Zombies are everywhere. Don’t worry. I mean they’re very popular in entertainment right now: movies, TV, toys, games. There are plague zombies, alien zombies, magical zombies, cyborg zombies and others I no doubt haven’t seen. Some of these are bone-chilling, some of them are lukewarm and some of them are a complete waste of time. Some of these zombies even sprint after their prey, and I’ve got to say that I much prefer the tried-and-true slow zombie in my horror entertainment.
I’ve liked scary stories ever since I was a kid. Unfortunately it seems like the more I experienced, the harder it was to scare me. After a while, I couldn’t get scared by most of the stuff I watched or read. It was very disappointing to sit down in anticipation of something terrifying and wind up with with a snooze. Maybe it was just a sign that I was growing up. As movies stretched for more shock value, I cringed with every sequel, wondering why the second or fifth of a series was ever made when the first installment was so wretched. The end result was that I gave up on the horror genre for a long time.
Through it all, zombies have been my consistent nightmare of choice. I can find a movie on Netflix that involves zombies, and I catch myself getting excited about a possible gem. I’ll watch a movie with running zombies, but it never seems to have the same effect on me as a shuffling horde of undead. A running zombie might as well be a charging lion to me. The tension is over too quickly. I never get a chance to feel the fear crawling up into my belly, knotting me up, causing me to squint and grind my teeth as someone gets chomped.
Any good story, in my opinion, relies upon characters that I can grow to like or like to hate. This is even more important to me in a book or movie, where I know some of the characters are not going to survive. As I grow to like a character, the tension is more intense when her life is danger, or when she has to make a painful choice. It’s even better when death by zombie seems inevitable, but the heroes struggle on to defy the odds. The dead, of course, outnumber the living. That’s why it’s a zombie apocalypse and not a zombie nuisance.
Everywhere the heroes go is infested with zombies. Nobody is scared of a slowly stumbling zombie, but a few, a dozen, hundreds are terrifying. They don’t sleep, and they certainly defy injury. At some point, their numbers can topple a fence, fill a trench to make a bridge, break down a door or smother a fire. Their moaning is a constant reminder that they are closer than you want them to be. Any mistake by the heroes can mean that they will become another one of the shuffling dead. Will his friends be willing to put down their reanimated buddy? There is horror to be found in empathizing with people faced with that kind of choice. I find this far more heartbreaking than watching somebody chased down and devoured by the fast zombies. It’s the horror after the horror.
I plan to keep riding high on this wave of zombie popularity. Even if only a small fraction of the material to come out of it is good, statistically there should be a few greats. The Walking Dead continues to be my favorite at the moment. The zombies walk, limp or crawl, and the characters are well developed. I keep hoping to stumble upon some decent zombie apocalypse books, but I haven’t read any other than Max Brooks’ World War Z. If you know of any, please leave me the titles or authors’ names in the comments.
I’m off to watch The Walking Dead.