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Fast and Slow Zombies: More Similar Than You Think

By Audrey Lorber  May 15, 2024 

“It’s Zombies again.” “Fast ones or slow ones?” “Slow sir.” “Thank god they’re slow.”
-Little Monsters (2019)

To me, a zombie can simply be defined as the dead re-animated and coming after the
living. Some eat brains, some dance, and some even talk. Every movie is a little different in their
portrayal of the zombie, and I think that’s just part of this subgenre’s charm.


The Debate

The biggest contradiction among the zombies in each movie is the speed of the dead.
There’s some debate over whether a zombie should be able to run or not. Some people (George A. Romero) believe zombies have to be slow, or they aren’t even zombies. I believe 28 Days Later (2002), which popularized the fast zombie, sort of solidifies this for some people as the zombies don’t even adhere to the most basic definition of a zombie- they aren’t the dead re- animated, but instead rage “infected” living people similar to the infected in Mayhem (2017) and The Sadness (2021).

In a 2008 interview, in reference to fast zombies, George A Romero said “Partially, it’s a
matter of taste… Michael Meyers never ran, he just sort of calmly walked across the lawn or
across the room. To me, that’s scarier: this inexorable thing coming at you and you can’t figure
out how to stop it. Aside from that, I do have rules in my head of what’s logical and what’s not. I don’t think zombies can run. Their ankles would snap!” 


There are countless articles and Reddit comments on each side of the argument. The consensus seems to be that fast zombies are better at killing and are therefore more deadly, but slow zombies provide more slow dread, and can fool the living into a false sense of security. So fast zombies are scarier in the short term, but slow zombies are scarier in the long term. I can’t forget to mention that some fans believe the most logical thing is that at first zombies might be fast and over time, as resources (the living) become more scarce, that they would slow down.

There are some movies that play with this concept like in Zombieland (2009) and Warm Bodies (2013), and I think that’s pretty fun. Zombieland, being a horror comedy, pokes fun at the idea that there are lots of different kinds of zombies in every movie by presenting kinds of zombies from “Normal” to “Homer” to “The T-800”, according to the “Zombieland Wiki" .

Slow Zombies
Personally, I love a slow zombie and I think a lot of horror fans will say the same. A lot of us grew up with slow zombies so they feel like the OG. Heck, the slow, stumbling walk of a zombie is synonymous with the creature itself. If you were playing a charades-type game, and you had to perform without speaking to get your team to say “zombie”, I know you and
everybody else would act like a slow zombie. Moving on, slow zombie stories are often more centered around the living and the toll the apocalypse is taking on them- the loved ones they’ve lost or their bleak future.


Fast Zombies

More recently, in my adulthood, I discovered fast zombie movies like Train to Busan (2016), The Return of the Living Dead (1985), and #Alive (2020). These movies scared the shit out of me. I remember being a little hesitant to the idea of a zombie that could run as it defied my previous notion of what a zombie was capable of. I grew up on Night of the Living Dead (1968) and The Walking Dead TV show- slow zombies. I was caught off guard by not only the speed in
which zombies could run, but how fast they could “turn” too. My hesitancy quickly turned to fascination. I loved how these fast zombies could go from 0-100 and keep my heart pacing and head guessing the whole runtime.
I love zombie movies. I love zombies, both fast and slow. I truly don’t believe one is better or scarier than another. I do think some people prefer a slow burn to more of an action movie, and vice versa. I like them both. But they’re never really about the zombies.


What Zombie Movies are Really About

Most zombie movies are telling a story outside of the zombies. Dawn of the Dead (1978) is an iconic metaphor for comfortable consumerism, and like most apocalyptic movies, zombie movies make commentary on our elite-serving government and their carelessness with our lives, often failing to contain the dead if not causing the whole thing to happen in the first place. I think a lot of the time, the movies boil down to the idea that we, the living, are often the bigger threat
than the zombies. The Walking Dead would introduce a new human big-bad every season. In Train to Busan (2016), it’s the evil and selfish Yon-suk who causes most of the death and destruction in the film. There’s the raiders in The Return of the Living Dead (1985) and the sadistic army men in Act III of 28 Days Later (2002). This theme does not discriminate whether
the zombies are fast or slow.

However convoluted, I believe zombies, fast or slow, are a reflection of the living without their humanity, and the destruction they cause because of that lack. It’s not lost on me that both the dead and the living are stronger in large numbers. Zombie movies are ultimately about learning to be a good person to others. So zombies, fast or slow, have a lot more in
common than they have different.

I set out to write a silly little contrast essay about the differences between slow and fast zombies, but I had it all wrong. Zombie movies can be slow or fast paced and to me, are always a good watch. Maybe the root of all apocalyptic movies are about putting things into perspective for the living, and that often is about prioritizing the health and safety of those alive instead of focusing on the past and loss. I wonder what metaphors zombie stories will have for us in the
future, and if one kind of zombie will dominate that media.


Audrey E. Lorber (she/her) is a Brooklyn based video producer, film editor, and award-winning independent filmmaker. She grew up in Staten Island, NY and has made a name for herself in the indie horror community. She is always writing her next short film and is drawn most to animation, post production, screenwriting, and the horror genre.

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