Friday, April 6, 2012

Top 6 Zombie Movie Cliches We Could Do Without

A cliche, like the monster that will just not die, is an idea or expression that has been so overused that it has lost its strength of emotional impact. A cliche can also be a character stereotype whose actions are predictable and superficial in nature. The zombie horror movie genre is chock full of animated rotting corpses, and with any over-saturated market, it has developed its own cliches that, like the zombie itself,  really needs to be shot and put out of its misery.

6. Do You Smell That? 
People in zombie apocalypses have no sense of smell  This one most horror movies are guilty of, but I find it particularly striking for it to occur in zombie movies and zombie TV shows. I know that audiences cannot smell things that are on-screen, but they certainly should be able to at least empathize when a character comes across something that smells utterly disgusting and reacts to it on camera.

To make my point here, I'm going to get a little gross. If you are squeamish, you might not want to read this part.

Ever dump meat in the garbage, like a piece of grisly fatty steak that the garbage disposal unit just won't grind up and get rid of and leave it for a few days and forget about it, only to come home to a really rank smell omitting from the garbage bin? That smell is only from a very small piece of meat that is rotting. Now, take that disgusting smell and multiply it by 100 and imagine what a rotting human body would smell like. Add to that the fact that the bowels will excrete everything they contain upon death when sphincter and bladder muscles relax and you have a zombie that is a walking, reeking cess pool that is harboring life threatening bacteria.

Pretty darn gross, isn't it? I bet you'd smell that coming towards from a mile away, or farther if it's downwind of you.

5. "Social Commentary"

We get it, OK? Modern consumers and/or workers living in a capitalistic society are zombies, slaving away their waking hours to buy what they are "told" they want and/or need and scrambling to get the Next Best Thing at the cost of their own immortal souls.

Yes, people tend to exhibit herd behavior. We're hardwired to do so, it's a product of evolution and a part of our inborn instincts. But, does that mean that we all need to do the same storyline and cover the same themes over and over again? No. It certainly does not.

Zombie movies should not take place in a mall or have the main focus be on  "Gee, money isn't worth diddly squat anymore!" because that setting and the theme has been overdone for far too long.

I propose that every time a zombie movie that uses a variant of the "We're them and they're us" line, takes place in a mall, or talks about how quickly money devalues when the world ends, a little puppy dies. (Not that I condone the killing of cute innocent puppies, but it might be the only way to get movie script writers and directors from using those stupid, insipid cliches. No, seriously. Don't go killing puppies. It's a joke.)

4. Zombie Movie Character Cliches

Most of these are unbelievable character behaviors or ones that have been covered by the majority of zombie movies on the market and need to be put to rest.
  • Joe Schmoe gets bit by zombie during an attack and hides it from everyone. Unfortunately, he dies from the festering human bite wound and turns into a zombie and attacks his friends/family when he's needed the most.
  • People arguing over killing a loved one who is a zombie.                                                      "No, don't kill Molly! She's our only child!"                                                                                                   "Don't you get it? She's already dead! Move aside, I'll put her out of her misery!"                      "Noooooo!" and so on until the zombie child kills the person arguing to keep her "alive."
  • Joe shooting a zombie in the body (as this usually will drop a living person if not outright kill them) over and over to prove a point that the zombie is dead. Most of the time while screaming, "Is it dead? Is it? Huh? Tell me!" 
  • Perfect head shot, every time. Everyone, no matter their background or lack of gun training can shoot a zombie in the head in any situation you can think of; while running or jumping over an obstacle, firing out of a window of a speeding vehicle, when they are clearly out of range etc. Believe it or not, most people are psychologically unable to shoot other people in the face.
  • Stating rules about zombie survival and in the very next scene disregarding all of them. Ahem, "Zombie Apocalypse" anyone?
3. Overly Strong Yet Badly Decomposed Bodies
Now, unless there's reason for the zombie to be incredibly strong and dangerous, such as the T-virus mutation from "Resident Evil" that causes people to turn into Tyrants, or it is scientifically proven (according to the fictional setting) that zombie's jaw muscles become more defined and thickened, along with the other muscles in their bodies upon reanimation, such as in the animates in the tabletop Neo-Victorian steam punk horror RPG "Unhallowed Metropolis", the rotting decomposing flesh of a zombie would not and should not be stronger than the average person. At the very least, it should not be ten times stronger than it was when it was alive. They aren't ants for crying out loud. They're human zombies. Zombie ants are an entirely different, non-fictional, naturally occurring phenomenon caused by a parasitic fungus species Cordycepts.

