Just sayin’ – Why Romero zombies are scarier than souped-up zombies

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.

Dawn of the Dead 2004

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

Night of the Living Dead zombies

Romero's Night of the Living Dead zombies rock my socks!

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

Elderly 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

Romero zombie hands

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.

Just sayin’.

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About Spidey Sense

Pop culture junkie, fangirl, arts and theatre lover, and The Vampire Diaries, True Blood and The Walking Dead obsessive. View all posts by Spidey Sense

7 responses to “Just sayin’ – Why Romero zombies are scarier than souped-up zombies

  • kjewls

    I love your take on zombie-ism as a metaphor for the inevitability of death. In a sense, zombies are sort of Grim Reapers for the Every-Man. You can run. You can hide. You may even be able to decapitate a few. But sooner or later, one of “them” is going to get you.

    And while fast zombies can ambush you, with their supernatural strength or speed — death by slow zombies is more painful, because they are about gradually wearing down your will to fight another day – your will to live. Most people, if asked how they’d rather go, would say that they’d prefer something “fast” like a gunshot to the heart, to something “slow” like drowning, or disease. I guess the same goes with zombies . . .

    Then again, there is one solution to all this death and destruction . . . vampirism 😉

    • myspideysenseistingling

      Love your comments and the fact that you are getting into the zombie mythologies even though I know they scare the stuffing out of you 🙂

      The thing about Romero’s zombies that really gets me is that there is literally no escape – death turns you into one in whatever form it may take. It would be one of my greatest fears realised to become a monster who would be willing to hurt friends and family… though I wouldn’t be averse to nibbling Ian Somerhalder!

      Zombies in general, whether fast or slow, also can reflect back whatever is troubling us in society at a particular time because of their blankness – we can project whatever issues we have on their personality-less figures. Interestingly enough, zombie movies have tended to be most popular during times of social unrest. It is no accident that their recent rise in popularity has occurred concurrent with the current global economic crisis. You can shoot a zombie in the head but not a GEC – there has got to be some satisfaction in that for people on some level too!

      Romero’s zombies were also metaphorical for the conforming force of consumerism, hence the motif of malls and shopping centres in zombie movies since, such as using them as fortresses against the undead. So as B-grade schlocky as a lot of zombie stuff is, there is actually a lot more substance to the stories around them than people give them credit for 🙂

  • Marc

    Personally, I find the fast moving zombies to be a little more stimulating to the sense than the slower zombies.

    The first and most obvious reason for this is that I am an adrenaline junky. Pure and simple, I love to move fast, and I love fast moving things.
    The pure exhileration of moving forward flat out screaming “shit! shit! shit!” or even running at the zombies with a pair of crowbars screaming “have atchyoo ya mangy scoundrel!” is just too good for someone like me to pass up.

    The second reason is that fast zombies make for the BEST crowd panic scenes e.g. 28 weeks later, and Dead Set.
    I love crowd panic scenes. Why? We see humanity at its worst. Every man, woman and child for his and her self.
    – Babies are dropped and abandoned to be trampled by the mass of surging humanity that just wants to get away from the hungry savages that are amongst them.
    – people are shoved directly into the fangs of the oncoming horror in the hope of buying time for those strong and smart enough to sacrifice the weak.
    In a nutshell, crowd panic outlines the very worst in humanity itself. That’s what I like about horror movie – the de-evolution of humanity as people become desperate to survive.

    Also, in defence of the whole ‘cure’ thingy – there was no cure in Dead Set, nor was there any knowledge of what happened. Our peeps, being a part of the whole Big Brother thingy are absolutely oblivious to what is happening outside. For all we know, they’re only survivors in the whole world.
    We get some small hints of life outside the house, but that hope is quickly extinguished.

    • myspideysenseistingling

      Damn you and your encyclopaedic zombie knowledge 🙂 I thought my cure theory was watertight, but alas no!

      You make some excellent points. A zombieocalypse is an extremely high stakes, high stress situation and people either rise to the challenge and band together or regress and focus on their primal survival instinct.

      Although though this is a bit off-topic, do you remember when that plane of rugby players crashed in the Andes mountains? I read the autobiography of one of the survivors, who managed to climb through the Andes mountains despite enduring more than the human body physically should be able to.

      There was controversy when the survivors returned home around the fact that they had eaten the flesh of people who had died in the immediate crash or in the weeks that followed. In the autobiography I read, the man described how surviving in a place like the Andes returned him to a more primal state to a point that when one of his friends cut himself and he was near delirious with slow starvation, he was startled to realise he had recognised human flesh as a potential source of food. I think until you physically experience a situation like that, or a zombieocalpyse, it is hard to know how you would react.

      I’d like to think I would be kickass like Tallahassee though 🙂

      • Marc

        Well, Dead Set isn’t released until, erm, today.

        I do remember that story, but I can’t say I remember any controversy. All I remember is hearing about an ‘incredible story of survival and courage’ etc. etc.
        I have heard tale of peeps having to remove their own foot due to frostbite and then eating said foot out of desperation.

        Anywho, one thing I’ve always been curious about. what is the plural of zombieocalpyse?
        Zombieocalypses?
        Zombieocalypies?
        Zombieocalypi?
        Multiple zomb’gasms?

        • myspideysenseistingling

          The Dead Set copy that was lent to me must have been imported or something then.

          You made my LOL for about ten minutes with the zombieocalypse question. I’ll have to go with zombieocalypi, if only because the best part of the recent Social Network movie was the Winklevoss twins being called Winklevi 🙂

          • Marc

            Winklevi sounds like a pair of ultra-schmexy jeans available only on select row boats.

            The copy that was lent to me was downloaded. I must say, my favourite moment was when Patrick was being eaten. Pure gold.

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