Note: You’ve read Elizabeth’s argument why zombies are excellent horror monsters, now read Gwen’s counter argument that zombies are horrible horror monsters.
In the spirit of true democracy, my cohorts have allowed me this space during our illustrious “Zombie Week” to explain my utter distaste for all that is “zombie.” I know I might lose a few of you here, but I hope we can all just agree to disagree. Without crushing the hearts of all those out there on the zombie apocalypse bandwagon, I finally can shout it from the mountain that I just don’t find zombies all that scary.
I feel like an addict stuck on step five, confessing my horror wrongdoings. Standing here before you, I confess that I don’t watch The Walking Dead, I avoid Halloween haunts that have zombie themes, and I never feel compelled to rent a zombie flick. (Yes this is sacrilege coming from the state that is home to most Romero films.) I hope you can indulge me by reading the reasons that I don’t like zombies. Selfishly, I hope that those of you who agree with me, might just share this article in solidarity and discuss it with your friends.
Zombies are slow. Yes, I know there are fast zombies, as in 28 Days Later… Frankly there are exceptions to all my gripes, but these are quick generalizations that explain my basic distaste for zombies as the conduit for horror.
They are unintelligent. It’s not hard to outwit this opponent because they don’t think at all, they just stumble along mindlessly. These brainless corpses plod forever forward mumbling to themselves like a band of sleep-deprived grad students at finals time.
Zombies have no backstory and minimal buildup. Like most women, I need a little foreplay before I can get excited…about my horror. Much of what I love about horror is the character buildup surrounding, in particular, the killer. Perhaps it is rooted in my growing up amidst Time Life books based on explaining serial killers and mass murderers. I am obsessed with getting to know the inner workings of my horror monsters, what makes them tick and why. This certainly explains my penchant for slashers, but rules out zombies.
Zombies rely on swarming as a scare tactic. They are in a category with birds, frogs, ants, critters, and killer tomatoes. Did you hear what I just said? They are in the same category as giant, killer tomatoes. This alone makes them not scary. Anything can overwhelm you with numbers, but frankly if you really want to scare me with swarming beasts, just lock me in any pre-school with ten question-asking, impulsive little children. That, my friends, is true horror and I would choose the zombies any day.
Zombies rely on looking repulsive rather than being truly scary. I love gore, but just looking a little dead and decrepit does not offer enough gore for me. Again, there are always exceptions but there is little mystery to their physical appearance. Freddy Krueger is an excellent example of a great movie monster who is repulsive but does not rely on outward appearance alone to create his horrific persona. He has an identity, as do most movie monsters. With no words at all, Michael Myers is far more ominous than any zombie. There is literally nothing to zombies, no mind, no tactics, and no persona. All of these are the spice that adds to the horror recipe and stimulate the mind. Furthermore, the more my mind wonders about the killer and his/her next move, the more susceptible I become to jump scares and plot twists.
It doesn’t take much to kill one. Hell, I could beat one over the head with the Brave Little Toaster and then run from it. One on one, my neighbor’s dog scares me more than a zombie. Zombies are predictable and easy to kill. Everyone knows how to kill a vampire, but they present as a much more formidable foe with their great intelligence and hypnotic capacities. It is harder for me to feel the fear if I perceive the opponent as less than intimidating. We all know how to kill zombies, but I guess in films we are too damn dumb or self-centered to work together to do so.
In closing, I can concede to the rich social commentary of zombie films. There is endless discussion about mindless mass consumption, working class drones muddling through life, conformity, soldiers sent off to unjust wars, the spread of indiscriminate disease, and children overcoming their parents literally and figuratively. I mean, no other subgenre speaks about the masses in quite the way that these films do. They offer us some of the smartest directors and best filming.
To end on a positive note, I would like to pay homage to the few zombies I truly love. When I say zombie, I mean it in the most literal sense of the word—a revived corpse, typically but not necessarily revived by witchcraft. That being said, I hope you can appreciate my small peace offering by the way of this list of zombies I like.
Shelly Long and Merryl Streep in Death Becomes Her (1992): I am going to be frank and say that Shelly Long can do no wrong simply because of Troop Beverly Hills (one of my guilty pleasures!) These women take their cat fight into the afterlife after consuming a mysterious anti-aging tonic.
Doug Jones as Billy the Zombie in Hocus Pocus (1993): This guy has his lips sewn shut and is “buried by his ex” (you like how I did that) and he still comes back willing to help people out. Trust me, my first words would be a little more choice than his. Realistically, I might be speechless in the presence of Bette Midler!
My favorite zombie story of all time comes courtesy of Creepshow 2 (1987)—the short, “The Hitchhiker.” To this day, my childhood friend and I quote actor Tom Wright, “Thanks for the ride, lady”!
No horror zombie list is complete without… Pet Semetary (1989)!!! What better way to end this piece than with the true show stopper and most memorable zombie of all time, Churchill, the only zombie that really scares me, thanks to the creative genius of Stephen King.