Zombies are everywhere these days.
They’re on television, in the movies, on the printed page. They’re in video games by the hundreds.
They rise. They walk. They consume the flesh of the living. Usually. Some run instead of shamble. Others don’t care to eat people. A few even dance. And some aren’t zombies in the “walking corpse” sense, but something more akin to the trancelike state of Haitian and African folklore.
The common factor among all of them is the loss of self, the condemnation of a once-thinking being to an existence of ceaseless hunger, rage or toil, from which a final death is the only possible release.
There are numerous ways a person might become a zombie. Below we take a look at several broad categories of the restless dead, and where you can find examples of each type.
But don’t get too close. Don’t let them bite or scratch you. And keep your shotgun at the ready.
Historically, zombie lore has been rooted in the supernatural.
Some of our earliest accounts of zombies, documented in Haiti and West Africa, involve cases of soulless corpses brought back to life by mythical means. So it’s only natural that many movies about zombies involve voodoo ( “White Zombie,” “I Walked with a Zombie”), demonic spirits (the “Evil Dead” movies) or ancient Native American burial grounds ( “Pet Sematary”).
Supernatural zombies tend to be mindless thralls under the command of an evil sorcerer, so your best bet is taking Mr. (or Mrs.) Big out of the picture. As long as you don’t mess up your magic incantation, as Bruce Campbell does in “Army of Darkness,” you should be fine.
Zombies gone viral
Whether the cause is a bad burger ( “Zombieland”), a Sumatran rat-monkey ( “Braindead”) or a highly contagious “rage virus” that turns the entire population into ravenous, super-fast freaks ( “28 Days Later”), disease is often at the root of the zombie problem.
More often than not, it’s some nutty researcher’s fault.
In the case of “The Crazies,” the U.S. military accidentally releases a biological weapon in a small town’s water supply. The “Resident Evil” movie franchise, meanwhile, revolves around a virus manufactured by the sinister Umbrella Corp.
Whether you’re dealing with poison or parasites, it’s wise to treat the zombie plague as you would any other disease. Wear surgical masks and latex gloves, and avoid any contact with the infected.
Now, if only someone would develop a vaccine
This variety of zombie has a basis in fact. There are several life forms on our planet —wasp larvae, worms, even a fungus—able to take over and control the functions of other creatures, typically animals with relatively simple nervous systems.
The idea that this sort of thing could happen to sentient beings like us is rightly terrifying, and so the concept makes for good zombie fodder.
One example is the 2006 James Gunn gross-out horror-comedy “Slither,” in which an alien parasite transforms a small-town big shot into a monster, which eventually spawns thousands of red slugs that crawl into the mouths of the townsfolk, turning them into mindless extensions of itself.
This sort of zombie is popular in video games, including several of the popular “Resident Evil” games on which the film series is based. Earlier entries had engineered viruses as the cause of the zombie plague, just like the movies do, but the last few games owe their zombie outbreaks to the “Las Plagas” parasite, which taps into the human spinal cord and forms a hive mind with others of its kind.
The “Dead Rising” games also hinge on a parasite, though one that’s closer to the real-life examples above — their restless corpses are reanimated by mutant wasp larvae.
Sometimes technology is used to reanimate bodies, or to make living beings into mindless slaves. Physically, it seems even worse than becoming a moving, rotting corpse. Zombies of this type often have bits and pieces removed and replaced with mechanical augmentations, and because they’re often not dead there’s the possibility of having to live with what they’ve become after being freed from their horrific situation.
This type is more popular in television and video games than it is in film. Possibly the best-known example is the Borg race in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and subsequent series and films. This medley of manifold races lives as a collective of beings that think as one, with each individual specialized to perform assigned tasks. The problem is, they forcibly assimilate any sentient beings they come in contact with.
On the video game end of things, there’s the Strogg race from the “Quake” series of games. They’re similar to the Borg in their habit of forcibly converting other races. Partway into “Quake IV,” the gruesome assembly-line surgery that creates a Strogg soldier is seen from your own character’s viewpoint as it happens to him — all but the final, individuality- erasing step. It’s not a pretty sight. They rebuild and revive the dead to fight again, as well.
Zombies just because
Has this ever happened to you?
You stumble out of bed, pull on some clothes and stop by the corner store for a soda, only to realize that there’s blood on the sidewalk and a handful of hungry zombies in your backyard. You, just like the title character in the horror-comedy “Shaun of the Dead,” are living in a zombie apocalypse.
Like “Night of the Living Dead,” “Dawn of the Dead” and countless other zombie movies in the George Romero vein, “Shaun” doesn’t really explain why the Earth is suddenly overrun with reanimated corpses hungering for human flesh. Nor does it offer an easy solution for eliminating the greedy ghouls.
Our advice? Follow the example of Shaun and his best mate Ed, and arm yourself with a cricket bat, a shovel and a collection of vintage vinyl records suitable for slicing zombie skulls.