In his book 'Cult Movies,' film critic Danny Peary refers to the 1954 novel 'I am Legend' as a probable influence on George Romero's 'Night of the Living Dead.' The novel, which was written by the late Richard Matheson, features a solitary protagonist holed up in his house -- the sole survivor of a plague that has reduced most of the world's population to hordes of mindless, slow-moving predators that are no longer alive.
Matheson's influence on science fiction, fantasy and horror is too extensive to discuss here. But the novel's impact on the zombie genre appears significant despite the fact that the monsters are described as vampires rather than zombies.
The book is remarkable in that all the characteristics attributed to vampires are given scientific explanations by the main character -- a scientist named Neville. For example, the traditional aversion to garlic has a chemical explanation.
There are three direct movie adaptions of the story. The first is the 1964 Vincent Price film 'The Last Man on Earth,' which doesn't quite capture the novel's attention to detail but is nonetheless reasonably faithful.
The next adaption, the 1971 film 'The Omega Man,' features Charlton Heston. It is the version takes the most liberties with the source material (the filmmakers swap the undead for a cult of albino Luddites) but it is still entertaining.
The third version is the 2007 Will Smith vehicle, which retains the book's title. It falls between the other two versions in terms of remaining faithful to Matheson's book.
Zombie fans seeking to occupy themselves may want to consider the book and it's adaptions.