Zombies are among the most popular types of monsters recognised in today's society. They are corpses of once living creatures that have been reanimated by outside forces. The term "zombie" is often figuratively applied to describe a hypnotized person bereft of consciousness and self-awareness, yet ambulant and able to respond to surrounding stimuli.
Zombies have gone by many names throughout history and have been divided into various different (sub)categories based on their origins and behaviour.
According to the West African tenets of Vodou, a dead person can be revived by a bokor, or sorcerer. Zombies remain under the control of the bokor since they have no will of their own. "Zombi" is also another name of the Vodou snake lwa Damballah Wedo, of Niger–Congo origin; it is akin to the Kikongo word nzambi, which means "god". There also exists within the West African Vodun tradition the zombi astral, which is a part of the human soul that is captured by a bokor and used to enhance the bokor's power. The zombi astral is typically kept inside a bottle which the bokor can sell to clients for luck, healing or business success. It is believed that after a time God will take the soul back and so the zombi is a temporary spiritual entity. It is also said in vodou legend, that feeding a zombie salt will make it return to the grave.
The idea of zombies is present in some South African cultures. In some communities it is believed that a dead person can be turned into a zombie by a small child. It is said that the spell can be broken by a powerful enough sangoma.
It is also believed in some areas of South Africa that witches can turn a person into a zombie by killing and possessing the victim's body in order to force it into slave labour. After rail lines were built to transport migrant workers, stories emerged about "witch trains". These trains appeared ordinary, but were staffed by zombie workers controlled by a witch. The trains would abduct a person boarding at night, and the person would then either be turned into a zombie worker, or beaten and thrown from the train a distance away from the original location.
In the modern era, zombies have been defined as reanimated human corpses that constantly hunger for living flesh. This particular type of zombie was originally envisioned by horror film director George A. Romero and appeared in the 1968 film Night of the Living Dead. Acting purely on instinct with no intelligence or conscious thought, these undead mindlessly seek out living people and eat them alive. Worse still, anyone killed by zombies will become a zombie themselves, increasing the undead numbers so that they overwhelm the living.
Since Romero's first Living Dead film, his particular brand of zombies have become exceedingly popular in modern culture and are now regarded as the most basic form of zombie from which other modern types of undead are inspired. Throughout various forms of media, the origins, capabilities and weaknesses of these iconic monsters have varied, but the threat they pose to human society has always remained consistent.
The exact appearance of zombies always differs as no two zombies are the same. Being reanimated corpses, common physical traits include pale and rotting skin, visible wounds, damaged or missing limbs and stains upon their clothing or bare flesh that could be their own bodily fluids or those of their victims. Zombies can come from any walk of life and wear whatever clothing they had at the time of their death/reanimation.
- Resilience - Zombies do not feel pain or notice injuries. They constantly move towards their prey regardless of their physical state and completely lack any sense of self-preservation, ignoring any and all obstacles and attacks.
- Infection - Modern zombies infect their victims with whichever ailment allows them to maintain a semblance of life. They pass on the infection through bites and scratches, so any victims they do not manage to devour completely will eventually be killed by the infection and reanimated as a zombie.
- Numbers - Zombies always seem to travel in large groups. The more people they infect and kill, the more their numbers swell, making it all the more futile to fight them.
- Strength - As their brains no longer register pain, zombies use their full strength, without the limits a normal human's brain has to protect the bones from breaking.
- Stupidity - Zombies have no intelligence and no survival instincts, and so they can be easily lured into traps.
- Speed - Traditionally, zombies cannot move very fast due to their decayed state and complete lack of coordination, making it relatively easy to outrun them or navigate through them. However, more recent types of Hollywood zombies have displayed the ability to run, and without being hindered by pain or exhaustion, they can run at an athletic pace so long as their legs do not deteriorate too much.
- Brains - Modern zombies generally cannot be stopped without destroying the brain. Any number of weapons can prove useful in causing the damage necessary to stop a zombie completely, but some are better than others.
- Salt - Applicable to Vodou zombies only. Supposedly, scattering salt over the graves of the deceased lifts the spell cast over the bodies.
Zombies do not have the brain capacity to speak and the only vocalisations they make are a series of rasping groans and grunts. However, even these simple sounds can be interpreted as a form of communication. For example, when a zombie sees a human, it moans and any other zombies in the vicinity may hear it and move in the direction of the sound.
It should be noted that this "communication" isn't intentional. Zombies are driven purely by instinct and will react to any kind of noise. How zombies sense anything at all is a matter of debate since zombies with no eyes, ears or noses may still be capable of actively seeking prey and react in the same way as zombies that still possess their sensory organs.
Types of zombie
There have been many variants of zombies appearing in modern media. Most are identical to George Romero's version of zombies, but others may deviate significantly from the Romero formula, whether it be in terms of origin, ability and/or purpose. Some of these examples are listed below:-
- Romero zombies - The classic cinematic zombie envisioned by George A. Romero, featured in the Living Dead film series.
- T-virus zombies - Similar to Romero's zombies, these creatures are a staple of the Resident Evil video game series.
- C-virus zombies - The undead as seen in Resident Evil 6.
- Zombies (Dead Rising)
- Zombies (The Walking Dead)
- Corpses - The zombies from the film/book, Warm Bodies.
- Infected - A more modern variety of zombie that is still technically alive, but exhibits the same mindless ferocity and mob mentality of more traditional zombies.