Like a lot of people, I’ve been thinking about zombies. Maybe it’s because I recently finished Justin Cronin’s excellent The Twelve, which is full of zombified vampires (or maybe vampiric zombies?) that reminded me of those nightstalkers in The Descent. I also recently watched the terrific Dead Set, a British series about zombies attacking the set of Big Brother.
I’ve even rejected some zombie-themed culture. I gave up on Colson Whitehead’s Zone One after about two hours. It read more like a Champions League of preening belletrism than a novel. I was likewise underwhelmed by the first season of The Walking Dead, which was too rote and uninventive to keep me watching.
Even if I don’t make it Bugarach on the 21st, there’s still cause for optimism. I’m extremely well-situated to survive an influx of zombies qui manger les cerveaux.
We have a typical French village house. It’s made of stone and concrete, and shares walls with the houses on either side. It’s flush to the street, and has a walled back garden. Thanks to the slope of the land, all of the walls in the back garden are at least 15 feet high. As long as we board up the front door, unless the zombies are unusually limber, we’re in good shape.
Assuming we can bunker down and survive the initial brain-eating rush, then we’re well-positioned to become survivalists. Even for neophyte gardeners like us, it’s incredibly easy to grow fruit and vegetables here, and you can grow food all year long. There are chickens around town that we could liberate, and the vineyards nearby are teeming with rabbits, pheasants and quail (and, you know, grapes).
But all that thinking may prove unnecessary. In the event that the apocalypse happens to be very orthodox, and the zombies rise out of graves in an old-school fashion, we’re in very good shape. Nearly all the graves have a heavy stone tablet on top of the grave site, preventing easy egress for the freshly undead. Are zombies smart enough to dig laterally to avoid the tablet? I’m not sure.
In any case, like many European countries, the French are wise enough to enclose their cemeteries in a high concrete wall with heavy metal gates. Any zombies that clear their graves will be penned in like sheep awaiting shearing. It will be a simple matter for the local hunters to lean over the walls and pick them off.
Our culture really fetishizes the undead. Whether it’s Twilight, Left 4 Dead or World War Z, we’re really into vampires and zombies (is there no love left for ghouls, ghasts and liches?). There’s a kind of nerdy obsession, for example, with planning detailed zombie survival plans.
I was musing on the subject of zombies this morning, and found myself asking three basic questions. The first is “why do zombies actually attack humans?” Let’s assume for the moment that we’re talking about your traditional shambling undead, not the high-functioning ones in I am Legend or the sprinting, rabid humans in 28 Days Later). What is their instinctive, shambling purpose?
To convert their victims to zombies
To eat their victims’ brains
To eat their victims entirely
To kill their victims
I posed this question on Twitter, and received a variety of informed answers. A few favourites:
If Rosemary’s answer of “brains” is true, then that presents a problem. It’s kind of an anti-Darwinism in action. If a zombie eats a victim’s brain, then the victim does not become a zombie. Because, as many horror movies have taught us, you have to aim for the head to kill a zombie.
And why do zombies actually eat, anyway? Do their digestive systems work, even though their other organs do not? In a conversation on Facebook, somebody suggested that “zombies need live flesh because their own is dead”. That seems like a reasonable theory.
Counting the Converted
This led to the second question, “what percentage of humans gets turned in a zombie attack?” Presumably any human that’s bitten with an intact brain gets reanimated as a zombie. Assuming that most victims’ brains are eaten, then it might be a relatively small fraction of the population. Maybe, 20%?
Then there’s the ghoulish question of partially-eaten victims. As somebody wrote on Facebook (he can claim his quote if he likes, whatever happens on Facebook and so forth):
They may not have much of a body left, they may not be able to walk, stagger, shamble, crawl, etc. but they would still be a zombie. Please don’t discriminate against the living dead on the basis of their ability to move and/or infect others. Zombie heads are zombies too!
As a final data point, somebody sent me this quote from I am Legend:
Six billion people on Earth when the infection hit. KV had a ninety-percent kill rate, that’s five point four billion people dead. Crashed and bled out. Dead. Less than one-percent immunity. That left twelve million healthy people, like you, me, and Ethan. The other five hundred and eighty-eight million turned into your dark seekers, and then they got hungry and they killed and fed on everybody.
In short, the fraction of turned victims remains an open question. Of course, some think I shouldn’t be delving into these mysteries:
In a serious zombie invasion, surely whole cities get entirely stripped of humans. Having no more victims, what do the zombies actually do? Do they randomly wander around? Stand in one place? Gather in a kind of impotent swarm? Rot into nothingness?
If they’re more or less brainless, and do wander randomly, then surely many of them would walk into the ocean, off a bridge and so forth. There’d be a lot of stupid zombie attrition. What do you think happens to victimless zombies?
It’s basically a zombie movie. One thing I noticed was that a year with very little film and television watching has re-sensitized somewhat to horror. I was more nervous and tense than I usually would be watching this film. I would, however, attribute some of that tension to Will Smith’s excellent performance.
Once you see them, the Legend zombies pale in comparison to, say, 28 Days Later. They’re pasty, hairless and mostly CGI. They looked like distant, uh, noseful cousins of He Who Shall Not Be, Under Any Circumstances, Named.
You know, Lord Heathcliff Montgomery Voldemort (to apply his rarely-used family name). And both Voldemort and the zombies bear a resemblance to that other Lord, the Prince of Darkness, in The Passion of the Christ (who, to many people’s surprise, was played by a woman):
Like scary, dirty water and big-eyed pale children, is this a movie trend? Can you think of other movies where people are pasty and hairless?
Can’t wait for 28 Weeks Later (I can, the first one was frickin’ terrifying)? Play the gory The Last Stand, a web game in which you slay zombies by night and gather weapons and survival by day. In truth, it’s not all that great a game, but I like dysoptian scenarios and carnage.
Are there any analogous PC or console games set in zombie-filled post-apocalypse worlds that aren’t first-person shooters? Something in an RPG, perhaps?
Incidentally, 28 Weeks Later comes out on May 11, 2007. I was curious, so I looked it up.
You know, 28 Days Later was a really class horror movie. Decent performances, gripping cinematography and it was frickin’ scary. Dethroner links to the trailer for the sequel, 28 Weeks Later (MOV). It has a new cast and a grander scale, but it looks equally compelling.