You Can't Choose The Best Zombie Movies If You Don't Know The Rules

By Mickey Jhonny

The first step in deciding what are the best zombie movies requires the rather delicate matter of determining what in fact are zombies. The common short hand of calling them the reanimated or walking or living dead isn't quite sufficient. After all, vampires would thereby qualify, too. And them vampires, they ain't no zombies, no way, no how. To determine what qualifies as a zombie, we will need some rules to set the parameters.

Of course it's something of a cliche to observe that rules are made to be broken. That may be so and without question even the rules of zombie movie conventions have not been rigorously observed. Despite this fast and loose playing with the rules, some enduring conventions can be identified. Exercising a little flexibility in discussing them should keep us out of too much conceptual hot water, while allowing us to set some parameters.

In looking at these zombie movie conventions it is useful to distinguish between the pre and the post Romero zombies. We can conclude by identifying, too, some of the standard narrative rules of zombie movies.

The Pre Romero Zombies

1. The original idea of zombies comes from notions of Haitian voodoo and the pre-Romero movies often followed this archetype so that such zombies would have a master that controlled them as a function of having raised them from the grave.

2. They were characterized by slow, unbalanced movement,

3. Even the pre-Romero movies had already developed the narrative trope of setting the zombie uprising (if you'll excuse the pun) in some kind of an apocalyptic scenario. Nihilism was the aesthetic of the day. Or night.

4. Often dovetailing with the above convention, zombiism was frequently depicted as a plague-like occurrence.

Romero/post-Romero Zombies

5. Among Romero's enduring changes was that the zombies ceased to be in the control of some master-mind. Instead, now, zombies more closely resembled an act of god or natural disaster. It has become common currency that in fact the rise of zombies constituted some kind of retribution by nature against some alleged ecological evil of human action.

6. These new zombies had an apparently insatiable hunger for human flesh.

7. Romero's zombie attacks took on a different cinematic flavor, depicted in gruesome and graphic detail. There was now a premium on the re-creation of lifelike blood and gore.

8. Possibly the biggest and most widely homage-inspired contribution of Romero was the mythology that zombies could be killed only by a brain destroying blow to the head.

9 Though perhaps as enduring as #8 is the premise that the zombie plague, which as we saw predates Romero's vision, was spread through the human population by zombie bites.

Stock ingredients for a zombie movie

10. Almost invariably all zombie movies require some pathetic bummer character who whom, as a consequence of stupidity, selfishness, cowardice or general all purpose inhumanity, brings the previously withheld zombie horde down upon the poor straggling survivors. This person's characteristically anti-social behavior serves the symbolic function of being the weak link in the fortifications that had previously protected a small safe space.

11. Straggling survivors, usually with a rainbow-like ethnic, gender and age mix, who capture in microcosm the hope and futility, dignity and venality, of the humanity that is in all likelihood about to be wiped out.

12. Initial obliviousness to what is actually happening. Apparently, all zombie movies take place in a world in which no public official, nor any other person with any authority, has ever actually seen a zombie movie. Otherwise they'd know, right?

13. Zombie movies in fact are not about the danger of zombies, but about the danger of humans.

14. Some poor sap, emotionally attached to one of the zombies, just can't believe his or her loved one is now a flesh eating ambulating corpse. It usually goes badly.

15. Then of course there's the leader, who could have been and maybe will be, but never has quite the followers required. Usually a male, he tries against hope to pull everyone together, always explaining that solidarity is their only chance of surviving. His thanks in return is some obnoxious jerk accusingly questioning: "who made you the boss?"

16. And let us not forget the attractions of the love-interest. Among the ragtag of humanity there will be reliably at least one hottie of each gender. No doubt part of the attraction of zombie movies for many fanboys is the projected excitement that finally now some hot babe will have to have sex with me. I mean, the future of humanity depends upon it. As observed, though, the hotties are usually represented in both genders. So, just like high school, there's still some alpha type messing up your plans. But, hey, at least there's some faint hope, right? What's the point of a zombie apocalypse if it's not going to give you some hope to make out with a babe who wouldn't give you the time of day in study hall?

So, there you go; there's our 16 rules for identifying zombies and their movies. Now, next time you're asked about the best zombie movies , you know what you're talking about!

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