Thursday, November 18, 2010

Zombies: Tortoise or Hare?

By Chris Dimick

The issue is more contentious than the debate between Republican or Democrat; pro-life versus pro-choice, or even deep dish versus thin crust: can zombies run or not?
Not a day goes that someone doesn't shove a gun in my face, pull back the hammer, and scream "Well, what are you, a zombie walker or runner advocate!?"
With the rhetoric at an all time high, the RDHP sees the need to finally draw the line in the brains-soaked sand.

Are zombies, to quote the sheriff in Night of the living Dead, so "messed up" that they couldn't possibly run faster than a hop? Or, are zombies able to reach sprinting speed when pursuing human hamburgers?
My answer: yes.
Okay, okay, put down that gun and let me explain this seemingly-Switzerland position.

Based on years of personal research, I've come to the conclusion that given certain circumstances, zombies are able to both walk and run. Don't tell me this argument is moot given that zombies are "fake." The zombie apocalypse is a matter of WHEN, not IF. Even the former President thought so. Ignoring this fact will just put you first in the zombie buffet tray... and I don't think that denial sneeze guard is gonna protect you much.

Zombies can both walk and run depending on their level of decomposition and physical completeness upon conversion. Let's say you have a healthy human male walking to work, minding his own business. Bam, zombie teeth chomp out a section of his arm (now that's a serious case of the Mundays), but the man escapes further devouring. The zombie virus, named solanum (by zombie researcher Max Brooks), takes over the man's body and first kills then transforms him into a flesh-seeking zombie.

The now zombie-man may have limited use of his bitten arm, since muscle tissue and bone is likely destroyed. But the rest of him, including his legs, would work perfectly fine allowing him to run if needed -- at least for the first day of zombiedom.

As his body undergoes the various stages of decomposition following death, the ability of his muscles to function would deteriorate. Slowly, the zombie would lose the ability to not just run, but move as various appendages rot.

In summary, a fresh zombie whose legs were fully operational at the time of "turning" can and will run after human prey until their legs are either destroyed, rot to the point of non-function, or their brain is destroyed and the solanum is deactivated.
My conclusion:
Fresh, complete zombies = the ability to run
Rotted or mutilated zombies = the ability to only shamble

Most other zombie experts can't come to a consensus on this topic. In Brooks' 2003 masterpiece, "The Zombie Survival Guide," he writes that the solanum virus travels through the bloodstream to the brain where it causes all bodily functions to cease and kills the victim. The virus then mutates the brain causing it to operate independent from oxygen.
He writes, "by removing the need for this all important resource (oxygen), the undead brain can utilize, but is in no way dependent upon, the complex support mechanism of the human body.... Some bodily functions remain constant (such as sight and hearing), others operate in a modified capacity, and the remainder shut down completely."

When describing the zombie's speed, Brooks writes they "tend to move" at a slouch or limp. "Even without injuries or advanced decomposition, their lack of coordination makes for an unsteady stride. Speed is mainly determined by leg length... Zombies appear to be incapable of running." This school of thought has been portrayed in films like "Dawn of the Dead," and "Shaun of the Dead."

However! While Brooks is a scholarly source for zombie knowledge, many disagree with his assessment of the zombie's ability to run. Exhibit A in the "runners" camp is the 1968 film "Night of the Living Dead." This is considered the authority on undead zombie behavior since it is the first major film to portray the living dead.
The film's very first zombie attack scene, and in effect the world's first screen zombie, runs after a frantic victim driving a car! This zombie also picks up a rock and tries to smash out the car window, showing at least some level of cognitive ability (use of tools). The running zombie has been portrayed in other genre films like "Return of the Living Dead" and the 2004 remake of "Dawn of the Dead."

Night of the Living Dead also shows the slouching or slowly limping zombies that Brooks supports. To the untrained eye, this could be a contradiction. However, in the 30th Anniversary edition of Night of the Living Dead, director/creator/zombie god George Romero included a new introduction to the movie which shows us that Zombie #1 had just died, legs intact, before he was converted into a zombie (in this case by radiation from a Venus satellite).

This backs my conclusion that as a fresh zombie, Zombie Number 1 could run and operate his limbs as any living person. But as he decomposes, this zombie would lose that ability and turn into a shambling, slow walker, as he appears near the end of the movie. Romero just confuses things by only including walking zombies in the rest of his "of the dead" series. But he had it right the first time around, a zombie can both walk and run.

Bottom line is, whether you are facing a zombie runner or a walker, a person should be equally afraid. As Brooks so elegantly put it in Survival Guide, "The dead's advantage over the living is their tirelessness. Humans who believe they have outrun their undead pursuers might do well to remember the story of the tortoise and the hare, adding, of course, that in this instance the hare stands a good chance of being eaten alive."

Top Five Zombie Movies
(And their speed portrayal of zombies)
Picking one's top five zombie movies is like The Duggar's picking their top five children. There are just so many you equally love! However, here is an attempt at my best of brain-munchers list.

Night of the Living Dead (1968)
The original and best zombie flick. Several disagreeing people are forced to hole up in a farm house as the reanimated dead stalk outside.
(Read the RDHP review here)

Running and (mostly) Walking Zombies:

Return of the Living Dead (1985)
This movie takes zombies to the next level, with a fresh punk rock take on the zombie legend. Warehouse workers accidently unleash government-created gas that turns the living into dead, and causes corpses to party on. Features a great punk rock soundtrack that compliments an energized take on the zombie genre.

Running and Walking Zombies:

Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Romero uses the zombie apocalypse to comment on our obsession with consumerism. A thinking man's zombie movie that follows a group of survivors who ride out the zombie invasion in a shopping mall.

Walking Zombies:

Dawn of the Dead (2004)
A modern remake that is less satire and more gore. Highlights include redneck security guards you can't wait to get eaten, a zombie baby birth, and an on-the-edge-of-your-seat reinvention of the usually slow-paced zombie movie.

Running and Walking Zombies:

Planet Terror (2007)
This ultra-bloody zombie masterpiece was created by director Robert Rodriguez as an homage to 1970s grindhouse scream films. It is ultraviolent, hilarious, full of stars, and fun as hell. Again, a government war toxin turns folks into zombies that like to nibble on Rose McGowan's slinky legs. Survivors fight back.

Running and Walking Zombies:


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