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Exhumed: A History Of Zombies

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

Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV / Stream now with KPBS Passport!

Celebrate Halloween with “Exhumed: A History Of Zombies,” a special presented by PBS Digital Studios’ popular series MONSTRUM and written by 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

“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

The Series:

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 MONSTRUM digital series includes:


“The Origins of the Zombie, from Haiti to the U.S.” - 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

“How Night of the Living Dead Changed Zombies Forever” - 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

“Why Modern-Day Zombies Are So Terrifying” - 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

“Exhumed: A History Of Zombies” Encore Monday, Oct. 31, 2023 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV / Stream now with KPBS Passport! - 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” is available to stream now with KPBS Passport, a benefit for members supporting KPBS at $60 or more yearly, using your computer, smartphone, tablet, Roku, AppleTV, Amazon Fire or Chromecast. Learn how to activate your benefit now.

Join The Conversation:

Engage in conversation by tagging @PBS and using #MonstrumPBS on Facebook, X, Instagram


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.”