Are zombies the new vampires?

Vampires used to be seen as a menace to humans. If you were reading a vampire story or watching a vampire movie, the human characters were always threatened by the vampire characters. Vampires were predators; we were prey.

But then vampires started becoming different. We began to see stories and movies that tried to see things from their point of view. They’re lonely outcasts from human society. They suffer from human persecution. They are eternal romantic spirits. They seduce us with their exotic mysteries. They yearn for the dawn through endless nights and long for reminders of their lost mortality. They mock us with their centuries of experience. They dwell on their craving for blood and what it means. Etc etc etc

And while all this was going on, the zombies moved in. Their motivations are simple - they want to eat your brains. They’re not romantic or angst-ridden or sexy or witty or yearning or contemplative. They’re just really really hungry. They’re the new predator figure.

So have zombies become so popular in books and movies because they stepped into a void that vampires vacated? Did Anne Rice and Joss Whedon and Stephenie Meyer open the door for George Romero and Max Brooks and Robert Kirkman to step in?

To be fair, only two vampires in the Josh Whedon Buffyverse were remotely “good,” and not always. But I will say that the neutering of Spike was a very, very sad thing to behold. He got better.

My own theory is that zombies have arisen as the new “enemy” in books, video games, and movies because it’s falling out of fashion in action movies to have the good guys killing actual people. It’s not heroic, or something. Zombies look a lot like people, but they’re different, y’see, because, y’know, zombies. Nazis and zombies are about the only things the heroes can kill anymore without getting angry letters from some “Group X Anti-Defamation League”.

No, vampires are the new zombies. Zombies have been big for a while, haven’t they? Frankly, I’m hoping for something to displace both zombies and vampires. Maybe Frankensteins or werethings.

I believe the OP is saying that zombies are now the big villains instead of vampires. Vampires are now seen as protagonists because of [insert literature here].

Zombies are still not portayed sympathetically. There’s nothing romantic about being a zombie, nor is there anything sexy or attractive about them. They’re not even really sentient. Vampires have been explored in pop culture for whatever “humanity” still remains inside them, and because they can be envisioned with certain attractive qualities which can be tweaked for maximum appeal – eternal youth, superpowers, hypnotic charisma – and they’re not physically gross as long as they feed.

Zombies have no humanity and no attractive qualities. They’re just mindless, shambling death. I think the reason they make for popular entertainment is that they make for great enemies. Max Torque is onto something with that. They are mindless, so there isn’t any guilt about killing them. They’re also physically repulsive, which helps as well, and they’re stupid, which lends itself to a lot of humor, and best of all, there are lots of them. They are an enemy which can be fought and creatively killed en masse. This makes for great action sequences of people fighting, blasting and hacking their way through hordes of zombies at a time. That’s what’s great about them. One on one, they’re a minimal threat, extremely easy to dispatch with a shotgun or a shovel. They fall apart easily, their heads come right off. You have to be pretty slow on your feet to get killed by just one. Their strength is in their numbers, so scenes of people fighting mobs of zombies lends itself both to great tension (it only takes one bite), and great opportunities for creative kills without any guilt.

It’s the exploration of the few fighting against many – and (usually) winning – where the zombie genre butters its bread.

Kraken are the New Vampires

Well, I’m just saying that weren’t there tons of zombies as villain movies even before vampires became sympathetic and sparkly?

I beg to differ

(Full disclosure: I haven’t actually read it)

There have obviously been a few zombies in books and movies going way back. But they were rare: they were down there with mummies, werewolves, and killer robots. And they were different too: zombies used to be under somebody’s control, either a witch doctor or a voodoo priest or a mad scientist. That person was the real enemy and the zombie was just a weapon, like a knife or a gun.

George Romero and John Russo pretty much invented the modern zombie in 1968 with Night of the Living Dead. They reimagined zombies as the elemental force they are now.

Vampires, on the other hand, go back long before the nineteen sixties. Leaving aside the various folk tales, vampires hit it big as a fictional icon in 1819 with The Vampyre by John Polidori. Following this, you had James Malcolm Rymer’s Varney the Vampire in 1845, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla in 1872, and the big one - Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1897. Then the movies came along and you had Max Schreck, Bela Lugosi, and Christopher Lee. Vampires were big long before zombies arrived.

