The Zombie

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I’m a zombie fan. I’d never really figured out why I liked them, when strictly speaking, I don’t like horror stories very much. Well, that’s not entirely correct — I love reading cheesy horror by the likes of Lovecraft. But I’ve never been hugely interested in horror movies1. Why is it then, that I like zombies and zombie movies so much?

Up until now, I’d have said it’s because of all horror monsters, zombies are the least fearsome and most funny. Something that shambles along at the speed of a three-legged tortoise just doesn’t appear terribly scary. And zombies, being bereft of all that used to be human about them, make for a target that’s morally uncomplicated: you don’t kill them, you destroy them — there’s no consciousness to kill. That in turn allows filmmakers to play with a taboo, namely portraying death and injuries in Tom & Jerry style humorous exaggeration involving real “people” rather than drawn sketches2.

So when more recently, movies turned zombies into sprinting, snarling maniacs, to be dispatched in the same breathless, mind-numbing struggle that you’d experience in a vampire or werewolf attack, I was rather disappointed. Gone were the zombies I had grown to love, replaced by a generic rubber mask to run away from.

Why I felt that disappointment, I don’t know. It’s true that fast zombies turn zombie movies into the very type of horror movie I don’t much enjoy. But somehow, deeper than that, it seemed like fast zombies were bereft of their very essence — I just couldn’t put my finger on that, exactly.

A while ago, I got sent a link on to an article on kotaku, discussing how zombies have again become popular. While it makes for a very interesting read, it’s an article linked from there that really drew my interest. Simon Pegg, co-creator of the excellent zombie movie Shaun of the Dead, discusses Dead Set — and also defines the essence of slow zombies:

(…) the zombie trumps all by personifying our deepest fear: death. Zombies are our destiny writ large. Slow and steady in their approach, weak, clumsy, often absurd, the zombie relentlessly closes in, unstoppable, intractable.

However (and herein lies the sublime artfulness of the slow zombie), their ineptitude actually makes them avoidable, at least for a while. If you’re careful, if you keep your wits about you, you can stave them off, even outstrip them – much as we strive to outstrip death. Drink less, cut out red meat, exercise, practice safe sex; these are our shotguns, our cricket bats, our farmhouses, our shopping malls. However, none of these things fully insulates us from the creeping dread that something so witless, so elemental may yet catch us unawares – the drunk driver, the cancer sleeping in the double helix, the legless ghoul dragging itself through the darkness towards our ankles.

– Simon Pegg, The Dead and the Quick

And that’s exactly the point I was struggling to find.

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  1. The main reason, I suppose, that I don’t detach well from what I see on screen, which means that I jump when the monster appears, and I almost feel a character’s pain when they’re injured. Dwelling on pain is definitely not my cup of tea. The problem is aggravated by the pace of horror movies: the slower a movie, the better I can periodically pull back from what’s happening, reflect, and retain my sense of reality. I don’t think I’m all that odd in this, I may just be a tad extreme. []
  2. And zombies being dead, they don’t really feel pain, so I don’t emphasize with them. []

  • http:/ eremit

    And zombies, being bereft of all that used to be human about them, make for for a target that’s morally uncomplicated: you don’t kill them, you destroy them — there’s no consciousness to kill.

    Back in the days as Evil Dead movies has been released in Germany they put it directly onto the index, which means it has been forbidden to advertise, sell or show the movie. The reason why the movies aren’t on the index anymore is the fact that a court had to determine that zombies are not human and it’s not immoral to kill them. German censorship is sometimes as strange as it’s US counterpart.

    • unwesen

      Hah, that’s priceless! I didn’t know that.

  • Andy

    It’s true what you say about fast zombies, they have lost the essence of zombiness, that makes the zombie so fearful; that slow creeping inevitability that no matter what you do, they will catch you sooner or later. The upgraded 21st century fast zombie just seems a byproduct of Hollywood’s obsession to make bigger-better-faster 2.0 versions of everything pre 21st century. When are they going to learn to leave originals un-remade, and not make zombies move like Olympic sprinters?!

    Pretty cool quote from Simon Pegg. :) I’ll have to remember that!

    Andys last blog post: Bookmarks; and how you know what you liked six months ago

    • unwesen

      Yup. And if you like zombies and Simon Pegg, you might also like “Danger, 50000 Zombies!”. It’s a 30 minute Zombie survival guide, of sorts – you’ll find it on youtube, but I’ve only found it split into 10 min parts right now… and am too lazy to search more :)

  • lobotony

    guys … aim skills went up, THAT is why we needed faster zombies! :D

    • unwesen

      We don’t need faster zombies at all. All we need is more zombies than ammo.

      • eremit

        yeah thats true — just remembering the good ol’ days of zombie-chasing-armed-with-just-a-knife of resident evil 1

        eremits last blog post: We Did It