Otherwise Known As: The Living Dead, The Walking Dead, etc.
Similar Creatures: Ghouls, Lich, Jiangshi, & Draugr
Possibly Originated From: Haitian/West African Folklore
Commonly Featured In: Everything & Anything
Much like the vampires, zombies are such a staple part of Halloween, and horror, that there are whole reams of paper I could use to discuss and theorize everything and anything about them with little to no success. Frankly speaking, I’m not one of the appropriately named zombie survivalists, those whom have not only studied the possibilities and outcomes of a zombie apocalypse but have made plans to survive such an outcome.
No, seriously, freaking accredited universities have made investigations as to the monetary implications of such an apocalypse would affect things like income tax and estate values.
Zombies are, by their dictionary definition, corpses that are brought back to life without a soul, often through magic or by scientific means. This leads me to a common soapbox of mine when one refers to zombies as “the undead.” The term undead is not limited to zombies but covers such things as draugr, jiangshi, ghouls, vampires, certain types of golems, and all manner of ghosts. Calling them the walking dead or living dead, while a bit more wordy than the eloquent term of zombie, is more fitting a name for them than simply “the undead” especially in common conversation.
A zombie is made in… far too many ways to count but the two most common methods are the aforementioned magic or science. In the case of magic, it is a common, and unfortunately mistaken, belief that such practices like voodoo can create a zombie. The second most popularized, and less historical and religious offensive, source of zombie creation, and control, lies in the arts of necromancy, which is often referred to as the blackest and most foulest of magic to be found.
The walking dead that are created in this method are arguably the least deadly of the lot as their creation is limited to the whims of their original maker, that being the necromancer. A zombie made by magic may retain the same skills and prowess that it possessed in life, perhaps even having a greater magnitude as it would not experience pain or limit of weakness. An example of this is that a zombie (magical or science) could arguably punch through a door but that such an action would destroy the limb in question but as the zombie feels no pain, would not inhibit it from using the limb still.
Another common theme amongst zombies, no matter their creation, is their hunger for the flesh of the living. In more recent years this has been focused more on the brain than the actual flesh but what makes it interesting to note is that zombies do not commonly eat their own kind.
A particularly disgusting source of information that I found in this regard hypothesizes that zombies crave the flesh of the living as certain parts of their undead bodies, namely the brain, heart, and stomach, are still functioning to an extremely damaged/limited degree. A zombie will feast on living flesh because of the need to replace its own dying cells with healthier, non-undead ones in order to… well, live.
While not common amongst magically made zombies, this is the most attributed reasoning to zombies made by science. Ah, now here’s where we enter the apocalypse category, my readers. The walking dead that are derived from science, whether by purpose or by accident, are almost always guaranteed to be infectious but to what degree is a huge matter of debate.
Two good examples of a… “Nature’s design” type of zombie as it were are featured in the games The Last of Us and Left 4 Dead. Technically speaking, the creatures in those games are not undead as they still possess a heartbeat and, in the case of those featured in Left 4 Dead, are prone to mutating into stronger and far deadlier versions of themselves. Those in The Last of Us are more brain-dead than actual dead as a new variation of a brain-eating fungus has spread to infecting humanity rather than the more commonly infected species of insects like ants and such.
These types of zombies are one of the worst of the lot as the disease that spawns them has a limited number to who is naturally immune to being turned and the creation of a vaccine is next to impossible as most of the brilliant minds are the first to fall to the plague. That or to rampant paranoia and insanity as demonstrated in many a horror tale.
Heck, I’ve seen some scientists who, upon failing to find a cure, decide instead to help spread the infection. Mister Fantastic of the Fantastic Four was one such scientist and he did this to his own teammates/family following the deaths of his two children by way of another zombie, and former friend, eating them.
Those created purposefully by science however… One of the better examples I’ve had the misfortune to see for myself was in the film series The Return of the Living Dead wherein the zombies were made from a type of specialized gas and the limit of what kind of zombies that arose was nonexistent.
I say kind of zombie as it is a common debate amongst zombie enthusiasts as to whether a zombie apocalypse would be a long-lasting thing as corpses, naturally arisen or not, still decompose with time and that some places on Earth, would lead to their degeneration increasing. Basically, if mankind manages to make a suitable enough stronghold, we could, theoretically, outlast the zombie plague.
However, the zombies in The Return of the Living Dead were arising even as skeletons and were next to impossible to kill without risking more arising. A victim to their hunger would arise within moments, removed limbs would keep moving without the rest of the body, and even the smoke from burning would eventually fall as rain and make even more corpses arise as living dead. Heck, it wasn’t even limited to humans as things like pinned butterflies and stuffed animals were coming back to life with a hungry vengeance.
This leads me to the atypical weaknesses of a zombie, which again is debatable/arguable based on what type/kind of zombie we’re dealing with here. On general consensus however, there are two common methods of dealing with a zombie. Damage via the cranium by way of gunshot of other, far more direct means such as a hammer or bat. The second tried and trued method is lighting them on fire but seeing as zombies feel no pain, one will quickly find that they’re now dealing with walking torches if they’re not careful.
Much like vampires and other monsters, zombie will forever be a staple part of Halloween and most especially the horror genre in every form of media. However, if there is one problem with zombies at all it is the sheer extent in which they permeate said media to an almost obscene degree.
It is extremely rare for films, video games, and even books to come up with a new, if not scientifically/mystically plausible, source of the zombie outbreak. It always comes back to the same themes that have, if you’ll pardon my horrible pun, been done to death. If we’re going to go about making more of the walking dead, then let’s try to breathe some new life into it with some more originality.