Reclaimer will be doing something new this week. This post is to lay some groundwork for things to come. Enjoy.
Zombies are all the rage these days. They’re in movies, comic books, video games, and now even on TV. Most conversations about zombies lead to one of two places: 1) Discussing the proper strategy for fighting and surviving zombies in the case of a zombpocalypse, or 2) Arguing over which kind of zombie is “best” or “right” in their various depictions. This post will focus on the latter.
There are many aspects of zombie-ism that people will argue about. Fast or slow? Smart or dumb? Flesh-eating or just the brains? Super-human or regular dead human? These are all valid questions, but rather than answering them with my opinion, the following is an attempt to broadly categorize the various zombies. This is by no means intended to be an authoritative or comprehensive treatment of zombie lore, just a brief overview. The various incarnations don’t have to be seen as wrong or right, just different. So here are three types of zombies that we encounter in fiction:
The reanimated zombie is a dead human body that moves and behaves in a way as if it is alive. The body is stripped of emotional or cognitive capabilities and functions only on base instincts. These zombies may be dangerous in large swarms, but do not possess any capabilities outside of what is common for a normal human body.
Examples: Night of the Living Dead, Frankenstein, The Serpent and the Rainbow, The Mummy
Significance: This is perhaps the oldest and least popular modern interpretation of the zombie. This version seems to have roots in various cultures, one being African or Haitian witchcraft where a person’s body (sometimes not even dead) is hypnotized or otherwise controlled through magic or some supernatural means to do the will of whoever cast the spell. Another possible interpretation of the reanimated zombie could be traced back to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The monster in that story was a body pieced together using parts from other bodies, then reanimated through electricity. This particular kind of zombie brings up all kind of metaphysical questions pertaining to the body, the soul, and the mind. If a dead body is reanimated, will it have a consciousness and unique identity? In the case of Frankenstein’s monster, he did seem to have a personal identity. On the other decaying hand, the classic zombies in Night of the Living Dead seem to be just mindless husks. All zombies in our current pop culture seem to agree that zombies don’t have souls or personal identities.
Horror factor: These zombies are not quite as terrifying to encounter in small groups, but there is a psychological component that increases the horror. The lack of clarity on what exactly is going on with this type leaves open the possibility that maybe you’re still somewhat in your dead body, but without actual control. Or at the very least, your dead body is being used to do something terrible without your permission post-death.
A human body is infected by a mysterious and deadly virus/toxin, dies, and then is brought back as a zombie by that same substance, the order of this sequence is up for debate. Since the change occurs due to an organism, the body of this zombie may or may not be imbued with physical capabilities beyond what a normal human would have.
Examples: Left 4 Dead games, 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead, Resident Evil games, The Walking Dead
Significance: As you can see, this type is much more prevalent these days, and that’s only a small sampling of the list. Perhaps people couldn’t handle the metaphysical and philosophical difficulties of the Reanimated and opted more for something that’s just fun to slaughter.
Horror factor: The thought of being an infected is not quite as terrible as actually having to fight them off. Since this type is all-dead, getting infected means being dead and not really knowing or caring what happens with your body. But if you’re still alive, you’re going to experience a lot of anxiety trying to figure out how to survive an assault from super-powered infected zombies.
This is a new category and I have created for the purpose of this list. The Type H zombie is a hollow body that has been hijacked by a hive mind. A simpler description of this kind is the space zombie. This version is a dead body that has been taken over and drastically altered to serve the will of a greater collective consciousness. These zombies almost always have extra parts and powers beyond what a typical human body would possess. Type H can also take many different forms for the various purposes of the intelligence that is in control.
Examples: The Flood (Halo), Necromorphs (Dead Space), Geth Husks (Mass Effect)
Significance: Newer games have taken the zombie concept and made this innovative new type of creature. The examples given above all share the characteristics of using dead bodies as organic tissue that can be rearranged and then reorganized as an cooperative force to accomplish a task (typically that task is to kill you). This zombie is less about being an individual mindless killer and more about being a mindless collection of biomass being manipulated to serve a purpose.
Horror factor: This type plays into our fears of becoming something horrible. Since the base is a human body, it makes one think that we could be metaphorically as terrifying as this zombie is physically. On top of that, this type always has some kind of extra strength, or set of limbs, or abilities that make them that much harder to kill. Perhaps the one good thing about this type is that while they are your fallen comrades, they at least they don’t so much look like them anymore, so it’s easier to dole out the shotgun spray.
How would you critique this classification?
Are there any more good examples not mentioned?
Now that we have that settled, come back soon for a new type of segment on Reclaimer 105.