not just undead henchmen, but flesh-eaters - previously, the walking dead had stuck with strangulation. Using the zombie (although not then using the term) Romero was able to appall his audience as well as injecting a hefty dose of social commentary, and Russell makes the point, with which I agree, that no other on-screen monster has ever been used to such an extent for these ends.
As you would expect, a great deal of time and space is devoted to the director who pretty much created the zombie flick. Russell contextualises this, though, so you are not simply given an homage to a great director devoid of any notion of horror available to him at the time. The author also gives an outstanding study of the Italian zombie cycle of the 1970s, as well as the second regression of the zombie-into-stooge during the 80s and the massive popularity/renaissance attributable to the East, home of Resident Evil as well as a huge surge in living dead filmmaking.
Russell is a discriminating writer who mixes just the right amount of analysis and contemporary sociological/psychological/textual theory with an obvious genuine love of the genre, and this is apparent in his writing at all times, as well as in the endearing footnote where he explains his first contact with these films, and what it meant to him - something that'll be familiar with horror afficionados everywhere. Complete with a thorough filmography section and some great rare posters, stills and video artwork, this book is an absolute must.