While it is common consensus that zombies of any kind cannot feel physical pain, it is highly unbelievable that they would be stronger than the average living, breathing human being. Unless the zombie is magic, or caused by super evil science, there is no way that a rotting corpse can possibly be stronger. Yeah, I'm talking to you "The Walking Dead." Dale would be stronger than the scrawny swamp walker that killed him with its super-sharp nails and vice-grip-like finger strength. Human nails and hair do not keep growing after death. They just appear to, because the skin dries out and shrinks, pulling back from the finger nail beds and hair follicles. Zombie nails growing and becoming sharper just would not happen. Sorry guys...

While I'm on the subject, a living person would have quite the chore ahead of himself if he were to claw apart a person's abdomen with his bare hands, so it's reasonable to believe that an undead person would have a bit of work to do before he could reach the juicy internal organs. There's all that skin, fat, sinew, muscle, etc to get through before the intestines. If our intestines and stomach were as close to the surface of our skin that a single scratch and pull of flesh would expose them, we'd all be screwed. Or eternally suffering from hernias...

2. Stealth Zombies

Yes, I did begin to cover this under number six, but I wish to expand the idea here because it's idiotic for every single character in every zombie movie to not only have no sense of smell, but for them to be partially, if not mostly deaf. These characters lack two crucial senses that most people would be able to use in real life: that of the sense of smell and hearing.

Imagine this Scenario:

Joe and Mark are standing around, each smoking a cigarette while on night watch. They've run out of things to talk about and are just nervously glancing around, looking for any potential threat to the camp, which is at least a mile away from where they are on guard.

It's dead quiet outside. Not even the birds or crickets are chirping. There is no wind, nothing. Just the sound of the men exhaling and inhaling as they smoke. Suddenly a silhouette appears behind Joe and grabs his shoulders! Mark looks at him, dumbfounded, while Joe is attacked and killed by the deadliest of zombie cliches: the stealth zombie.

Now let's look at this Scenario again. This time, with feeling! (i.e. all of our senses):

Joe and Mark are standing around, each smoking a cigarette while on night watch. They've run out of things to say and are nervously glancing about, looking for any oncoming zombies that may be heading towards their encampment, which is a mile away from where they are on guard.

The night birds and crickets suddenly stop chirping. The night grows eerily still as the slight cool spring breeze dies off.

A soft, slow shuffling can be heard in the distance.
"Do you smell that?" Joe asks.
"Yeah," Mark says and drops his to the ground and snuffs it out with his foot. "Smells like the dead."
Joe tosses his smoke and picks up his trusty shovel.
Mark looks around with his night vision binoculars and points down the street behind them. "There."
"Do you think it spotted us?"
"Doubt it."
"I'll head around behind it and take it out while you distract it." Joe says.
"Come on! I distracted the last one! It's only fair."

Mark jogs towards the zombie and begins to shout. The zombie's head lifts up and it starts shuffling his way while Joe runs around the block to get up behind it. Once he approaches, he speeds up and rams into its back, making it fall face-first into the pavement. With a wordless cry, Joe raises the shovel and smashes its down onto the zombie's rotting soft head, caving it in, successfully stopping the zombie before it can even turn around to attack him.

Stealth zombies are so obnoxious and annoying, they need to be stopped. A slow zombie would shamble and shuffle towards its prey, stumbling loudly over obstacles, knocking things down, feet snapping twigs, slamming unlocked doors open, running into tables, chairs, doors and so on. A fast zombie would be running at top speed, often screaming or yelling at the top of its lungs as it barrels towards its prey. It would stumble, knock things over, slam into things, break stuff left and right, and make a heck of a lot of noise. Either way, neither zombie type would have stealth capabilities, and even if they could, you would still be able to smell them once they get close enough that you'd know that something was coming to eat you. So cut it out already movie makers. The stealth zombie attack is old and utterly unrealistic.

1. The Army is Evil
This cliche is particularly annoying because it is such an overused zombie movie theme. The biggest culprits of spreading this cliche are Romero's "Day of the Dead," "Survival of the Dead,"  "28 Days Later" and "28 Weeks Later."  In zombie movies, army guys either want to rape your women, steal your stuff or put you under martial law (which probably would happen during an apocalyptic zombie outbreak). According to George Romero and Danny Boyle, all soldiers are sociopathic, unsympathetic jerks who could care less about what happens to people; all they want is to be in charge.

