(Source: Wired.com) If there is one thing that we have learned from television and movies it’s that the Zombipocalypse is inevitable. There will soon come a day that we will be holding up in a mall, fighting off the incoming horde of brain seeking zombies. With modern entertainment, zombies went from a niche sci-fi creation to a pop culture phenomenon. Zombies have quickly become a staple of modern horror. They scare us with their faces of gore and detached limbs, they make us laugh with their clumsy shuffling and simplistic one task oriented view of the world they have been re-animated into.

Originating in ancient voodoo rituals in Haiti and Africa, zombies worked their way into the American culture through film as early as 1932 with White Zombie starring Bela Lugosi. From there, zombies showed up in Plan 9 From Outer Space in the form of a shuffling Tor Johnson then finally in George A. Romero’s 1968 Night of the Living Dead. This film changed the landscape of zombie centric movie making, though it wouldn’t be until the 2004 remake of his 1978 classic Dawn of the Dead that zombies really sky rocketed into the pop culture mentality, not to mention stopped shuffling and started running. That same year brought us Shawn of the Dead and then, zombies got funny. But this isn’t a post about the history of zombies in movies. This is about the the only major disparity in zombie portrayal in movies and video games. Some shuffle while others run at a clip that couldn’t be maintained by most marathon runners. So which is it? Which one instills a greater sense of fear deep in the cockles of your heart? The shuffling zombie or the hyper-speed zombie?

Dragging Their Feet For Brains
The inherent fear that the shuffling, slow zombie brings to the discussion is that you have longer to fear for your life. There is nothing quick about the slow moving zombie that drags one foot across the ground as it makes it’s way towards you. This, in relation to movies and video games, gives the viewer more time to focus on the zombie and notice all the sick little details. The disfigured face, the rotting flesh bits hanging off exposed bone and of course the wide open maw, dripping with blood and other disturbing fluids like pus and Crystal Pepsi.

Take the video game Dead Rising for example. In it, the zombies are what I call “classic zombies.” They move slow. This gives your character time to participate in the highly entertaining activity of killing zombies in creative ways. This translates well into real life, as if you had to fight off an incoming horde of zombies, you’d like to have as much time to reload your gun as humanly possible. With a slow moving classic zombie, this is possible. Zombies moving with no haste create a particular tension and suspense, something that was captured perfectly in those old George A. Romero films. Not to mention that when they do get you, they tear apart your skull and munch on your brains as if enjoying a vintage glass of brandy, in zombie terms.

The downside to a slow moving zombie is the pack mentality that exists with zombies. They all want brains, and they all want it from you. At the same time. They are more patient and will hang around and scratch at the door long after you’ve run out of bullets. This will give more time for additional zombies to gather and scratch at the door. Eventually, you’ve run out of ammo, there are a thousand zombies outside and you’ve no where to run.

Another point that must be brought up is the decay of the flesh, and at what point does it render a zombie incapable of movement? I’ve always wondered about this, no movie that I’ve seen ever seems to address it. Clearly there is something supernatural at work that enables the zombies to rise from the dead, or like in 28 Days Later – a virus, but either way, the flesh is in a constant state of decay. Based on the loss of limbs and chunks of meat falling off of them at random intervals, one would have to assume that decay continues after the zombie has risen. Therefore, slow zombies might very well decay to nothing but bones by the time they get to you. I can’t see insects not feeding on and laying their eggs in zombies. Unless they have a living dead immune system too.

To sum up, slow zombies will eventually get you – it’ll just take them longer. At least we’ll have highway warnings.

Super Human Strength, Maggots for a Jaw
With the 2004 release of Dawn of the Dead zombies got a serious upgrade. Instead of the slow moving living dead, they became super fast and super strong. Which created a whole new depth of fear and terror. At least, that’s what they were supposed to do. Suddenly, when a zombie was after you, you only had moments to react. Sadly for many, screaming was the only reaction.

The fast zombie, as we’ll refer to them, also possessed strange super human strength. They are able to smash through doors, windows and could take quite a beating before going down. The zombies in all the Romero films that followed Dawn of the Dead in the last six years or so all were super fast zombies. The zombies we encounter in the awesome Left 4 Dead video game series are resilient and strong (albeit, weird as well.) These fast zombies made it easier to create a quick jump from the audience, as you were less likely to see them coming. There were more jump out of your seat moments, more surprises.

Translating into real life, for when the Zombipocalypse comes, these aren’t the zombies you want to be dealing with. They are just raw, feral creatures out for blood. They are violent and will not stand outside the barn clawing away at the boarded up windows, they will hurl themselves at the boards until they break through. There is a stronger sense of urgency to deal with them, but less time to do so. The tendency will be to empty a clip in a hurried fashion, as their speed quickly takes them from downrange to in your face faster than a Prius.

The rate of decay has to be taken into consideration with the fast zombies as well. Since they are moving quicker, they will most likely achieve their goal before decay makes it impossible. However, with the excess movement such as bashing in plate glass windows with their foreheads, they might accelerate the rate of just plain falling apart. Except they don’t seem to. Which is very puzzling when it comes to the walking dead. The fast ones seem to be nearly indestructible when it comes to self harm. With that holding true, that makes the fast zombies that much more dangerous.

To sum up, fast zombies will be on you quicker than you can put a round in the chamber, tearing you apart like a pack of wolverines on a bunny rabbit.

So Which is it? Slow or Fast?
While fast zombies are just as entertaining to watch as their foot dragging counterparts, if I was going up against a horde of zombies I would rather be facing the slow ones. That doesn’t mean that they are better in the way of entertainment, I’d have to give that win to the fast zombies. Much more engaging and suspenseful to watch in movies than the slow ones. So the tie breaker would have to be which ones I’d rather fight in a video game, and that would be the inverse of the ones I’d rather fight in real life. The fast ones are much more thrilling and violently exciting to go up against in video games. Otherwise it’s just a crap shoot with the slow pokes. So there you have it. Zombie speed analysis.



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