Zombies, A Triptych of Horror

While on a run the other night I got to thinking about zombie stories. Yes, it was night, and consequently, it was dark, but that had little to do with this particular noodling. As I’ve run through the moon shade of the madronas, I been much more concerned about the mountain lion that’s been prowling our forest than the remote possibility of the undead gnawing on my knees.

I can think of only three kinds of zombies in horror. In all cases, these former people end up playing the role of antagonist in one of three ways.

Random Undead

Usually, the zombie apocalypse occurs because of some random factor — a virus, a curse, whatever — and everyone is susceptible. Most people die and shamble the globe in search of those few lucky living. Their movements are disorganized and they, as a group, have no ability to communicate or organize.

They, these former people, become something other in the minds of the protagonists. They’re easy targets for destruction because while they may retain the appearance of the individuals they once were they lack all humanity. They are shambling meat-sticks with an appetite and little more.

My experience suggests that these are the most common type of zombie in popular media. You can find them pretty much everywhere. They’re what drive the drama in The Walking Dead or World War Z.

Slow Minded Mass

This is a mass of people, who behave mindlessly: a stampede of people, an angry throng, religious or ideological zealots on the march, an apathetic generation mindlessly passing through life. These zombies may not gnaw on your limbs, but they usually leave much destruction in their passage. The destruction is a function of their aggregation, and their violence may not be overt.

This type of zombie is far less common in popular media. I’ve posted this video from De Staat previously, but I’m going to do it again because I think that it illustrates this concept well.

Instrument of Dread

Someone, the antagonist most likely, robs a population of people of their agency. Individually these people would never act as they do, but by some means, they are coerced to violence and acts of horror. The idea is that there is a top-down hierarchy to this mess. Someone with the means and the desire robs people of their will and pushes them in pursuit of their own goals.

The Deadite army in Army of Darkness is one of my all-time favorite examples of this concept. Left alone the dead are inert, but with the power of the Necronomicon Bad Ash reanimates them for evil.

Can you think of any more types of zombies?


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