A Zombie Taxonomy (Writer’s Craft Essay)

              Feet shuffling slowly, gurgling moans and the reek of dead flesh, if this is what you think of when you think of zombies, you’re only partly right.  There are many kinds of undead, four types actually: undead, infected, mutant and living zombies.

                If you’re familiar with the George A. Romero zombies, they are mostly of the first kind: undead.  They tend to be slow, mute and fairly easy to escape from unless they’re part of a large group.  H.G. Wells, in his novel Things to Come, used this type of zombie.  Many critics have compared those affected by Wells’ “wandering sickness” to zombies, while Wells himself never referred to them as zombies. In Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, an unknown phenomenon is what reanimates recently deceased people, turning them into zombies.  Zombie bites result in death but it’s never explained if it is the bite that turns them or the fact that they die and are automatically reanimated as a zombie.

                Most zombies belong to the second group: infected.  The Resident Evil zombies are in this category, as are the 28 Days Later zombies and the Return of the Living Dead zombies.  The Return of the Living Dead zombies are reanimated by exposure to the chemical Trioxin.  Unlike the Resident Evil zombies, who are reanimated by the T-Virus and can be killed by severing any connection to the brain, the Return of the Living Dead zombies can survive indefinitely.  A good example of this is the scene in which characters Frank and Freddy chop up the first infected zombie and place it in separate plastic bags, yet the individual plastic bags are wriggling and writhing around independently and must be incinerated.  The 28 Days Later zombies are created when British animal liberation activists try to free some lab animals and one of the activists gets bitten by a chimpanzee that has been infected by the “rage” disease and the virus quickly spreads through the population.  The significant difference between the three types of infected zombies is that 28 Days Later zombies are extremely fast and run at their victims, trying viciously to attack them, while the Resident Evil and Return of the Living Dead zombies are far more sluggish and slowly stalk their prey.

                Mutant zombies are a lot like infected but are slightly different than other zombies in their respective story universes.  In both Resident Evil and Left 4 Dead video games, there are boss zombies who exhibit extraordinary reactions to the infection.  An example in the Resident Evil universe is Thanatos, from Resident Evil: Outbreak, who was the result of an experiment on the effects of the T-Virus injected into a living human.  The result is a hideous, hulking monster over 12 feet tall with a massive clawed left arm and amazing strength.   There are far more mutations in the Left 4 Dead universe.  There are zombies like the Boomer, a fat undead as big around as he is tall, who spits green bile on the character causing the player’s vision to be obscured, also the bile attracts more of the undead and you end up being swarmed while unable to see what’s attacking you.  Another example is the Witch, easily one of the scariest enemies in the game.  This passive female infected stays in one spot, sobbing.  The crying grows steadily louder as the player nears where the Witch is hiding.  In order to avoid startling the crying Witch, the player must turn off his flashlight and not make any loud movement, and especially shouldn’t fire his or her gun.  Once, however, a Witch is startled she runs screaming towards your character and begin ripping out large chunks until your teammates come to your aid, or your character dies.  I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one of my favourite Left 4 Dead mutants, The Hunter.  An agile foe, the Hunter hides and waits until your character comes close enough and then pounces on you from out of nowhere; a truly horrifying experience.

              While it seems like an oxymoron, the final category, living zombies, are well represented in pop-culture.  In White Zombie, with Bela Lugosi, zombies are living humans under the spell of an evil magician which causes them to become mindless henchmen, blindly doing the bidding of the magician.  The zombies in the fourth installment of the Resident Evil series are also living humans who are parasitically-controlled humans called Los Ganados, the cattle in Spanish.  These zombies are significantly smarter and quicker than the zombies from previous games, but are not undead which is a major departure from the previous titles in the series.

                No matter which type of zombie you happen to stumble upon, slow or fast, living or dead, just run!

2 thoughts on “A Zombie Taxonomy (Writer’s Craft Essay)

  1. It would be fun to go to a “Zombie Island” for a week or so. Just bring a bunch of guns, some grenades, a giant machete for sure, and just have some fun! You would have to have a secure HQ and your know, a fresh supply of zombies, but it would sell.

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