In a world where instant gratification reigns, there has been the rise of souped-up zombies – zombies that bring immediate panic because they are capable of moving their undead legs at a full sprint, and are seemingly filled with more adrenalin than the killing machines in the Terminator movie series. One prime example is the zombies in the update of Dawn of the Dead in 2004, which ironically is a modern update of a classic by slow-moving zombies Godfather Romero.
At first glance, these zombies would appear to be the better, superior, scarier option to Romero’s famous slow-moving zombies. While I love zombies whether they are slow and fast, there are several reasons why Romero’s zombies are infinitely more creepy than their souped-up cousins.
Slow zombies are death personified
Romero zombies may not have fangs or supernatural superpowers, but they scare the bejesus out of me more than any other creature. Why? Because they truly embody death’s often weak, clumsy and slow but nevertheless unstoppable, inevitable forward march. Fast zombies lose this poetic subtext by their very nature, and are reduced to ordinary monsters because they have lost the qualities that make them our destiny writ large.
One of my fast zombie-loving friends says slow zombies are like fluffy bunnies in terms of scariness to her because it is easy to outrun them. Fair point. However, Romero’s zombies test your limits of physical endurance in other ways. The slowness of Romero’s zombies means that it is possible to evade them for a while, just like we can take precautions against premature death; exercising and eating well are as much weapons as the shotguns used to fell zombies with a bullet to the brain. However, Romero’s zombies are like death itself; it still keeps coming relentlessly and is ultimately impossible to outstrip. The power of slow zombies is their strength in numbers, which to me represents how as the years pass death becomes a more likely fate.
It is easier to recognise the former humanity of slow zombies
Romero’s zombies are devoid of the insistent rage and overcaffeinated aggression of souped-up zombies. These are tragic figures with a blankness that you can project yourself on, monsters to be pitied and empathised with because it is easier to see a semblance of their old human selves; their moans of longing can be construed as a desire to return to their humanity. The demonic screech fast zombies typically emit and their superhuman strength, which belies their status as a former normal human being, creates a monster that is more cheap, transient thrills than the creeping, permanent dread of the possibility of losing your soul.
There is no cure for Romero’s zombies
Unlike fast-zombie movies where there is usually a cure, in Romero’s zombie movies there is no hope left. Romero doesn’t overexplain the cause of his zombieocalypses, one thing that is truly frightening about them is that death in any form, not just a zombie bite, makes you become a zombie yourself. You could die of old age or a car wreck, but you will come back as a zombie in a Romero flick. This is a world in which God has either turned his back or we discover that no higher benevolent power truly exists to protect us. So much of our society rests on the notion of life after death, so what if this turns out to be merely a fantasy?
In contrast, in fast zombie movies there is usually an overt reason for the outbreak, often chemical or viral, and thus a sense of the possibility of reversing or confining the cause. In Resident Evil there was a vaccine; in 28 Days Later (if you consider this to fall into the zombie genre – this is debatable) hope the infection can be quarantined.
So there you have it – if a zombie goes OM NOM NOM AMBLE NOM, I am officially freaked out.