As for the point when vampires switched from being bad guys to being anti-heroes, you had Dark Shadows’ Barnabas Collins in 1966, Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire in 1973, and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s Hotel Transylvania in 1978 as big turning points. Which, not coincidentally in my opinion, overlaps the period when Romero, Russo, and Lucio Fulci were creating the modern zombie image.

I think there are plenty of old style vampire movies, but they are overwhelmed by romantic vampires. I think a reasonable case could be made that just as many ugly vampire movies are being made as ever.
[li]John Carpenter’s Vampires[/li][li]From Dusk to Dawn[/li][li]30 Days of Night[/li][li]Van Helsing[/li][/ul]

I should also put in a pitch for my favorite zombie song.

Re: Your Brains

Ah, my dear Diogenes, you could not be more mistaken. Zombies have been portrayed, by now, in all manner of ways, including the romantic. S.G. Browne’s Breathers is not only a good romance, but also a unique example of what some zombie fiction can do. You both sympathize with the zombie and are appalled by them.

Zombie fiction has advanced far beyond the point you sketch above. The recent compilation Zombie (The New Dead) by Christopher Golden, for example, includes the utterly outstanding short story “What Maisie Knew” by David Liss – probably the best short story of the entire zombie genre, and a very good short story even outside of it. Indeed, the variety of short fiction out there is quite amazing, and certainly goes far beyond the usual depiction of zombies in b-movies. Even Max Brooks’s World War Z, which does not go much beyond the Romero-inspired depictions, is probably best read not as a cheap thrill but as a book in which real-world anxieties (of terrorism, of epidemic diseases).

I read “What Maisie Knew” - great story. But the few exceptions doesn’t dispel the general fact that zombies are not protagonists - they are just plot devices that threaten the protagonists. And vampires can still occasionally function as just a threat but the general rule for them now is that they have character and motivations.

Zombies were domesticated and in a couple cases even loved by the protagonists in Fido.

The main character’s best friends get zombified in Idle Hands and they remain friends.

In Zombie Honeymoon, the bride stays married to her zombie husband, even luring in people for him to eat.

A couple more:

I seem to remember one where the main character becomes a zombie but still tries to woo the girl. I think at one point he eats the highschool coach, who is tied to the chair and egging him on with coach-speak. eg: “Oh, you call that a bite?!” It blends together in my mind with Idle Hands, but I think it’s a different movie.

Can’t forget Shaun of the Dead. The movie ends with the two buddies still hanging out playing videogames despite one having been turned into a zombie.

I was just discussing this with my mom the other day. She’s thinking demons will be hitting it big soon (I think that’s a good guess, but it’s also been a while since we had an aliens craze…). Goodness knows the market’s been more than saturated with vampires lately.

There is a new book that came out maybe a month ago called The New Dead. It’s a collection of short stories by a bunch of different authors. A friend dragged me to a book signing with four of the authors. There was a discussion that was basically a Q&A. The only topic discussed was the one in this thread. (As to the why.) Every single point you guys have made so far was brought up, plus a few others. I think that the best consensus was that zombies are raw, unsympathetic power.

But there were some crazy ideas put forth. One was that during war time (or maybe Republican administrations) horror gets more horrifying.

But yeah, there was no doubt that zombies are the new vampires.

Nobody’s mentioned Discworld zombies yet?

They’re not blood-thirsty (and discworld vampires definitely are, even the ones that manage to control it), they’re just dead people who won’t stay still. Usually very driven (being very focused and having a don’t-take-no-for-an-answer mentality seems to be the main cause of zombification in the books). They’re usually portrayed as fairly sympathetic if dry, infected with pests, smelly and not very good at picking up social clues. The most influential lawyer Ank-Morpork is a zombie.

ETA: In American Gods by Gaiman, Shadow’s girlfriend spends most of the time in a similar state (only much more graphically described - which makes the sexual scenes quite icky).

Quoth Max Torque:

Reginald Shoe would like a word with you.


Dang, too slow.

I love zombie books and zombie movies, and I love this phrase. I think it would make a great…band name :slight_smile: