Zombie Types: Categorizing The Undead
Identifying the different zombie types is the key to your survival during the zombpocalypse. Despite what most zombie purists would have you believe not all zombies are the same. Nor do they all follow the same somewhat arbitrary rules laid out by George Romero, the father of the “Pop Culture Zombie”. Yes, my fine reader, there are many different zombie types.
Different creators have taken the modern day zombie portrayed in film and writing and put there own spin on it. As a result the extended family of the living dead has become varied and broad. This article seeks to shed a little light on the extended zombie family.
So, what zombie types are we talking about? Categorizing a fictional monster is no easy task. I’ve settled on fourteen basic zombie categories of zombism based mainly on how the zombie types were created. However I could have just as easily combined categories or differentiated them further. But fourteen is a good number so I’ll arbitrarily go with that.
The Pop Culture Zombie
The Pop Culture Zombie Type
The pop culture zombie is it’s own special category. This is the zombie type the average person thinks about when they think of zombies. Most of what people think of as zombies they have cobbled together from half heard references to “Night of the Living Dead,” “Return of the Living Dead,” and probably playing “Call of Duty.” This is the most generic and standardized of the zombie types.
There are numerous examples in the animal kingdom of fungi, germs, and parasites that are capable of modifying their host creature’s behavior. These organisms in addition to being gross can induce “zombie like” behavior.
Biological zombies are created by an outside organism animating the zombie. In movies this category is by far the most popular to make.
The Pathogen Zombie Type (Biological)
Zombies caused by a virus, bacteria, or possibly some strange alien disease.
We fear disease, and rightly so. Ever since humans existed humans have been getting killed in vast numbers by diseases that we couldn’t see let alone fight back against. Outside of a nuclear war, disease is by far the most likely way that humanity would be wiped from the earth. The zombie is a perfect symbol for the plague that we all fear.
Examples of the Pathogen Zombie Type
- 28 Days Later (2002), 28 Weeks Later (2007)
- Resident Evil (2002), Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004), Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010), Resident Evil: Extinction (2007), Resident Evil: Retribution (2012)
- World War Z (2013)
- Pontypool (2008) (The English Language Itself becomes a vector for disease so I’m counting it)
- Last Days on Mars (2013),
- Buck Wild (2013)
The Parasitic/Symbiotic Zombie Type (Biological)
Zombies caused by Parasites/Symbiotes (Fungus, Plants, Alien Spores, Parasitic Animals, Alien Life Forms. etc…)
By now everyone has probably heard of that fungus that makes ants go nuts, or the creepy nematodes that infest snail eye stalks and make them suicidal. We like to think that we are in charge of our own bodies.
But what if some other gross creature invades our bodies and starts subverting our will and changing our behavior? That’s where you get the parasite zombie type.
Examples of the Parasite Zombie Type
- Resident Evil 4 Video Game
- Half-Life Video Game (Head Crabs)
- Slither (2006)
- Night of the Creeps (1986) (I love this movie BTW)
- The Puppet Masters (1994)
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) (Depends on version, sometimes people were recreated instead of taken over. That’s not a zombie)
The Metaphysical zombie category is the broadest of the zombie classifications. A category potentially completely unbound by the rules of science and logic. It includes all the zombie or zombie like creatures of a supernatural origin. As a result it is also the most varied of the zombie categories.
The monsters we call zombies are a relatively new creature with the term Zombie only coming to use during the late 1800’s. However, every culture that has existed has created myths and legends of the undead. Many of these creatures share much in common with what we think of as zombies.
Metaphysical zombies have loosely defined causes for their reanimation. Often the means of their reanimation overlaps with other categories. Mainly I distinguish between the metaphysical zombies by the root cause of their reanimation.
Zombies in this category are animated by either magic, divine intervention, or possession by a supernatural entity.
The Magic/Cursed Zombie Type (Metaphysical)
Zombie caused by Magic (Black Magic, Curses, Necromancy, Pure willpower/rage)
Every culture has had stories of strange other worldly powers and those capable of wielding them. Witches, sorcerers, and necromancers can use their sinister powers to enslave or reanimate the dead for their own fell purposes. This type of zombie also includes those reanimated by cursed objects, cursed lands, and other mystical forces not directly linked to a religion or supernatural entity.
Examples of the Magic/Cursed Zombie Type
- The Resurrected (1991)
- Undead or Alive: A Zombedy (2007)
- Pet Sematary (1989)
- The Dead Pit (1989)
- One Dark Night (1982)
- The Granny (1995)
- Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (1973)
The Religion Based Zombie Type (Metaphysical)
Zombies created through “Divine,” “Infernal,” or other Religious means (Voodoo, God did it, The Devil did it, Hell’s full, etc….)
