By Alix Paultre
With all this hubbub about the new movie, George A. Romero's Land of the Dead,
I thought you'd like this little essay I once wrote on the nature of Zombies:
Zombies are a powerful element in horror because they have several aspects that are highly useful to the storyteller.
- Zombies are undead. They are undead, but not cool and well-manicured undead like vampires.
Zombies are usually in a state of partial decomposition, or at least extremely dirty and unkempt.
They smell really, really, bad.
- They eat people.Not one another, mind you, but healthy, nice people like that hot lone survivor
chick you are desperately hoping to catch in a non-zombie private moment (preferably in a warm, comfortable
place with a cache of alcohol) to see if that "last man on earth" thing really works.
While many Zombies seem to favor brains, they usually will eat whatever part of your body they can fit in their
mouth, and will not really care much if you are still alive while they are doing it.
- They are hard to kill. It is not unusual to see Zombies missing limbs, or shambling along with their
intestines dragging on the ground, or their head split open with brains leaking out. Zombies are
incredibly tough and can take a lot of damage before they go down for good. Usually only decapitation
(which doesn't always work, but at least the Zombie is disoriented then) or burning to a cinder can
destroy a Zombie.
- They cooperate with one another. They always seem to form a gang to hunt down any non-Zombies
in the area without fighting amongst themselves. They must have some kind of secret Zombie handshake or
pheromone that lets them know who is cool to eat and who isn't. Nothing strikes fear into a victim like
seeing a horde of Zombies coming at them. Zombies are perfect soldiers, and will march through fire,
heavy casualties, and any obstacle placed in front of them without pause.
- They are highly contagious. If you let them bite you, scratch you, spit in your eyes, or
do anything that allows their fluids to come in contact with yours, you are pretty screwed, and
will soon become a Zombie yourself.
There are also some aspects that put their bad features somewhat in balance:
Comparisons can be drawn between Zombie attacks and human-wave military tactics when it comes to
planning your defense. If you have a strong defensive position and plenty of ammo, you are pretty safe.
Just like the Chinese Army in the Korean War, Zombies will exploit any penetration of the perimeter,
and will attempt to wear your defense down by attrition. They won't think twice about using half
their numbers to create a hole in your line, and they have the added strength of being able to
convert any defender they manage to capture.
- They are really stupid. Zombies are dumber than dirt. If you have a weapon or plan that will
actually kill them, they will continue to march forward into the line of fire, not realizing that the
other Zombies that are dropping/burning/falling into a hole/getting shot exhibit a pattern that will
eventually include them. Generally they can't even operate doorknobs, although some varieties of
Zombie are almost as smart as a chimpanzee and can operate simple mechanisms like doors and edged weapons.
- They can be outrun They don't move very quickly, especially the ones that are missing limbs
or dragging entrails. If you have room to run, you can generally outdistance them. Only bunker down
when you have lots of things to seal the entrances with. It also doesn't hurt to have plenty of
flammables and edged weapons, to burn the Zombies as they approach, and hack off any Zombie hands/feet/heads
that stick into the gaps in your ill-constructed defensive position.
- They aren't really as strong as they seem. Their illusion of great strength comes from the fact
that they don't give a rat's ass about broken limbs, hernias, strains, or sore muscles. They are as strong
as a human on PCP or in a hysterical state of mind. That means that although they will batter at a wall or
door all night, if it is well constructed they won't be able to break through.
The best defense from Zombies is distance, and plenty of it.