The first rule of Zombie Club

The first rule of Zombie Club is, you don't talk about-- no, I've got confused. Anyway, back to that first rule...

The rules of Zombie Club

Picture the scene: You’re dead.

Perhaps you died violently. Perhaps you slipped away quietly in your sleep. Either way, you’re not breathing. No pulse. Decomposition has set in.

Your grey skin is flaking off its bones. Your limbs are stiff with rigor mortis. Your teeth – little more than black and brown stumps – are falling out. Your fingernails are long and yellowed. Your eyes have fallen in, replaced by dark, sunken hollows…

Odds are that, even if you find yourself supernaturally reanimated by toxic waste or voodoo, you’re probably not feeling like a brisk run in the moonlight.

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So why, why, why do I see, in the movies, an increasing trend of zippy zombies competing for some kind of sprinting gold medal? It’s hard to pinpoint the first instance of GODDAMN RUNNING ZOMBIES (or GRZs for short), although my money would be on Umberto Lenzi’s Nightmare City (1980).

Since then, there have been a number of speeding violations from beyond the grave. Whether it be canonised classics like The Return of the Living Dead (1985), or modern abortions like 28 Days Later (2002) and Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake (2004), any other merits these films may have are wrecked by GRZs.

It’s like being attacked by an overcaffeinated flash mob. Zombies are my favourite horror movie ghouls and unquestionably the scariest. It’s that feeling of inescapable doom. First, there’s just one of them; their body’s moving slowly, lumbering. You can easily outrun them. More come from around the corner.

You could probably barge past one or two without hurting yourself. You might even have a weapon. Pop one or two of them in the brain, eh? Feel like you’re gaining an upper hand. But this fleeting hope can’t and won’t last. Soon there will be too many.

A swarm of them, all descending on you. Walking dead as far as your eye can see (just before it’s popped out by their slimy fingers). You can’t break free. Their cold, fleshless hands are all over you. Their rotting, sharpened teeth are already embedded in your flesh. Your blood is running down their numbly chewing mandibles … Phew.

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Gives me the heebies just writing about it. A similar effect just can’t be gained from a bunch of gymnasts with flaky mud packs on their faces hurtling at you with home-made weapons. It’s laughable. In Burial Ground (1981), the zombies construct their own battering ram and throw a mean set of darts. In Return of the Living Dead, the zombies can even talk.

This cognisance, again, detracts from the terror of blind, empty-eyed death, stumbling towards you with only the most primitive of goals – FEEDING WITHOUT PITY – to drive it onwards.

The classic zombie formula reminds me of the nightmare where each door in a long, winding corridor opens to reveal a new terror. You can keep closing the doors, but there’ll just be something worse behind the next one. If there’s an intelligent, agile, unstoppable creature with an array of weapons and a sportman’s physique behind the first door, the odds are you’re not even going to get to any of the others.

It’s too strong an enemy, the cognitive zombie. The element of suspense is lost and GRZ films always descend into implausible nonsense before long. I suppose GRZ defenders would say that if the creatures can move faster, the film will somehow be more exciting and action-packed, but this is a superficial approach akin to saying that if you play your Wild Strawberries DVD on fast forward, you’ll end up with The Wild Bunch.

It doesn’t work like that. Speed is not always of the essence.

Let’s slow down the pace and bring back proper zombies!

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