Humans are a species afraid of their own mortality. Everything they fear ultimately comes down to a fear of death. A fear of heights can be traced back to the fear of dying from falling from the height. A fear of public speaking is really a fear of embarrassing oneself and having that be the legacy that one leaves behind. The legacy remains after a person dies. Every fear can be traced back to death in one way or another, though it might feel like digging to find out how they trace back to death.
Getting more direct to death is the fear of a worldwide virus. Movies like Contagion capture the idea of a realistic virus taking over the human race and killing of a large chunk of the population. Yet, that’s not enough for horror fans. Horror fans want more than simple virus deaths. That’s where zombies come into play.
Zombies have been in horror for a long time thanks to the success of Night of the Living Dead. They became a popular staple in horror, particularly low budget horror. They are now one of the standard movie monsters alongside vampires and werewolves. Movies come out all the time that feature zombies. The thought of a virus causing people do die and turn into flesh eating monsters captures the imagination of audiences. They fear the biological concept and zombies bring it to life in a horrifyingly entertaining way.
The thing about zombies is that there isn’t one set lore for them. There are a few different ways that movies utilize zombies, and they tend to share some common traits, but they can vary in major ways. Three different methods for zombie lore are going to be discussed based on the main differences that they have with one another. The classic kind of zombie is the slow zombie. They shamble around and want flesh. That’s about all they do. Then there are the fast zombies. The only major difference between them and the slow zombies is speed. Finally, there are the intelligent zombies that know what they are doing and think about their actions.
The movies that have been covered in the Sunday “Bad” Movies have ranged through each of the three styles of zombie storytelling. Through the movies, we shall delve into the three types and learn what makes them stand apart from one another while also having similar traits. We will begin with the classic idea of what zombies are.
Night of the Living Dead kicked off the popularity of slow zombies when George Romero released his legendary zombie movie in 1968. It involved an illness that caused the dead to rise and crave human flesh. The walking corpses shambled along, their threat being that they never stopped coming, and tended to form groups. Romero would further this idea with the many other zombie movies he would make in the fifty years since that initial release. The main one that built upon the idea of zombie hordes was Dawn of the Dead which gave an explanation to why all of the zombies had flooded the mall. There was some sort of memory that they had of their past lives, spending hours upon hours shopping. Most zombie movies don’t put that much thought into why zombies are the way they are, but it helps to know that there might be reasoning for why the zombies stick together.
For some reason, slow zombies tend to be started by either a scientific accident or a natural cause. In the Asylum produced movie Rise of the Zombies, the outbreak was caused by a water-borne virus. It mutated the dead into their shambling counterparts, and these new creatures went after the human race. The water throughout San Francisco was contaminated with the virus, which caused the epidemic. Bigfoot vs. Zombies was a tad more nefarious in how the zombies were created. A scientist at a body farm tried to come up with a chemical that would change the rate of decomposition for a dead body, and that chemical accidentally created zombies. It wasn’t an intentional outbreak. The creation of the zombies was accidental. Yet, it happened. Going back to the classic Night of the Living Dead, it was suspected that a radiated spacecraft blown up on re-entry into the atmosphere began the outbreak. It wasn’t an accidental beginning, it was something natural from outer space. Nature and accidents. That about sums up the slow zombie concept.
One of the more modern interpretations of a zombie-like virus has come in the form of zombies that can run. Mainstream movies that have used this kind of zombie include the Dawn of the Dead remake, 28 Days Later, and World War Z. These zombies still bunch up into groups. The difference is that the threat is heightened by speed. These zombies don’t simply shamble around surrounding people who stay in one place, amassing numbers until they can create a wall with no way out. These are fast zombies. They can chase after the people trying to escape. They aren’t some creepy being that could be around any corner. They’re in your face as soon as they sense you. This is an action movie version of the zombie.
In most cases, fast zombies were created by scientists testing a virus, only to have it escape isolation. House of the Dead exemplified this type of zombification. The main characters discovered an island filled with fast zombies and fled into a house. In the house, there was a lab where evil experiments had been performed, which led to fast zombies. There’s only a slight difference between the origin of fast zombies and the origin of the next type of zombies. That difference means a lot, though. This origin was just a person being evil and doing experiments. The origin for the next section has different intentions.
