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Exhumed: A History Of Zombies

Stream now or tune in Friday, Oct. 30, 2020 at 10 p.m. & Saturday, Oct. 31 at 10 p.m. on KPBS 2 + Oct. 31 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV

Credit: Courtesy of PBS Digital Studios

Above: "Exhumed: A History Of Zombies" key art (graphic with hand coming out of a grave under the moon).

Celebrate Halloween with the launch of “Exhumed: A History Of Zombies,” a new special presented by PBS Digital Studios’ popular series MONSTRUM. The one-hour documentary will premiere on Friday, October 30 at 10 p.m.

“Exhumed: A History Of Zombies” is written and presented by MONSTRUM’s Dr. Emily Zarka. She’ll take audiences deep into the lore of the zombie throughout American history, examining zombie legends and tales to share what these creatures reveal about shifts in society, history and our deepest anxieties.

The film also provides unique insight into America’s dark past of slavery and foreign occupation, as well as modern-day uncertainties about pandemics and bioterrorism.

Exhumed: A History Of Zombies: Preview

In this new one-hour Halloween PBS special, Dr. Emily Zarka will deconstruct some of the most significant moments in zombie popular culture over the last two centuries to reveal what these creatures say about us. Airing: 10/30/20

“We can learn a lot about our culture by exploring the monsters we invent,” said Zarka. “Looking at the portrayal of zombies over the past two centuries, we can witness the evolving issues and anxieties Americans have faced.”

In the special, Zarka interviews experts, spiritual practitioners and academics, uncovering the historical roots of zombie folklore, including African spiritual practices, the Transatlantic slave trade, and Haitian Vodou and Voodoo beliefs.

She also explores popular culture to witness how the monster has evolved to reflect different eras of American history as it became a staple of films, television and video games. Zombie stories over the decades represented a range of fears, including nuclear weapons, overpopulation and political uprisings.

How Gargoyles Became Monsters

Before these stoney grotesques became monsters they were just water spouts. We still adorn our buildings with the carvings and sculptures of the frightening, funny, and exaggerated forms—but why? Learn all about the strange history of the gargoyle monster and how the power of imagination turned some odd looking architecture into a legendary creature. Aired: 10/18/20

The Series:

Leading into its broadcast special, MONSTRUM will also present three new short-form episodes on PBS Storied, a YouTube channel that’s home to arts and humanities content from PBS Digital Studios.

The channel's mission is to show how we can better understand ourselves through the art and culture we create, from mythology to movies to design and much more. With dozens of MONSTRUM episodes available, viewers can learn more about their favorite spooky creature, from Dracula to El Chupacabra and the Kraken to the Banshee.

Welcome to MONSTRUM!

The world is full of monsters, myths, and legends and MONSTRUM isn’t afraid to take a closer look. The show, hosted by Emily Zarka, Ph.D., takes us on a journey to discover a new monster in each new episode. MONSTRUM looks at humans unique drive to create and shape monster mythology through oral storytelling, literature, and film and digs deep into the history of those mythologies.

The MONSTRUM digital series includes:

“The Origins of the Zombie, from Haiti to the U.S.” premieres: Wednesday, October 14 on PBS Storied - On the first episode of our three-part special series, we explore the complex history of the zombie—from its origins in the spiritual beliefs of the African diaspora to the development of Vodou in Haiti. Learn how one of the most enduring monsters in popular culture evolved in the midst of slavery, racism and prejudice.  

The Origins of the Zombie, from Haiti to the U.S. | MONSTRUM

In the first episode of our three-part special series, we explore the complex history of the zombie—from its origins in the spiritual beliefs of the African diaspora to the development of Vodou in Haiti. Learn how one of the most enduring monsters in popular culture evolved in the midst of slavery, racism and prejudice. Featuring expert interviews from Voodoo Chief Divine Prince Ty Emmecca, Associate Professor of History at LSU Dr. Kodi Roberts, and Professor and Author Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror Dr. Robin Means Coleman, you’ll get a new perspective on the long and complicated history of Voodoo in America and some insight into how the “zombi” became the “zombie.” #zombie #Vodou #Voodoo #MonstrumPBS

“How Night of the Living Dead Changed Zombies Forever” premieres: Wednesday, October 21 on PBS Storied - One of the most influential movies in the zombie canon is George A. Romero’s 1968 "Night of the Living Dead." We’re examining the impact of the iconic “Romero zombie,” how it took shape in the racially charged civil rights era and why it altered zombie history forever. 