The actions of “Divine” or “Infernal” beings is sometimes beyond the understanding of us mere mortals. These powerful beings are in charge of the afterlife and as such they are in charge of the rules governing the dead.
The idea that the dead will rise up and devour the living is an idea as old as the written word. In one of the oldest written works “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” written in ancient Sumer, the goddess Ishtar threatens to unleash a zombie apocalypse if she doesn’t get what she wants.
- Father give me the Bull of Heaven,
- So he can kill Gilgamesh in his dwelling.
- If you do not give me the Bull of Heaven,
- I will knock down the Gates of the Netherworld,
- I will smash the doorposts, and leave the doors flat down,
- and will let the dead go up to eat the living!
- And the dead will outnumber the living!
- Translated by Maureen Gallery Kovacs
Examples of the Religion based Zombie Type
- Fulci’s City of the Living Dead (1980)
- Fulci’s Zombie “Zombie 2″ is the original title (1979)
- White Zombie (1932)
- House of the dead (2003)
- “The Epic Of Gigamesh” (First example of a story where the idea that the dead would rise up and devour the living is found in this epic poem)
The Supernatural Entity Zombie Type (Metaphysical)
Zombies created through the actions of Supernatural Entities (Possession, Spirits [This can be the original persons spirit or "Something" else], Demons, Vampiric, etc…
It’s not just the Gods that can screw us poor living mortals over and raise our dead bodies up. A whole host of lesser supernatural entities are capable of reanimating the dead or subsuming the will of the living to create zombies.
A “possessed” zombie type is more likely than most to break the mold of the pop culture zombie. There is often a substantial gray area with these zombies between the zombie genre and other supernatural horror monsters.
Arguments with your zombie purist friends are very likely.
Examples of the Supernatural Entity possession Zombie Type
- REC (2007), REC 2 (2009), Rec 3 (2012)
- The Evil Dead (1981), Evil Dead II (1987), Army of Darkness (1992)
- Dead and Breakfast (2004)
- Creepshow (1982)
- The Boneyard (1991)
Chemical zombies are tough group to categorize. I mean to your average person one weird made up chemical is the same as another.
That’s why I split up the chemical zombie types according the the “Purpose” of the reanimating chemistry. Otherwise you might as well lump them all together. However, I think there is enough of a difference between them to warrant giving them each a category.
The Pharmaceutical Zombie Type (Chemical)
This zombie type is created by strange chemicals that are discovered too or deliberately intended to bring the dead back to life. (zombifying powders or elixers created by very bad people)
Not the most popular of zombie types as these are zombies brought back to life deliberately (Almost always by very bad people). Through mad science or a shaman’s herbalistic skills a compound is discovered and put to use to raise the dead or enslave the wills of the living.
- The Reanimator (1985), Bride of Re-Animator (1989),Beyond Re-Animator (2003)
- The Lexx (TV-Series 1997 – 2002),
- Zombifying powder in Voodou tradition (This is the non-religious viewpoint of voodou) Used by a Bokar (Voodoo priest who practices dark magic)
The Unintended Side Effect Zombie Type (Chemical)
Zombies created as an unintentional side effect of drugs or other chemestry (Tri-oxin gas, Cures for cancer that went wrong, Possibly a bad batch of meth)
Even the most well intentioned scientist researcher occasionally comes up with something in the lab that may doom the human race. He or she didn’t mean too, but when their discover inevitably gets out…. BOOM! Zombies.
These are the zombies that are proof that no good deed goes unpunished.
Examples of the Unintended Side Effect Zombie Type
- The Return of the Living Dead (1985), Return of the Living Dead Part II (1988), Return of the Living Dead III (1993),Return of the Living Dead: Necropolis (2005), Return of the Living Dead: Rave to the Grave (2005) The last two were terrible worthless movies. DON’T WATCH THEM.
- Planet Terror (2007)
The Toxic Waste Zombie Type (Chemical)
Zombies created through some strange interaction between Toxic/Medical Waste waste. (Discarded waste material that spontaneously raises the dead…. somehow)
Most of us don’t have the foggiest idea what toxic waste is or does. We know it’s bad and does bad things but that’s it. Well there’s just enough wiggle room in our ignorance to imagine that all these terrible chemicals could raise the dead…. Because why the hell not?
This zombie type is rare in fiction as the logic behind it breaks down just a bit too easily. People are more willing to believe that these chemicals are more likely known to the state of California to cause cancer than to raise the dead.
Still if you are looking for a way to raise the dead and you don’t want to get too nit picky about the reason for why the zombies keep getting up this isn’t a bad way to go.
Examples of the Toxic Waste Zombie Type
- Tokyo Zombie (2005).