This is where things get interesting. These zombies can fit into either of the other categories because the speed doesn’t really matter to them. The threat of these zombies isn’t the speed at which they move. Sure, a fast intelligent zombie might be scarier than a slow intelligent zombie, but when you think about what’s so scary about intelligent zombies, it will always come down to the fact that they can think. They’re smart. They know what they are doing and how to get the flesh that they desire. That’s what people fear about them. In the movies, or in the audience watching the movies, the zombies scare people because they are smarter than the shambling (or running) dead bodies of other zombie movies.
The reason for the intelligence has to do with the zombies being weaponized. That’s right. The zombies in intelligent zombie movies are usually the result of weaponization. Automaton Transfusion, though a terribly made movie where you can see the boom mic in many shots, was a perfect example of weaponized zombies. The military was working in a small town to figure out how to use zombies as weapons. Things obviously got out of hand and an outbreak happened. These enhanced zombies had intelligence enough to know how to trick people into traps. There are also movies like Antisocial where the virus is spread in a weaponized way. It was spread through social media to have people attack their friends while still acting like friends. Weaponization leads to intelligent zombies that are able to do more than simply attack. They can plan. They can deceive. They’re intelligent.
Those are three types of zombies that frequently show up in movies and television. I’ve been saying movies throughout this post but television shows like The Walking Dead and Dead Set have also used zombies in effective ways. The Walking Dead has the slow zombies that were discussed near the beginning, with it seeming like a natural origin. Everyone becomes a zombie when they die, no matter how they die. Dead Set used the fast zombies to satire the whole Big Brother phenomenon. Like movies, the zombies fit into the categories that were laid out in this post.
Zombies manage to tap into different elements of fear that society has. They all come down to large scale death and the destabilization of civilized living. The virus will spread and cause a slow death of the population (slow zombies) or a quick death of a large chunk of people (fast zombies). It might be accidental (nature or experiments that go awry), or it could be an untrustworthy government that kills their citizens (intelligent zombies, tricking people into a false sense of security). Whatever the case, people fear that their lives will be torn apart as massive numbers of people die. We fear war. We fear famine. We fear plagues like the Black Death that could spread like wildfire and kill half the population or more. All of these things can be feared through zombie movies and zombie attacks. They tend to be the result of the attacks in the movies. That, my readers, is why zombies have become such a mainstay in horror movies.
Now for some notes after what was an okay but not great post:
- Automaton Transfusion was suggested by @TheTrueBrendanF, who also suggested Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky.
- Other zombie movies that were covered in the Sunday “Bad” Movies were Rise of the Zombies, Chopper Chicks in Zombietown, House of the Dead, Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead, The Coed and the Zombie Stoner, Zombeavers, Dead Before Dawn, Little Dead Rotting Hood, Antisocial, and Bigfoot vs. Zombies.
- Jeff Denton is becoming one of the more recognizable actors in the Sunday “Bad” Movies. Automaton Transfusion was his third appearance, after already showing up in Transmorphers and The Beast of Bray Road.
- Three other actors appeared in The Beast of Bray Road before popping up in Automaton Transfusion. They were William Clevinger, Joel Hebner, and Steven C. Miller.
- Have you seen Automaton Transfusion? Were you as mad by its lack of an ending as I was? It got to the moment before the climax before a “to be continued” card came up, then it ended. That’s not an ending. That’s just another version of The Devil Inside. Do you remember that one? Anyway, I didn’t even get too into zombies in this post. What did I miss? Discuss any of this stuff in the comments below.
- The comments are also a place where you can suggest movies for me to watch in future Sunday “Bad” Movie installments. Either there or on Twitter will let me know what I should check out down the line.
- Sometimes when I’m watching bad movies for this blog, I put clips into my snapchat story. If you want to see the clips, add me. jurassicgriffin
- Next week’s movie is one that I’ve been looking forward. The Marine movies have been a part of the Sunday “Bad” Movies since the first year, when I watched the first three. When the fourth one was released, I made sure to see it. Now there’s a fifth and I scheduled it for next week. Come back in seven days to see my thoughts on The Marine 5: Battleground and possibly the progression of the franchise.