Why George Romero Changed Zombies Forever | MONSTRUM

In the second episode of our three-part special series, we move from the zombi which has its roots in spiritual beliefs developed during the African diaspora, to look at one of the most influential and enduring horror legacies of all time—the Romero zombie. Considered the “godfather of zombies,” Romero’s 1968 film "The Night of the Living Dead" introduced the flesh-eating reanimated corpse to popular culture. But that’s not all he did. More than just a reinvention of a frightening fiend, the Romero zombie’s introduction during a time of great political and cultural unrest in America impacted how it was received—and why we still talk about it. Featuring expert interviews from Author Daniel Kraus, who completed Romero’s novel "The Living Dead," as well as Author, Screenwriter, and Lecturer of Black Horror and Afrofuturism at UCLA Tananarive Due, and Professor and Author Dr. Robin Means Coleman, you’ll learn just how influential Romero’s work became. #zombie #Romero #MonstrumPBS

“Why Modern-Day Zombies Are So Terrifying” premieres: Wednesday, October 28 on PBS Storied - Most zombies today are fast, strong, travel in hordes and continue to terrify us in new ways. In this final episode of our zombie trilogy, we look into how racism along with current fears of pandemics and bioterrorism in our society significantly change the characteristics of the modern zombie in video games, Hollywood—and beyond.

Modern Zombies: The Rebirth of the Undead | MONSTRUM

In the third and final episode of our three-part special series, we bring us to the 21st-century where the monstrous legacy of both the original Haiti zombi and the Romero ghoul play a role in the rebirth of public interest in the zombie. Modern zombies can be fast or slow, undead or clinging to life, but almost all are infected—and they all crave human flesh. Featuring expert interviews from Author, Screenwriter, and Lecturer Tananarive Du, Assistant Professor at University of Tampa Dr. Sarah Juliet Lauro, Author Daniel Kraus, and Professor and Author Dr. Robin Means Coleman, this final episode explores how the effects of new global anxieties like terrorism, bioweapons, global warming, and overpopulation, have forever solidified the zombie narrative in global society. #zombie #pandemic #MonstrumPBS

“Exhumed: A History Of Zombies” premieres: Friday, October 30 at 10 p.m. on KPBS 2 - There are few monsters more recognizable or popular than the zombie. The reanimated corpse has been a staple of folklore, film, literature and popular culture for nearly 200 years. In this new one-hour special, Dr. Emily Zarka, who studies literature and film through the lens of monsters and is the host/writer of PBS’s popular MONSTRUM digital series, will deconstruct some of the most significant moments in zombie popular culture over the last two centuries to reveal what these creatures say about us.

Watch On Your Schedule:

“Exhumed: A History Of Zombies” will be available to stream starting Friday, October 30 on all station-branded PBS platforms, including and the PBS Video App, available for streaming on PBS Documentary Channel via Amazon, and available for purchase via Amazon, Apple and Comcast.

Join The Conversation:

Engage in online conversation by tagging @PBS and using #MonstrumPBS on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Follow @ZarkaEmily on Twitter.


A Spotzen production for PBS. Brandon Arolfo and Adam Dylewski are the executive producers for PBS; Amanda Fox is executive producer for Spotzen. The program is produced by Amanda Fox and Stephanie Noone and directed by David Schulte.

“We’re excited to bring another PBS Digital Studios success to our broadcast platform,” said Brandon Arolfo, head of PBS Digital Studios. “This ghoulish special will entertain and expand minds with great educational information in the unique way that only PBS can.”


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