Ever think about the different types of zombies out there? I meant, the way they are represented over time in movies? How do they change over time? Like treacherous vampires have they ever done an about-turn on us, gone all 'Eww!' at fleshy meals and opted for peas and carrots? Thankfully, nothing as dire has happened …. yet. But zombies have been represented in interesting ways.
First, there is the way their mental capacity is shown. Somehow, the idea of a hungry flesh-eater with a one-track mind translates into box-office gold. Thus, our average zombie might be a mindless brat who is really a cannibalistic version of the Cookie Monster. Did someone say 'Braaainnnz'? These guys don't think. They don't plan. They don't dabble war paint on themselves and create cryptic hand gestures for the fieldwork. Nah, they simply waddle over to anything that moves and breathes before trying to gnaw its neck. The remake of Day of the Dead falls into that category. Other examples include 28 Days Later and Undead. Actually, you can think of plenty of zombie flicks that fall into this category.
On the other hand, some of the more creative writers and directors who prefer the undead to have a few working brain cells between their ears. I don't think this idea is very well-received; the dumb 'gaarr' zombie flicks outnumber the 'I know where you live and I can open doors' type of zombie flicks. Alright, so it's unfair to paint these types of zombies as particularly clever. It's not like any of them can MacGuyver their way into the bunker containing the scared humans. However, unlike their dribbly sibblings from other flicks, these guys can plan something close to a zergling rush. Some are even capable of seeking revenge for killing their master/zombie brother. Wouldn't it be more interesting to see more of these zombies? It's like having a tough AI in strategy games; it's not fun if all they do is run straight at you. Give me a fight worth spending money on! I can't think of any modern flicks with these type of undead but I can name a few old ones. There's Vincent Price's Last Man on Earth and Day of the Dead. Remember how Price was shocked to find that those creepy undead had become intelligent beings? And how, in DotD, zombie Bob avenges the death of Dr Logan? He had the makings of a true Igor, that one.
Second variation is the method of zombification. In recent times, it is a given that some type of weird disease will be the cause. At times, there are minor variations with this theme. Thus, you might get the evil scientist and his genetic engineering experiment that goes horribly wrong. Or you end up with a strange new gas that creates zombies out of every dead body in its path. Return of the Living Dead 3, 28 Days Later and Last Man on Earth are all good examples. What interests me is the other alternative – using magic or mind control for raising the dead. These themes are a bit outdated which is understandable given how none of us will believe such theories born out of superstition and lack of extra information. In fact, in most of these cases, folks loved those ideas because it made other locations or people seem more exotic. Hence, you will get the token voodoo guy who creates zombies. Or some form of fancy mage in a robe who spends a bit too much time in graveyards making zombies … through magic, I must hastily add. In older movies, this very theme was tied in with the idea of colonization and slavery. In this way, it was somewhat amusing to find that the director threw in subtle subtext for these movies. For a dose of such zombification, try White Zombie, Revolt of the Zombies and King of the Zombies.
Oh and there was this one instance where aliens were responsible for the zombie movement. It was called Undead and it not the first movie to play around with this idea not is it the last. It was simply a welcome surprise when you see grubby aliens trying to take over the world using mind-numbing tactics. And to be fair, in this case the aliens were just misunderstood.
The last point is not that important. I don't even know if it matters much for the portrayal of zombies. The trait I'm talking about is the speed of zombies. Fine, whether they shuffle along or hobble eagerly at you matters when you are the happy meal at the end of their journey. However, as an audience member, it doesn't really matter. Or does it? Does your enjoyment of a movie differ depending on their movement style? Well, a lot of movies use both fleet-footed zombies alongside slower 'meh' ones so perhaps speed is just overrated. Was it in the new Dawn of the Dead that we saw the relay-running wannabes? Those zombies really ran for their food in this one. Funnily enough, the original movie had sluggish ones and it served the purpose of the movie themes. After all, weren't they supposed to represent how we were all just sad little cogs stuck in consumer culture? Or something morbid along those lines?