Zombies!!! The Biology and Philosophy of the Living Dead!

By Vexen Crabtree 2006 Sep 08

1. Zombie Films

There are three major types of zombie film; each one was once popular but in general gave way to more exciting and epic genres of zombie. In order:

  1. Necromancer zombie films: A necromancer raises up some bodies for his own purposes, giving them a semblance of life, one by one. Only a few modern zombie films follow this "voodoo" stereotype, and include the Reanimator films.

  2. Apocalyptic/epic zombie films: Since George Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968) a new form of zombie film created a new genre of film. The recently deceased started re-animating and attacking the living. The zombies are slow and suffer from rigor mortis, and move awkwardly and slowly. Their strength is solely in numbers, plus an uncanny ability to tear apart the bodies of the living with their hands and teeth. The phenomenon tends to spread and become more serious over time, often causing the collapse of civilisation and threatening all of humanity to extinction.

  3. Fast and aggressive zombie films: 28 Days Later (2002) saw a new breed of zombie arise which is fast, aggressive and strong. These films have proven more popular and more exciting than any of their introspective predecessors, World War Z (2013) being particularly successful.

Of the slow-zombie films, two long-standing series defined the genre, and made all future films possible. They are:

Commentary of Romeo's films can be found on Classic Zombie Films: the Slow Undead. Also see Aggressive Zombie Films Where the Undead are Angry and Fast and a separate page for the hugely successful World War Z (2013) Film Review.

2. Common Plotlines in Zombie Films

Zombie films fall into two major types:

3. The Causes of Zombies: Science and Diseases

Disease and virus orientated films have the 'infection' spread from its original locale across a state, a country, or even across the world. Some films, such as the Romero of the Dead series, merely has it that for some reason that scientists cannot discover, anyone who dies returns to life (unless, presumably, they have suffered serious brain damage).

4. How to Kill a Zombie

Most zombie films have the zombies hard-to-kill unless you know how. Their bodies are weak and easily damaged... but, normal damage does not kill them. They feel no pain and do not care to preserve themselves or defend themselves. Their only motivation is to attack the living. To kill zombies, in a classical zombie film, you have to:

There are exceptions... in 28 Days Later, zombies have more normal bodies and can be killed like a normal person. In Braindead it appears that the zombies entire nervous system is given a murderous will to kill the living: In the most strong-willed zombies, their body parts remain animated even after destruction of the head or after truncation from the torso. And in Reanimator, the injected liquid appears to give any flesh an individual will and mind. But these films stray from the zombie 'norm' of brain-based motivation, and therefore death by brain death.

5. Zombie Souls: Materialism Versus Animism

Where do zombies' motivations and willpower come from? There are two general trends in zombie films:

Animism is unbelievable for one major reason:

Motor functions in our nervous system are controlled centrally by organs at the base of our brain, at the top of the spine, such as the medulla and cerebellum. Orders travel from here, down the spine, to the appendages. The appendages' nerves have no system to self-rule. In other words, muscles can only be controlled in a directed way, from the brain. As a result of this, animist zombie films must somehow explain that (for example), a hand on its own has had its nerves physically rewired into a new motor control area. It becomes far too complicated and unlikely that mystical sources of willpower could ever accomplish this.

"The Biology and Neurology of Zombies" by Vexen Crabtree (2006)

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By Vexen Crabtree 2006 Sep 08
Last Updated: 2013 Jun 28

© 2013 Vexen Crabtree. All rights reserved.

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