Indestructible Zombies

Let’s talk about something serious for a change, something that has been on my mind since the summer. If I could call it a great disturbance in the force, I would. But then I would have to admit surrendering to the dark side for taking the Star Wars universe out of context. Okay, so I’ll call it a logic problem. Then again, that may prove too pointed of a statement. How about this for Monday Mayhem: Since when have zombies become indestructible?

World War Z's Brad Pitt as Gerry Lane
World War Z’s Brad Pitt as Gerry Lane

I’m a huge fan of World War Z, and for those folks who have read my stuff since the beginning, you will know I’m also a fan of George A. Romero’s zombies. You know the ones, slow, dragging, lurching, not much intelligence. What they lack in aptitude they make up in multitude. In other words, they may be slow, but if they corner you in an alley with no way out, it’s lights out for Thursday night bowling—permanently.

It took a while for me to warm up to the notion zombies could run at the pace of a Kenyan sprinter. I attribute the sudden surge in velocity to an adrenalin rush fostered by the zombie virus, whatever that zombie virus might be. I accept it. It would also account for the incredible behavior change in the undead’s muscle stability and lack of flaccidity. Add to the laundry list a slow decomposition rate instead of the typical mortis states, and we have the making of fast zombies.

I’m okay with that idea. It makes logical sense.

World War Z's destroyed cities
World War Z’s destroyed cities

Where things start getting out of hand is seeing zombies crash into immovable objects at blunt-force-trauma speeds. When a head attempts several times to smash through a windshield, wouldn’t said head sport a few scars of the incident? Perhaps a concussion or two? Even more so, if a zombie attempts to scale a massive wall and other zombies use its body as a footstool, wouldn’t it be fair in saying said zombie would break a few bones in the process of its journey? And how about after scaling the wall, which I’m assuming thirty feet high, wouldn’t the zombies plunging to the other side land on the ground in a big huge splat?

Guide me here, folks. Sometimes I miss things along the way. I’m willing to suspend disbelief up to a point, but when the laws of physics run amok in a film—a zombie film, not a superhero comic book film—I’m not sure if I can accept the latest twist in zombie resilience. Anyone have a reasonable explanation for the undead’s sudden ability to fend off broken bones, torn ligaments, shattered faces and lack of rotting in World War Z?

So many questions, so little time.

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, on sale October 22.

What’s your reaction to World War Z’s superhero zombies?

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31 thoughts on “Indestructible Zombies

  1. I also don’t mind fast zombies. My problem with indestructible zombies is more from a storytelling viewpoint: I don’t find them as suspenseful. If nothing short of some lame deus ex machina widget will save the day, then there’s no suspense – you can’t win. Once I know I’m going to die, the fight not to die suddenly becomes moot.

    With “World War Z”, I think that’s why the book worked so well: you knew we won. You knew that these people found ways to survive. I liked the movie and was impressed with the way they tied it to the book, which I didn’t think could be done so well, but I think that’s the one thing that was missing.

  2. You’ve asked some great questions about the zombies that I didn’t consider. I guess I was paying more attention to the philosophical problems with the movie. The zombie genre has traditionally been about how science has failed us, but this movie turns toi science for the answer. Where Night of the Living Dead has a little girl zombie kill her parents, this movie is all about the strength of the nuclear family–it’s sort of a flashback to a simpler and earlier time–that’s why I say that this is not really a zombie film, just a film with zombies:
    http://www.cureforzombies.com/world-war-z-is-not-a-zombie-movie-2/

  3. More than the laws of physics are being broken. Have you seen Warm Bodies? Zombies can be “cured” by love! I’ve decided it isn’t really a zombie movie, it’s a love story with dead people. LOL

  4. What would be great, is if the fast zombies did break down like normal, Romero-esque zombies, and yet still moved at crazy fast speeds. Wouldn’t it be awesome if one of those World War Z zombie’s head exploded after whacking it into a windshield?

  5. Very interesting question sir, and no doubt lots of answers are available. I would argue that World War Z was rated PG13 in the States, which means that violence is toned down. Often now-a-days many movies seem to be rated PG13 to ensure that a larger audience are permitted entrance because that is where the money is. If the movie did show a fair amount of blood, broken bones, etc, then that would constitute a wealth of violence and the movie would receive a higher classification, perhaps R, and that would restrict younger audiences from viewing such content at the cinema.

