CMON Feature Friday: The Path of the Zombie

We have our ideas of how zombies appear. You’ve got the slow shambling corpses in rotting clothes, made popular in early zombie flicks. But recent years have introduced a new wave of terrifying, speedy zombies as well. The Zombicide series has a whole slew of different undead menaces that can harass and even kill Survivors unlucky enough to stray too far from the pack. From walkers, to runners, to abominations, and more, there’s no shortage to the different undead beasts you’ll come across. 

With the announcement of Zombicide: Green Horde coming to Kickstarter in May, we decided to take this week’s CMON Feature Friday to look at how the image of a zombie has changed over the years.

There has been a boom of zombie movies, TV shows, books, and comics over the last fifteen years or so. It seems like there is always some new attempt to try and tell the zombie story. It makes sense that the zombie trope resonates with us. Zombie stories are more about the still-living humans than the reanimated walking corpses themselves. Many of these tales focus on the breakdown of society and how survivors attempt to exist in the harsh, new reality. More often than not, it’s the humans in the stories that become the real monsters when the rules of society are removed. The zombies act as nothing more than an excuse to give in to our more-base desires.  

George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) really defined the zombie genre, but there are earlier examples of the undead appearing in film. Only one year after starring as Dracula, Bela Lugosi played an evil witch doctor that entranced a young woman into becoming a ‘zombie’ that he was able to bend to his will in White Zombie (1932). It is widely considered to be the first full length zombie movie. I Walked With a Zombie (1943) and Plague of the Zombies (1966) both elaborated on the idea of the dead being risen and controlled by a nefarious force. But it wasn’t until Romero’s seminal black and white zombie story, that a generation of fans formed a solid opinion of what a force zombies could be in a film (Fun Fact: the word zombie is never said in Night of the Living Dead). 

Romero would go on to create five more zombie flicks, including Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Day of the Dead (1985). The creatures in his movies have become so well defined, they’re known as Romero Zombies and are defined by some notable characteristics. Although it’s not completely known what caused the zombie apocalypse in Romero’s storyline, it affects everyone in a similar way. The dead get up and walk again, with a senseless desire to feast on human flesh (not specifically brains, but more on that later). Whether you died from a zombie bite or old age doesn’t really matter. Pretty soon, you’ll find yourself getting up and joining the shambling masses. The only way to stop a Romero Zombie is massive trauma to the brain or decapitation. As is often the case, Romero’s earlier films were his best, but his influence is still felt in the genre today. 

Now, if I asked you what zombies eat, you’d probably say brains. Actually, you’d probably say “braaaaaiiins”. There’s one movie to thank for that little piece of zombie trivia: Return of the Living Dead (1985). John Russo and Romero worked together on Night of the Living Dead and then parted ways. Russo teamed with horror icon Dan O’Bannon to expand on the zombie storyline. This movie went on to spawn four sequels, and is a bit of a cult classic in its own right. The series never takes itself too seriously, and the films are a lot of fun to watch.  

Return of the Living Dead set the tone for the zombie flicks to come in the 1980s and 90s. Films like the Re-Animator (1985), Dead Alive (1992), and Cemetery Man (1994), all approached the idea of the dead coming back to life with a sense of humor. Horror comedies were the rage then and naturally the slow-witted, brain dead zombies were perfect to generate a few laughs as well as chills. Arguably the height of zombie comedy hit with the near-perfect film Shaun of the Dead (2004).  

The 90s also saw an influx of zombie video games hitting the market. The Resident Evil series, Zombies Ate My Neighbors, and Isle of the Dead, have led to more modern titles like The Last of Us, Left 4 Dead, and Dead Island. Horror games have become more and more popular over the years, and the zombie makes for a perfect foe in the digital world.

The zombie genre got a dramatic makeover with 28 Days Later (2002). While they’re not zombies in the traditional sense, rather victims of a rage virus, these creatures serve the same purpose. Within a matter of seconds, the virus is transferred through blood, bite, or scratch, turning the infected into a mindless monster with killing as its only goal. The infected in 28 Days Later were FAST and terrifying. This new idea of fast zombies spawned a bunch of new movies including a remake of Dawn of Dead (2004) and REC (2007), both definitely worth watching. Fast zombies greatly added to the tension of the threat. Zombies were scary enough as a slow-moving, easily avoided mob of walking corpses, but make them fast and angry and boy howdy, you got some problems.  

The Walking Dead is the show that’s driving our current concept of zombies and in a way the genre has come full circle. Robert Kirkman was a huge fan of Romero’s Dead series and wanted to create a story that didn’t have to end when the credits rolled. It started out as a comic book with the stark black and white illustrations of Tony Moore, but has become a mega-hit TV show as well, entering its seventh season. The zombies in The Walking Dead are definitely Romero zombies. They’re slow, can be killed with trauma to their head, and serve mainly to drive the storyline of the breakdown of society.   

Other literature involving zombies include World War Z, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and The Zombie Survival Guide. Stephen King even tried his hands at zombie fiction with Cell

All of these different stories approach the zombie genre in a unique way. They attempt to allow us to view our fear of death in a safe environment. The Zombicide series differs in that it gives players a chance to take an active role in a world in the grips of a zombie apocalypse. Survivors face a number of different undead creatures, pulled right from the annals of zombie lore. Walkers, Runners, Fatties, and Abominations can all trace their path back to some zombie story, movie, or video game. Whether it’s set in modern or medieval times, Zombicide places players in the middle of the nightmare. After decades of consuming zombie media, wondering what you would do in the same situation, this series of games finally gives you that chance! With the recently announced Zombicide: Green Horde, a new chapter in the Zombicide story will be written. We can’t wait to share the new steps zombies will take on the path with this game. Stay tuned.

CMON Feature Friday: The Path of the Zombie

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