There is a short article at the link below that argues that Romero-style zombies represent the decadence of the modern age – gluttony, avarice, materialism, distractions, etc. Romero-style zombies always appear in large crowds; Romero-style zombies have no individual personalities; they are not just conformists – they are not just herd animals – they are mindless, like swarming insects with no capacity for creativity. The original Haitian legends spoke of zombies with no individual willpower to resist commands, but such zombies were rare, individual victims of the witch doctor’s machinations. Also, I have not found any Haitian zombies that ate human flesh – Romero may have added that from stories of ghouls or vampires.
I would expound on the virtues of Romero-style zombie stories, but I can’t think of any Romero-style zombie stories that have held my interest. I just don’t care about that myth.
The Haitian lore might have a lot to be said for it, and of course, Bela Lugosi in White Zombie stirred up the Trilby-esque fear of the Beguiler archetype.
But first let us consider the article at:
The article notes that to kill an insatiably hungry Romero-style zombie, one must shoot it in the brains – its weak point!
The article fails to mention that zombie hunters in The Walking Dead must exercise noise discipline – a very military virtue!
The article also fails to speculate on the mythical meaning of the gun.
The gun is the weapon of modernity; it is not a sword with connections to ancient identity, it is not the primordial fire that one might use against vampires or slimy blob-amoeba-monsters.
What kills materialism but fascism? If zombies love shopping malls, perhaps the zombie-hunters are potential totalitarians or fascists or dictators, eager to sacrifice consumerist pleasures for the discipline and vigor of violence. This would explain why the zombie hunters of The Walking Dead must stalk their prey as silently as military snipers.
The vampire story is an eighteenth-century sort of story; the vampire might be killed by fire (primordial rage and effort) or decapitation (French Revolution) or the Holy Cross of the Catholic Church. (The vampire, indeed, resembles the sort of foreign infiltrator that was welcomed across the threshold of England by Cromwell… and the post-Anne-Rice vampire became much more powerful when he no longer feared the Holy Cross. But then too many iterations of the modern vampire-as-superhero stereotype weakened the vampire’s connections to its Polidori-style beguiler/tempter archetype. Interestingly, post-Anne-Rice vampires often emphasize a tremendous, uncontrollable hunger, just like Romero-style zombies.)
The modern zombie does not draw on classics like the movie White Zombie, nor on kitsch-camp-classics like Zombies of the Stratosphere; the modern zombie starts with Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. While Romero-style zombies have no connection to Polidori’s vampire, they are ugly and possibly infectious, like Nosferatu.
But zombies have nothing to fear from crosses; zombies can’t be stopped by holy water. Zombies used to be caused by radiation, mad scientists, and similar things – nowadays they are caused by plague-warfare viruses that get out of control. Zombies used to shuffle slowly, but nowadays some of them can run. (And anime zombies can be moe, as illustrated by Sankarea, the zombie girl shown in the illustration above.)
I like some vampire stories, but zombie stories generally bore me to tears, unless Vincent Price stars, as he did in The Last Man on Earth. (The original print version of I Am Legend walked a fine line between vampire myth and zombie sci-fi, but I think it was written from a very atheistic sci-fi perspective, with no regard for the Christian overtones of vampires. The irrational, cult-believing baddies in Omega Man were a little tiny bit like zombies, but mostly they were like Flower Children gone bad. Buffy the Vampire Slayer only held my attention because it featured a lot of pretty actresses – its monsters were annoying and Whedon’s atheism was even more so.)
Romero-style zombies generally should be inarticulate. A “zombie” who can talk and retain a personality pushes the boundaries of the archetype too far; it becomes a reanimated revenant out of a Clark Ashton Smith vision of Zothique. Interestingly, Skyrim offers draugr, which are too smart and individual to be zombies – they are a different mythical archetype, closer to Tolkien’s wights – they are intelligent, personal, and malevolent, whereas C. A. Smith’s undead were tragic and usually innocent. Recently, Japan’s Ishida has failed to hold my interest with “ghouls” from Tokyo Ghoul, but they are just re-imagined Anne-Rice-style vampires, with no resemblance to the ghouls of Arabic folklore. Arab ghouls were violent, predatory infiltrators, who could steal the appearance of their victims in order to lure more victims – not beguilers and tempters so much as stealthy, hyena-like tricksters who hungered for human meat. (Of course, Lovecraft’s ghouls also had little resemblance to Arab ghouls – they were peaceful, contemplative scavengers … for the most part.)
One very good modern vampire movie is Let the Right One In. The monster in that story cannot control its hunger; it can go without blood for a while, but when it does feed, it does not have sufficient delicacy to drain a little blood and let the victim live in a weakened state. It can feign calm until it gets hungry – and then it must kill with the noisy, howling rage of a madman, because it cannot control its frenzied hunger. By contrast, Romero-style zombies cannot feign contentment; they are always hungry for healthy human flesh, and they never eat their own kind.
Romero-style zombies are not very energetic; their hunger does not usually make them howl and move quickly. But their hunger is insatiable. They are content only while eating. When they get a healthy human body, alive or dead, they want to chew all the edible meat off its bones; after they finish one meal of human flesh, they start looking for their next meal of human flesh. Romero-style zombies have the slow, dignified horror of a tank column steadily advancing over a battlefield; they don’t feel pain, they’re hard to damage unless they can be totally destroyed; they disregard minor setbacks and they calmly continue to advance toward their targets.
Whereas an eighteenth-century vampire has eighteenth-century emotions and can deceive on a human level – like a Rothschild banker tricking investors into an irrational market move – the Romero-style zombie is as impersonal and implacable as the 20th century. The Romero-style zombie is inhuman like a television set or a supermarket sale or a traffic accident. The Romero-style zombie is a perfect monster for the United States of America, which is probably why it must usually be killed by civilians with firearms – the U.S.A. is the nation most famous for civilian firearm use.
And that, I believe, is why zombies are temporarily popular; the U.S.A. is temporarily deceiving itself into believing that it is still the world’s greatest power, as it was after World War II. Soon enough, the U.S.A. will be humbled, and then the world’s story-tellers will find a new, less American myth with which to horrify their audiences.