I never used to be interested in zombies. When it came to Gothic horror, I’ve always been a werewolf girl first, with vampires coming a pale second. Zombies, though? They shuffled around (or sometimes ran), and they had no strategy, no personality, and no brains – except the ones they nicked from other people.
Things changed when I read The Walking Dead comics, and it hit me – zombie stories weren’t about shuffling corpses at all. They were about how terrifying the living could be – your friends, your neighbours, even your family. You know, like every other Gothic story ever. It only took me several years to figure that one out.
Lately, I’ve been bingeing zombie stories with the same fervour that I did detective stories (and if anyone knows of a zombie detective story – apart from the one I’m about to mention – then let me know). Here are some of my favourites:
So, I love detective stories and cop shows – and iZombie is a great combination of this and the zombie subgenre. It’s silly, fun fluff with compelling characters and a good, pacey mystery. It subverts the usual ‘shuffling, groaning corpse’ trope; these zombies, as long as they get a good supply of fresh brains, are as intelligent as ordinary humans – just much more resilient, much colder, and with much slower heartbeats. And, despite its silliness, the show explores some interesting ideas about marginalisation and discrimination – summed up in a brilliant scene where a group of zombies are set upon by a crowd of angry humans.
I love podcasts, and (much to my surprise) I love running – and I will freely admit that I got a new phone in large part to be able to play Zombies Run. And it was even better than I expected. Zombies Run has a brilliant postapocalyptic (yet strangely hopeful) story, with diverse characters and fantastic worldbuilding, and it’s helped me keep my running spark alive as I try to outpace the dead. I don’t run much faster than a zombie myself, but at least I’m saving Abel Township as I go.
Shaun of the Dead
I can’t believe this film now falls into the category of ‘an oldie but a goodie’ (and that I’m now older than Shaun and his mates were supposed to be and yet I somehow feel even less grown-up). Still, it doesn’t feel remotely dated, and it’s got one (or rather, two) of my favourite scenes of all time:
Shaun of the Dead is one of those films that everyone needs to see – it’s got silliness, dark humour, and heartbreaking moments in equal parts, and more references than you can shake a cricket bat at.
Train to Busan
I’m not sure if fast, screamy contorted people-eaters actually count as zombies, but who cares? This film is deliciously terrifying, with a claustrophobic feel that doesn’t let up for the entire duration of the story. The pace is so intense that watching it pretty much wore me out, and it did convince me that the best strategy for a zombie outbreak on a train is “hide in the toilet”.
The Girl With All The Gifts
I wasn’t such a fan of the film version of this story, because it skipped out so much of the interesting worldbuilding that made me love the book so much – especially the exact origins of the zombie children. The characters were fantastic in both, but the book is one of those stories that makes you want to dive in and learn as much as possible about the world (or at least, its shattered remains). I love the idea of zombieism as a weird fungal infection (which, instead of making your feet stink, turns you into a ravening monster), and, like Zombies Run, I really enjoyed the human society desperately trying to cling on to a past that they’ll never get back.
The zombie seems to be a monster – or a hero – that a writer can make their own, and tell in whatever way they see fit. There’s a lot of life in this genre of the dead, and I can’t wait to work through the rest of the zombie stories on my list. If anyone’s got any recommendations, post them in the comments!