  6. I can’t say I’m an avid fan of zombie-lore to the point where I am actually venturing into the feasibility of it all (scientifically it makes no sense to me that it can happen at all); I prefer to accept it at face value for entertainment value, I suppose. But.. having said all that and you posing the question, I do have a thought. If we disregard for the moment that some alien life form hasn’t inhabited our dead bodies with some pre-programmed agenda, and rather assume that maybe some bacteria or virus has gone whacko because some chicken mated with panda in the wilds of backwater Manchuria. In essence, it is a life form.. the virus or bacteria, I mean. We already know that all life exists in order to procreate (let’s keep religion out of this for the moment). That being said, would not an evolved bacteria or virus have a nature-defined instinct to survive? If that’s the case, some species would, in fact, attempt to survive at all costs. Many insect species already do that. It seems the writers of Wolrd War Z have given the zombies a do or die instinct to pass on their genetic mutation to living humans, even if it terminates their own existence (or ability to move around). They certainly don’t seem to be socially centered toward each other nor do they need each other (no evidence of helping each other or communication) to pass on their genetic essence. The living person just beyond that wall is the target for an individual zombie, hence one tries to climb the wall, fails, and the next one is scrambling on top of that one to get over the edge. The zombie who can’t move (broken bones, etc.) just plain looses. Anyway… just thought I’d pass on that if nature was the culprit who created zombies then it’s nature’s way to to provide instinct for procreation. But if the whole thing is about programmed nanobots from Vulcan, I don’t have an answer for you.

  7. I finally saw this movie last night!
    In a nutshell, I am a fan. The fast zombies are absolutely terrifying. There were some logic issues like the one you’ve mentioned. If they are indeed dead, then their decomposing flesh, although impervious to pain, would be fragile. Falling long distances, bashing into immovable objects, being hit by moving vehicles—all would wreak havoc with the bodies of the undead.
    I was very intrigued with the premise. *SPOILER ALERT*
    These zombies didn’t exactly hunger for human flesh. It seemed like they bit and moved on, which means their whole purpose was to spread the infection not eat brains. So they were undead marionettes whose puppet master was a tiny virus. An interesting approach to the traditional flesh-eating zombie idea.

  8. Never saw the movie, but it reminded me of something in another similar film that always annoyed me. In “I Am Legend” those vampires/zombies set up this elaborate trap to capture Will Smith. Yet, when they get Will trapped in the basement all they can do is roar and smash their head against the glass barrier. Are they brilliant, or are they stupid?

  9. If I’m not mistaken, in Max Brooks’s works, he explains zombies lose their survival instincts. They no longer care about broken bones or any other type of damage to their bodies. Pain is completely out the window. The explanation is that because of this, they are much stronger and faster than their former human incarnations because they can push their bodies beyond human limitations. People can only run so fast and lift so much because of our need to self preserve. If we go beyond that preservation, we would be capable of great physical feats at the cost of bodily deterioration. Zombies have no such instinct anymore, so, according to Max Brooks biology, they would logically be faster and stronger than their living counterparts.

  10. as much as I enjoyed World War Z, I have to agree with you. The zombies were a touch to durable to make them realistic. More blood and missing limbs where required I feel

  11. I actually had this same thought when I watched the movie, it is weird seeing how they are indestructible…normally they’d be missing a couple of limbs -to say the least- after falling through that wall, or they’d lose their heads on the impact….might the Z-Virus have some regeneration pathogen that gives some “super-extra support” to the body?

  12. Still haven’t seen this one, and we were actually just talking about it in Corporate World this morning! I’m not sure if even Brad Pitt and his gorgeous hair can tempt me to watch this one … it sounds so scary !!! And you know how I am about watching shows in the dark 😉

    • Well, I can’t vouch for Brad Pitt’s good looks, but I can say the movie rocks! Ask some of your corporate buddies if they’d watch it again! And yes, it does have it “scare moments” that even I didn’t expect! 🙂

  13. Hello Jack
    You’ve hit the nail on the head! I haven’t seen the film but have watched the trailers and it looks like a cross between ‘I’ Robot’ where the robots are clambering everywhere and very hard to kill, and ‘The Matrix’ sequels where there were simply too many Smiths to be workable. It gets boring when the hero is just fighting, fighting, fighting, blah, blah…
    The hero has to stand a reasonable chance of making it through and these little zombie suckers seem all to quick and immortal for their own good.
    I think this seems to be SFX for SFX sake.
    Regards
    David

  14. Like you, I was willing to suspend belief and embrace this new look at zombies. And while I understand the idea that, because of their single-mided focus and lack of pain they aren’t deterred by injury, I think the creators missed out on a horrific opportunity here. One of the scariest — and most entertaining — things to me about zombies is how they never stop, no matter how badly mangled they become, until the final head shot. The example you gave about the giant wall, and how the zombies landed with apparently no physical repercussions (compound fractures at the very least), was a great opportunity to add to the horrific by showing the damaged and broken corpses continuing their mindless pursuit. These zombies seemed almost superhuman, as if the writers had taken a cue from Marvel’s “super soldier serum.” I’m still a fan of the movie and its fresh storytelling and evolution of zombie lore, but the lack of explanation about how the zombies avoid any real physical harm kept me on the fringe of “believing” instead of crossing over into acceptance.

      • My thoughts exactly! I’m sure James Cameron already has something in development. T5: Rise of the Dead. Besides, Arnold could still make a cameo. Without much make-up…

      • We’ve actually more or less seen that one. That was the gimmick in Return of the Living Dead. Even when cut into tiny parts, the bag full of tiny parts kept moving. The only thing that stopped the zombie completely was cremation. And that just created more problems before the end of it.

