Take Two #51: Know Your Zombie Films

By Kyra-lin Hom

While last week I briefly mentioned Zombies and our rising obsession with all things undead, I never really got around to discussing Zombies themselves. I know, I know. I said I was going to review some of my favorite Zombie films this go around. I still am just with a little twist. See, the internet has a staggering number of lists just like what I was planning. And these are all far more comprehensive than anything I could manage without a solid week (okay, let's be honest, two weeks) and an industrial-sized case of Red Bull. If you still want a Top Zombie Films of all time countdown, please visit the all knowing Google and scour the interwebs to your heart's content. In the meantime, for the next 700 or so words, please stick with me.

I like to break my zombie films into categories such as fast vs. slow, diseased vs. undead, or mid-crisis vs. post-apocalypse. The reason is that these three parameters tend to determine how my friends and I respond in our what-would-you-do-if-the-world-ended-right-now zombie scenario games. After all, contingency plans for a city full of panicking people are going to be very different than those for an all but abandoned urban wasteland. For the record, were I allowed to include emoticons, a little winking smiley face would go right here.

Fast vs. slow is pretty self-explanatory. Most zombies are going to be slow, clumsy oafs. They are barely-moving sacks of meat with literal rot between their ears. Not exactly a recipe for speed and coordination. One of the best depictions of this is still from Night of the Living Dead (1968). Reanimated by something unknown from outer space, every corpse still vaguely intact from across time suddenly claws out of its grave to feed on the living. It takes just one bite to slowly turn a living person into a brainless feeding machine. Only destroying the brain will 'kill' them. ...again.

In many minds, this is the quintessential zombie film classic. It engraved the rotting corpse into monster legend, and is most notably emulated in Dawn of the Dead (1978) – another must see genre classic. For being over 40 years old, Night of the Living Dead holds up pretty well. I know it still freaks me out. Something about how utterly screwed our protagonist is, is decidedly timeless. That said, the 1990 remake is better. Sorry!

Slow zombies are terrifying in their tenacity. No matter what you do they keep coming in greater and greater numbers. Sure you can outrun them for a little while, but eventually you have to sleep. They don't. Night of the Living Dead (1990) does other genius things with this aspect of zombie-ism too, but saying any more would be spoiling.

28 Days Later (2002) – one of my favorite movies period – completely turns this traditional zombie trait on its head. I'm not saying it was the first bit of zombie lore to do this, but it has certainly born the most iconic image. In this movie, scientists create a monkey brain disease known only as 'rage.' With this label just shouting sunshine and bunnies for things to come, a lab incident inevitably allows the disease to infect a human. Things barrel-roll downhill from there.

Instead of the ambling rot-bags of traditional zombie scenarios, these zombies are fast, even animalistic. They are blatant, single-minded predators bent on killing and feeding. One more thing, these zombies, though mindless, are alive. Remarkably similar are the monsters from Resident Evil (2002), the film adaptation I Am Legend (2007) and The Crazies (2010).

Whereas slow zombies breed dread and a crushing sense of the inevitable, these modern speed demons create shear panic. And with 'rage' able to spread in just seconds from any transfer of bodily fluids... Let's just say that a crowded room is a very bad place to be (absolutely shudder-worthy scene compliments of the movie's sequel 28 Weeks Later [2007]).

As for mid-crisis vs. post-apocalypse, older films tend to focus on the inexplicable rise and initial attack of zombies on the human race (i.e. mid-crisis). Newer films give a quick nod to science-gone-awry and then cut into the already ravaged future. Read into that what you will.

Not feeling the horror this halloween season but still interested in brain-munching monsters? The parodies Shaun of the Dead (2004), Zombieland (2009) and even the TV show Community's episode “Epidemiology” are a lot of fun. Happy October!

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