What makes a zombie a zombie?
Upon my recent viewing, what I’m finding very interesting is the great changes in zombie behaviour over the decades since Night of the Living Dead. Human behaviour is much the same, but zombies change (adapt? evolve?) to cater to the new audiences.
Here are some of the general differences (of course, won’t be true for absolutely every movie):
- Speed: Early zombies are shamblers, but don’t be fooled, they are just as dangerous as the fast zombies. Never, ever underestimate them.
- Hunger: The whole brains thing comes from Return of the Living Dead, a horror comedy. Zombies in film are attracted to flesh, but there’s a scene where an early zombie is seen eating bark off a tree.
- Reason for being: Suddenly, a wild zombie appears! Or was it a chemical leak? A bio-engineered disease? Early films don’t explain how or why the zombie comes about. That’s one thing that used to grate on me in books because I enjoy the backstory of why. But sometimes it’s just irrelevant.
- Mindlessness: Earlier zombs could scream in pain, use tools, bust out lights, pull out phone cords. In Dawn of the Dead (original), one survivor makes the remark that the reason zombs are going to the mall is because it was an important place in their lives, they go there out of habit. Most modern zombs don’t have any of this. No memory, no emotion. Just the urge to feed upon flesh. (There are a few exceptions to this, of course). In Return of the Living Dead, they could even talk.
- Special zombies: These are not present in Night/Dawn. Tarman in Return of the Living Dead could just be Patient Zero rather than a special. Some modern zomb films and stories have the different types, the most common special being a Tank or Behemoth. A big one. Might be a bit smarter, might be able to use tools where others can’t. Left 4 Dead has a variety of specials, including a Tank, but also a Witch, Hunter, Jockey, Spitter, Charger, Boomer (fan art at the bottom pictures a Witch and a Hunter … they don’t kiss in the game, but I find it fascinating how somehow, fan fictioners/artists have come up with the idea to make those two in particular lovers). What makes these ones ‘turn special’ is unknown, but they are clearly separate from the other mindless hordes.
- The long undead: This is from Return of the Living Dead, where the long dead awaken. This is quite a rare thing in zomb texts, but an interesting distinction nonetheless. This also relates to the infection and how/why of the zombs.
- Infection: Through bite or exposure
- Desire to eat humans (whatever the body part)
- Ignorant of injury to itself (will keep coming after you despite a shot in the leg)
- Lesser mindedness/single mindedness: Their focus is on eating, not manners. While most have lesser capabilities, there are some texts where they seem to remember their lives
- Rot/Decay: Crumbling bodies are a regular appearance in zomb texts. As the story goes on from Night to Dawn to Day of the Dead, the makeup gets more gruesome and rotted.