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Zombies are fictional undead creatures regularly encountered in horror and fantasy themed works. They are typically depicted as mindless, reanimated corpses with a hunger for human flesh, and particularly for human brains in some depictions. Although they share their name and some superficial similarities with the zombie from Haitian Vodun, their links to such folklore are unclear. Many consider George A. Romero's seminal film The Night of the Living Dead to be the progenitor of these creatures. Zombies have a complex literary heritage, with antecedents ranging from Richard Matheson and H. P. Lovecraft to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, all drawing on European folklore of the undead. The popularity of zombies in movies has to them sometimes been taken out of their usual element of horror and thrown into other genres, for example the comedy film Shaun of the Dead. The zombie apocalypse concept, in which the civilized world is brought low by a global zombie infestation, has become a staple of modern popular art. By 2011 the influence of zombies in popular consciousness had reached far enough that the United States government's Center for Disease Control used the idea as a theme to promote disaster preparedness.
How these creatures came to be called zombies is not fully clear. The film Night of the Living Dead made no spoken reference to its undead antagonists as zombies, describing them instead as ghouls, though this is inaccurate if compared to the original ghoul of Arabic folklore because in Arabic myth ghouls are demons. Although George Romero used the term ghoul in his original scripts, in later interviews he used the term zombie without explanation. The word zombie is used exclusively by Romero in his 1978 script for his sequel Dawn of the Dead, including once in dialog. One of the first books to expose Western culture to the concept of the Vodun zombie was The Magic Island by W.B. Seabrook. Island is the sensationalized account of a narrator in Haiti who encounters voodoo cults and their resurrected thralls. Time claimed that the book introduced zombie into U.S. speech. In 1932, Victor Halperin directed White Zombie, a horror film starring Bela Lugosi. Here zombies are depicted as mindless, unthinking henchmen under the spell of an evil magician. Zombies, often still using this voodoo inspired rationale, were initially uncommon in cinema, but their appearances continued sporadically through the 1930s to the 1960s, with notable films including I Walked with a Zombie and Plan 9 from Outer Space.