Holding Out For a (Zombie) Hero
Zombies can never be heroes. If you think about it, zombies are the ultimate villain, be it in literature, graphic novels, movies, or video games (Zombies Ate My Neighbors will always be a personal favorite of mine). And really, they are the perfect villain for a lot of reasons. They are unbelievably strong, one bite or scratch is infectious, and their sole purpose is to feed on human flesh. They were designed to be the bad guy, and they play the role perfectly.
The zombie genre has come back in full force in recent years: Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, Resident Evil, The Walking Dead, Pride & Prejudice & Zombies…the list can go on. Recently, it struck me that this resurgence of zombies in pop culture is just that: a resurgence and NOT a reinvention. The contrast to the reinvention of the vampire genre really got me thinking.
Vampires survive on human blood. Ever since Dracula, they’ve been murderous monsters with no soul or conscience. Yet, over the past decade or so, vampires have reemerged in fiction as heroes. I think most people probably attribute this to Twilight, though Angel had a soul on Buffy the Vampire Slayer 10 years before Twilight was even published. (Just saying, know your roots, y’all). It makes you wonder, why can vampires be heroes and zombies never can?
When you give a vampire a soul or a conscience, it’s still a vampire. They are still immortal, still gorgeous, and still need human blood to live. But when you give them a choice, and they choose good, they become the hero, get the mortal girl, and live happily ever after. You will never see a zombie get the girl (unless you rent My Boyfriend’ s Back, which, by the way, you SHOULD). You will never see the zombie save the day and walk off into the sunset with his head held high.
Forget the fact that zombies are gross and unattractive and usually getting appendages shot off within the first few seconds of screen time. I mean, yeah, that definitely adds to the reasons no one wants the zombie to triumph, but I think runs deeper than that. If you give a zombie a conscience (or, even more unthinkable, a SOUL), what do you have? You don’t have some immortal, mythical creature choosing to do the right thing. No, what you have is a human, plain and simple. You have a human who craves human flesh, but a human nonetheless (so, really you have a cannibal, if you want to get technical). I mean, how boring is that? A vampire with a soul is conflicted and angsty and sexy, but a zombie with a soul is just what you expect a regular guy to be—conflicted, confused, and probably decaying a bit or at least missing an arm.
Of course, there’s the added complication that if you kill a zombie with a soul, are you really killing a person? (The scene where Jesse Eisenberg can’t kill Abigail Breslin in Zombieland comes to mind.) No one would get behind the human struggling for survival killing a zombie with a soul, because it would be killing a person and it would make people uncomfortable. (Because as long as we have a soulless enemy, shooting its head off is completely acceptable, obviously).
I’m pulling for the zombie to become a hero. I know it’s not going to happen, but I’m pulling for it. I want to see a zombie movie where one zombie stands up straight, acknowledges how much the zombie apocalypse sucks, and helps the humans wipe out the rest of the still-soulless zombies. But I’m not holding my breath.
The archetype has changed: zombies don’t have to move super slowly anymore, they’re usually the product of a virus as opposed to rising from the dead, they can have some level of planning or intelligence etc. But you’ll never see a zombie hero. That role will be saved for the vampires, and zombies will have to settle for mindlessly hunting human flesh. Sorry, zombies, but hey, I’m still rooting for you.