Splitting the thread
the zombie is a very culturally-specific phenomenon.
If only this were still the case.
Yes, the term has its origins in a very specific West Indian cultural phenomenon, but since the 1970s the word has spread far beyond its roots. The OED entry is quite illustrative. It’s an older entry that has not been thoroughly revised, but it does have recent additions. The original sense of zombie is:
In the West Indies and southern states of America, a soulless corpse said to have been revived by witchcraft; formerly, the name of a snake-deity in voodoo cults of or deriving from West Africa and Haiti.
1819 R. Southey Hist. Brazil III. xxxi. 24 Zombi, the title whereby he [chief of Brazilian natives] was called, is the name for the Deity, in the Angolan tongue… NZambi is the word for Deity.
1872 Schele de Vere Americanisms 138 Zombi, a phantom or a ghost, not unfrequently heard in the Southern States in nurseries and among the servants.
1979 J. Rhys Smile Please 30 Zombies were black shapeless things. They could get through a locked door and you heard them walking up to your bed. You didn’t see them, you felt their hairy hands round your throat.
1984 Times 26 Jan. 12/6 A zombie, as every schoolboy knows, is a person who has been killed and raised from the dead by sinister voodoo priests called bocors.
So this sense is quite old, and is still very much in use.
But the entry has these draft additions from December 2016:
In horror films, books, etc.: a reanimated corpse, typically portrayed as a creature capable of movement but not rational thought, with an insatiable hunger for human flesh or brains. Also occasionally in extended use with reference to similar mindless creatures.
Now the most common sense.
1970 Monthly Film Bull. Jan. 8/2 The countryside is overrun with these murderous zombies—evidently corpses revived by radiation from a rocket abortively shot to Venus.
1984 T. C. Boyle Budding Prospects (1985) i. i. 4, I gave the tube a rueful glance—zombies in white-face drifted across the screen, masticating bratwurstlike strings of human intestine.
1996 St. Louis (Missouri) Post-Dispatch (Nexis) 14 June e3 The zombies can only by killed by disgusting, brain-spattering blows to the head.
2011 FourFourTwo Oct. 28/4 What’s that lurking in the shadows? A ghoul? A goblin? A flesh-eating zombie?
As the dictionary notes, this sense has taken over the word and divorced it from its West Indian roots. Instead, this newer sense takes as its origin the archetype presented in George Romero’s 1968 film Night of the Living Dead. (Not unlike vampire, which in modern use is based on the Bram Stoker archetype, not on any of the folkloric traditions—vampires “exist” in many cultures, but none, not even the Romanian one, is very close to what Stoker created.) The word zombie has also become productive, referring to a variety of things that operate without volition or after they should be dead. The OED has a computing sense (added in 2006), and linguist Arnold Zwicky coined the term zombie rules, to refer to grammatical prescriptions that continue even though they have no basis in practice, like the split infinitive rule.