We've all had the same... we'll call it "fantasy." An old newspaper tumbles across an empty street. Rusted-out cars with skeletons at the wheel. Someone smeared feces all over the local ambulance chaser's billboard. Apocalyptic scenarios are almost comically unlikely, but in our own weird way, we all make preparations. Enough food and water for at least a few days, a first aid kit, a flashlight, and of course, guns. You think about where you'd go first, and who you'd take with you. You think about the different ways you'd barricade the entrances to your stronghold, or which vehicle you'd use to get around. What use would you even be, anyway? Do you have medical training? Can you fix a car? What skills do you provide? These are the thoughts that keep us needlessly awake after watching The Book of Eli. Or The Road, if you hate being happy. How would we fare if civilization falls apart, we ask ourselves. When forced to use the tools we were given only by evolution, could we survive against, as Mary Shelley would say, the spectres which haunt our midnight pillow. To that I say "it depends." It depends on you, and how much Fallout you’ve played.
Although being nuked by the Russians or being tossed into a concentration camp by our own government are both far more likely, let's talk about zombies, the New England Patriots of plot devices. Yes we’re tired of seeing them, but there are forces at work that are beyond our understanding (Bill Belichick), and that’s why they’re not going away. Ever. The human struggle against the mysterious forces of nature, and especially the fear of death, are at the heart of what makes them so horrifying and compelling. The zombie apocalypse genre is, to put it generously, in its heyday. We are saturated by ghoul-related content, and I for one can't get enough of the undead bastards. We have been treated to countless renditions of the concept of bitey reanimated corpses, ranging from terrifying to tacky. But what exactly is it about zombies that keeps us coming back for more? Why haven’t you (not me) had enough?
In order to establish how scary a zombie is, the first thing that must be determined is their speed. Historically, zombies were always slow, lumbering dumbasses who relied on the exceptional stupidity of their prey to present any danger. The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead are now excruciating to watch, not just because of their meandering and incomprehensible plotlines, but because grown-ass human beings are often bested by mannequins that could easily be vanquished by the same wrestling moves I used to practice on my younger brother, giving him --- and I cannot stress this enough --- many many concussions.
Although it was not the first to do so, 28 Days Later turned that on its head by popularizing zombies that could friggin' book it. They could even run upstairs, which is super uncool. Then, despite significant departures from its namesake novel, World War Z further elevated that concept by featuring zombies with a Black Friday-esque disregard for personal space in an adaptation that permanently revolutionized the zombie ideal.
The running zombie is now standard fare in some of the more unsung successes of zombie pop culture, such as the Korean hit Train to Busan. It has also broken ground in the world of video games, making appearances in the critically acclaimed The Last of Us and the underrated recent release Days Gone. For all intents and purposes, a running zombie is officially scarier. How can you possibly instill fear when the enemy can be literally stiff-armed? We may as well be making movies about the tickle monster. These mothers can catch up, and now Zombieland rule #1 is in effect.
It's not enough that you now live hand to mouth, everyone you love is dead, and you live in constant fear, now I have to get in shape? Goddammit. And for those of you who are patting yourselves on the back because you're already in shape, I take solace in knowing that while you may survive, you have no one to talk to about working out, sparing everyone from a fate worse than death. There is also the matter of the zombies’ appearance, but here at Pussy Pop Culture we believe in body positivity. Whether the zombies look like an overstuffed burrito falling apart, or if they simply bear a passing resemblance to John Waters, all zombies are beautiful.
An aspect of zombiety that many have tried to perfect revolves around zombie communication. Many zombie movies and shows have attempted to incorporate a psychosomatic wrinkle, so as to portray the dead as more nuanced than simply walking carnivorous Pac-Men. They've tried zombies that talk (Warm Bodies), zombies that think they're people (Land of the Dead), and zombies that bang (Santa Clarita Diet).
In almost every iteration of a zombie apocalypse that seeks to unironically re-humanize them in order to convey moral ambiguity, the idea that zombies talk to each other ventures into the absurd. Zombies audibly saying "brains," or glancing at each other like Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson in Ghostbusters, was intentionally campy and now belongs in what is now known as zombie comedy, a la Shawn of the Dead. While there is a place for such renditions, I prefer when zombies mean business.
I know most of you are tired. You’re tired of so many zombie movies. You’re begging Hollywood to stop. You’re shaking your fists at the sky, clamoring for a remake of Friends. I don’t care, I am nourished by your despair. I want more. The winning formula for the perfect zombie is likely as of yet undiscovered, but we can rule out a few tropes. Like zombie babies. Looking at you, Z Nation, you piece of shit.
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