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Fast vs. Slow Zombies

While I was at PAX, one of my fellow panelists turned me on to Max Brooks’ book World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. It’s an excellent read if you’re into either the zombie genre or just really dark humor. After reading it, I have been recommending the book to anyone who will listen. It’s simply outstanding.

As with most topics I write about here, the subject of zombies has prompted some interesting discussions with friends and colleagues. In the case of World War Z, my only complaint about the book is its reliance on the slow moving, arms raised, schleppy zombie made famous by George Romero films. I, as a matter of preference, would much rather have seen the speedy, violent zombies of 28 Weeks Later / 28 Days Later or the Xbox 360 game Left 4 Dead.

I firmly believe that when the zombie apocalypse (ZA) finally comes, it will look more like the rage virus. Honestly, it would have to. The fact is a slow zombie is simply not that hard to defeat. They’re kind of like cows. You could hunt them with a dent mallet. Granted, if you were set upon by a pack, it may be harder to fight off. However, the spread of the contagion would either have to be immediate or a single mass event would have to hit most of the population at once.

In World War Z, the contagion is slow to spread. Brooks gives the impression that a year or two passes between the first outbreak and the pandemic. That’s simply too slow for a zombie virus to move unless the zombies themselves are so fast, and so hard to kill, that they can rapidly turn new zombies. Compare Brooks’ approach to that of 28 Days/Weeks Later or even the disaster of a film called Quarantine. (If you haven’t seen Quarantine, think of it as the Blair Witch Project of zombie movies – shaky handicam story telling that rapidly becomes painful to sit through.) The contagion in those movies spreads rapidly enough, and the zombies become fast and violent enough to quickly become a problem.

What has been interesting to me is the almost universal agreement on the topic of fast versus slow zombies. Just about everybody I have raised the issue with agrees that fast zombies are much scarier, much harder to kill, and much more likely when the ZA is upon us. I have to wonder, then, why franchises like Resident Evil or the remakes/knock-offs of Romero films generally portray the zombies as stupid and slow.

It seems to me that the future of zombie films has to lie with fast, violent zombies. Purists may disagree, but the only movies I can see remaining true to the schleppy zombies would be flicks like Shaun of the Dead that actually mock the speed.

Written by Michael Turk