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Is Night Of The Living Dead The Very First Zombie Movie Ever?

The horror genre has seen the arrival of sub-genres and off-shoots too numerous to name over the years. But even as slasher cinema and psychological shockers dominate the current genre landscape, zombie fiction remains one of the best-loved sub-genres the horror game has ever conjured. That's been true for a few decades now, pretty much since the day George A. Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" made its way to theaters, shocking moviegoers with both its use of gory special effects and its socially conscious narrative.

That film, of course, follows a small band of Pennsylvanians desperately trying to survive the night as a horde of recently resurrected flesh-eating ghouls try to consume the living body and soul. Since its release in the summer of 1968, Romero's undead masterpiece has opened the door for the zombie horror sub-genre to proliferate. However, even as "Night of the Living Dead" essentially birthed the genre as we know it today, it isn't actually the first movie to feature legions of the undead. In fact, another film laid the groundwork for the zombie genre, and it debuted more than 30 years before Romero's first feature film hit theaters.

White Zombie starring Bela Lugosi is actually the first zombie movie

Turns out, the horror classic "White Zombie" beat "Night of the Living Dead" to the undead punch when it was released in 1932 (via NPR). Most notably, "White Zombie" was the very first film to actually use the "Z" word. If you're unfamiliar with the film, it finds a rarely creepier Bela Lugosi portraying a white voodoo master named Murder Legendre who operates his Haitian sugar cane mill with the hypnotized help of an undead army of zombies.

Early in the narrative, Legendre's supernatural abilities are enlisted by a wealthy plantation owner (Robert W. Frazer) who has eyes for the fiancée (Madge Bellamy) of a new arrival to town (John Harron). The catch is the woman will have to die and be brought back to life for Legendre's brand of mind-control to work. And once that tragic twist of fate is agreed to, well, "White Zombie" gets weird in ways audiences likely were not prepared for in 1932. As such, the film was viewed mostly as a failure upon release, though modern critics continue to revere the film for its groundbreaking style and narrative ingenuity, per Rotten Tomatoes.

As we already noted, "White Zombie" really isn't a zombie flick like we've come to know them. Sure, "White Zombie" has impacted culture in more than one way. It is, after all the film that ultimately inspired the name of Rob Zombie's legendary '90s metal outfit (via Loudwire). But, as brilliant as this 1932 marvel is, the mindless, meandering, flesh-hungry beasts George A. Romero delivered in "Night of the Living Dead" are far scarier. To this day, it's this 1968 movie which is set the stage for more great zombie movies.