- Night of the Living Dead 3D (2006) (Total crap movie)
- Night of the Living Dead 3D Re-Animation (2012)
When you are running low on mana, or possibly your deity of choice is not being very cooperative, you can always turn to science to raise the dead.
In these jaded times people are far less afraid of dark supernatural powers and cursed than they should be. It’s much easier for them to believe in science run amok causing a zombie apocalypse and killing us all. Maybe they’re right.
These are great zombies to have as they play on our collective fear of the future, change, and the dehumanizing aspects of technology. Hey wasn’t that cheerful!?
The Cybernetic Zombie Type (Technology)
The Cybernetic Zombie Type uses advanced nanobots or cybernetics to bring the dead back to life.
Human are basically crappy biological machines anyway so it makes sense to swap out some of our more useless parts for cold hard steel replacements. I’d do it right now if I could.
However, never underestimate the dehumanizing power of machines. Cybernetic Zombies are the ultimate in taking a worthless human body and turning it into something useful like a super soldier, forced labor, or…. or I guess there’s just the two things.
Still that’s pretty cool.
Examples of the Cybernetic Zombie Type
- The Borg: Star Trek TNG (1979) Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
- Invaders From Marz (1986)
- Virus (1999)
- Franenstein’s Army (2013)
- Servitors (Warhammer 40K lore)
The Constructed Zombie Type (Technology)
The constructed zombie type differs from the cybernetic type of zombie in that it’s all organic. No machines added to keep this undead going. Multiple parts from possibly numerous human or animal donors have been grafted together into something that should not be.
Mad science marches on and who amongst us can say they have never had the urge to staple/sew two or more creatures together to create an unholy abomination?
No one, that’s who.
The Constructed zombie type are undead abominations created from the remains or multiple other creatures. Constructed zombies are different from other zombies. While the means by which each one may be reanimated may be different the one thing they all have in common is that they are made from multiple creatures/human parts.
The decision to put the constructed zombie in the “Technology” category was someone arbitrary. I made that choice based on the “Frankenstein’s monster” which is mostly shown in fiction as being created through science rather than supernatural means.
Examples of the Constructed Zombie Type
- Marry Shelley’s “Frankenstein” (Published 1823)
- There are more “Frankenstein” movies than I can list here at the moment.
- Flesh Golems (Dungeons And Dragons)
The Dark Science or Medical Experiment Zombie Type (Technology)
The Dark Science / Medical Expericment zombie type is created by forbidden scientific experimentation, and other ethically challenged practices.
This is something of a catch all category for technological zombie types. As technology marches on different ways for creating the living dead are bound to be discovered, perfected, and implemented by terrible terrible people (politicians).
Most people don’t know a heck of a lot about science. I for one think that my iPhone works intercepting moon waves generated by colossal intelligent bees. I bet you do too.
The great thing about the Dark Science zombie type is that it works within our incredible ignorance of how the world works to create the suspension of disbelief for the zombie story. It’s the same reason that I can watch a court room drama with rapt fascination, but a lawyer friend of mine is pulling his hair out over the same show.
He can’t enjoy it, because he knows too much. I love it…… well because I’m dumb.
Examples of the Dark Science or Medical Experiment Zombie Type
- Phantasm (1979)
- Shock Waves (1977)
- The Dead Pit (1989)
- Dead Heat (1988)
The Radiation/Electrical Zombie Type (Energy)
If watching old black and white movies from the fifties has taught me anything it’s that radiation is a magical force that makes everything it touches huge, monstrous, and out to destroy the human race.
The ultimate zombie movie “Night of the Living Dead,” the very movie that inspired the zombie apocalypse genre is an example of the Radiation zombie type. In “Night of the Living Dead” a vague cause for the zombie uprising is given during a news cast. Strange radiation brought back from Venus space probe is thought to be the cause of the zombies.
Examples of the Radiation or Electrical Zombie Type
- Night of the Living Dead (1968) (Romero zombie movies live in the same shared universe where the zombies were reanimated by radiation brought back from a Venus Space Probe.)
- Dawn of the Dead (1978)
- Day of the Dead (1985)
- Land of the Dead (2005)
- Diary of the Dead(2007)
- Survival of the Dead (2009)
- Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (1974)
The Alien Energy Zombie Type (Energy)
Since it was relatively recently that Scientists decided “Dark Energy” exists. And while I don’t have even the foggiest idea what that is or what that means, I’m sure very similar to magic.
The Alien Energy Zombie is another one of those catch all zombie categories. Sometimes a writer gets tired of using the same old thing to reanimate their dead people. This is the perfect time to have a totally made up energy that just happens to make dead people move.
Examples of the Alien Energy Zombie Type
- Plan Nine from Outer Space (1959)
- Night of the Comet (1984)
- Horror Express (1972)