There is a difference between living through harrowing times, such as a zombie apocalypse and being affected by it, and just simply being a jerk wad. I find it hard to believe that EVERY SINGLE soldier in the world is a total douche bag. Most are normal guys and gals that care about people and their country.

Fortunately, most soldier characters in zombie movies would not be allowed in the U.S. Army. Why? Because the army requires that you pass a psychological profile test before they'll even accept you into boot camp. It does not accept those who are over-eager to kill, have an aversion towards obeying orders and those who chafe under authority figures, which covers pretty much most of the types of characters that are in the army in zombie movies.

I'm really tired of the whole army is evil theme. It's trite and insulting to the brave men and women who actually are in the armed forces. Either the army would utterly fall apart under the zombie apocalypse, or it would keep men together who have bonded in combat and managed to stay alive because they care for one another like family.

These six commonly reoccurring cliches in zombie movies, TV shows and even novels are so ignorant and obnoxious that anyone who uses them should be slapped, or at the very least, called a lazy idiot for not researching the facts and imitating the mistakes of others that have come before him.


  1. Aother cliche would be air vents! Apparently every air vent ever made can fit a person inside. Yeah right! Haha

  2. John, thank you for bringing up the air vent cliche! I hadn't even thought of it.

    The air vent cliche seems to mostly appear in other movie genres, such as spy films, but it does occasionally make its way into the horror genre.

    The funny thing is that even if a full grown adult could fit in an air vent, the vent itself would not be able to support his weight. It would bend and split apart at a joint or the support straps used to hold the metal vent shafts up would pull out from the ceiling and he would fall-- a scenerio that I'd love to see put into a movie. Of course, it'd probably end up being in a comedy, but it would work to create suspense in a zombie movie as well.

    For instance:
    Imagine trying to escape the zombie horde by crawling into the vents that you can somehow miraculously fit in, only to have them buckle and fall, sending you right into the grasping out-reached arms of the ravenous undead. That would be a perfect, and realistic, way to kill a character in a movie.

    Another way to subvert the air vent cliche and create a realistic scenario is to have a character attempt to get into the air vent in a panic as the zombies get ever closer, only to find that he can't fit. He falls from the table he is standing on and breaks an ankle. Crying out in pain, he pulls himself back up and tries to hobble away, only to be overwhelmed by the zombies, which surround him, knock him down and eat him alive.

  3. I also love it when people are like, "oh my god whats happening? Why are all these people trying to eat me and why do they look decomposed?" --News flash they're zombies and you are in a zombie apolcolypse.

  4. Vampierluver23, thank you for bringing that up. I seriously think that with all the zombie books, movies, and other forms of media, just about everybody should register the fact that a zombie apocolypse is happening.

  5. I've always failed to see the anti-capitalist message. I mean, zombies are classless, equal, there's no market, they don't use money and have limited capabilities...I can clearly link them to tribal, animal behaviour or socialist masses, but never to capitalism.
    Cool blog.Greetings from Buenos Aires. =)

  6. what about the mad scientist or doctor doing experiments on zombies? He always gets eaten by a group of his test subjects.

  7. Good point Shannon! Thanks for bringing it up!

  8. Vampireluver23, that's dumb, they live in a universe or world where they don't know what zombies are, so you're wrong. If they did know about it, they wouldn't take the apocalypse seriously

  9. In '28 Weeks Later' the people in the army seemed nice. They tried to keep people safe and did the best they could when the situation got out of hand. Came off as genuine concern. If you're tired of the psychotic army trope im tired of the everyone in the army is a hero trope. That is played out too. BTW some people in the armed forces have done horrible things.

  10. True. I think what we're looking at is that the Army is not accurately portrayed in zombie films. At all. It goes both ways.

    1. If you take a look at Day of the Dead again, you'll see that those soldiers are reacting to a pretty specific situation. They're still doing their job (protecting Frankenstein) even after society has gone to shit and aren't going to reap any benefits for the doctor's experiments. In the meantime, the soldiers are getting slowly whittled away by the zombies.
      They have limited supplies and ammo, no back-up and barely a chain of command. They're all on their last nerve. If they weren't so horribly obnoxious and over-acted, they'd probably be more sympathetic. Sadly, Romero let's them chew the fuck out of the scenery to the point where ALL you want is for them to get gut-munched.

      This doesn't invalidate your point, though. In this case, even if they're hard to recognize, there are extenuating circumstances.