  15. Hi Jack!
    As a lover of zombie fiction (who also keeps a katana behind her desk–just in case of the zombie apocalypse) I offer a couple of explanations for the zombies in WWZ: First, the zombie bacteria infection takes hold of the nervous system with a strange single mind-hive mind agenda to spread the infection any way possible. that way sometimes to sacrifice itself/others for the purposed of spreading the infection. As long as the mouth still works, it has a means of spreading the infection (which appears to be through saliva.) but, even when most of the organism is destroyed, parts of it still move with a single-mindedness (the fingers on one of the burnt servicemen that still twitched–unless completely obliterated, bacteria particles are still alive in any bit of human flesh, making the flesh itself a carrier of the bacteria.) That it won’t infect an infected human says a lot: it has to have a completely infection/damage free host because it takes over every system in the organism, and if there is an infection present, the infection stops its spread. If you noticed, too, the zombies didn’t necessarily eat their victims, rather just tore them apart if they did not transform within the ten seconds necessary for the infection to spread. It reminded me of pictures of e. coli bacteria splitting and increasing in seconds. this is different from other zombie infection-spread theories that seem to range from outer-space infection to viral to prion. I kind of liked this one because the zombies mimic how bacteria behave. I’m sure they talked to some NIH people about this, too.

  16. I watched WWZ for the first time last night, and when you speak of broken bones, there were a few scenes where it seemed the zombies were crawling, or pulling themselves along the ground by their hands. To me, that implied that their legs were broken. So while some did use their heads to break glass, I don’t think they were immune to broken bones.

  17. If you consider this: “As part of an extended family of horrific antagonists,
    zombies have offered bureaucratically managed representations of cultural anxiety for more than 80 years,” and view the current trend of indestructible zombies in light of current events (especially if you’re US-based, as it pretty much seems like right now this country is eating itself) then…the social maladies that swirl around more than a decade of being at war, a terrorism industry that relentlessly promotes an “other” that never sleeps, the carnivorousness of the banking industry, the decreasing sense of social justice in the face of the power of overcorporatization, the fact that BP got a $10 billion tax refund the year that they destroyed the Gulf Coast…and so on, and so on… The forces that eat the world alive are increasingly indestructible. This indestructibility being expressed in zombie lore seems like a natural–if not tragic and cynical–incorporation of modern sensibilities.

    Opening quote taken from: http://www.academia.edu/2076353/Locating_Zombies_in_the_Sociology_of_Popular_Culture

  18. I thought it was a great diversion from your usual Zombie fair (I have to admit of having not seen that many though). I know which Zombie I would hope to come up against if the apocalypse were to happen. And it wouldn’t be the total nutters from WWZ!!!

    The plane crash was, I admit, a bit fortuitous on Brad Pitt’s part!!

    My advice if Zombies turn up here on Earth, find a boat, and a lot of food and drink and moor up just off the nearest coast. I haven’t seen a zombie swim yet.

  19. I was wondering about that. I have yet to see the movie, but I thought the zombies at the bottom of the pile were being sacrificed. I also assumed the ones at the top were going for a suicidal dive type of thing. I guess people are varying the resilience for cinematic purposes. Maybe they feel people are becoming jaded with zombies, so they’re toughening them up to make them appear more dangerous. The youth of today are a lot harder to scare and impress. Though, I think you could do it with zombies that eat iPads and cellphones.

  20. Ah ha … My favorite rant … The Laws of Physics …

    I think the thing about the WWZ zombies is that they turn so fast, too fast for me. It is unlikely that any infection process would work that fast. But since it is so fast, they really aren’t undead …they are still alive!

    And now for the gratuitous plug of my own serialized novel, Day 42 (DayZ of DiZeaZe) on http://contrafactual.com
    You can find it under Topics…

    As one author to another … Less than a month until …

    RANGER MARTIN AND THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE

  21. As a fellow fan of the zombie lore, I think it’s ok to tweak them a little bit. It’s keeps the genre fresh, no pun intended. The thing about all zombies whether classic like Romero or the new disease variety of WWZ and 28 Days is that they feel no pain. So they can crush skulls and bones and land from high distances without much affect on their bodies…at least outwardly. Your not going to see a broken bone necessarily from the outside, doesn’t mean the zombie doesn’t have it on the inside. The zombie is not going to complain or stop what it’s doing due to this injury. With the wall, who is to say the first zombies to hit the ground didn’t become immobile and were used to cushion the other zombie’s fall? Being a Max Brooks fan and seeing that this movie was delayed forever, I had low expectations…but I think it delivered. My reality check was more in the fact that Brad Pitt was able to survive a plane crash into the mountains. What really are the chances in walking away from that?

  22. I guess the authors of said script show an unbiased indifference to all the sciences. If biology can be fiddled with enough to make zombies a possibility then physics should also be warped to an appropriate extent. I am yet to see the movie but it boils down to what is more appealing cinematically: Zombies crush-able like melons ( Grindhouse) or the more fearsome sturdy variety? Indestructibility has the appeal of ” God Level” of games like Left 4 dead while goriness has its own set of admirers.

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