Simon Pegg on zombies

Just to stir the pot: while I see Pegg’s point, I don’t consider zombies to be static creations. I prefer to see people put their own spin on them and other monsters, rather than just slavishly imitate others. I don’t expect or want every zombie to be exactly like they were in “Night of the Living Dead” 40 years ago, any more than I want every vampire to be just like Bela Lugosi or every werewolf like Claude Rains.

Sidebar: I may be misremembering, but in NotLD, didn’t they call them “ghouls,” not “zombies?”

You remember correctly, the term ‘zombie’ is not used in the original NotLD. That’s one of its charms, in my opinion, that no one knows what these things are or why the dead are walking and killing or how to stop them. All they can do is run and hide.

This makes sense to a point; we certainly see different version of vampires walking around with different superpowers, and the wolf-man hybrid that we often see werewolves depicted as is different indeed from the original concept. But thematically, they remain unchanged; vampires represent the ultimate corruption of humanity, beings with superhuman abilities and (lately) charms at the expense of their souls and morality. Werewolves represent the opposite end of the spectrum: the worst and most brutal qualities of humanity brought to the surface as someone is compelled to abandon their humanity in favor of their deepest animal instincts.

Zombies, as Pegg notes, represent death itself. They don’t have to be handled the same way every time, and certain aspects of them can change, but the slowness is in service to the metaphor, and I daresay that changing that is akin to changing werewolves such that they get stronger and hairier in the full moon, but walk and talk like normal people. Are they still werewolves, really?

I like fast and slow. Where I do understand the constant, creeping horror you still have to give the fast zombies something. It’s not just BOO factor, it’s horrifying to think that not only can you not escape them due to number, they’re also fast as hell

Excellent article. All due thanks for sharing.

Running zombies are a indeed a bastardization, to use Mr. Pegg’s spot-on phrasing.

Death can come quickly and suddenly. Sometimes you can even see death coming (e.g. some terminal illnesses) but it still rushes upon you before you’re ready.

The metaphor works either way.

That would be a zombie crashing through the wall. Almost nobody dies who didn’t know they were going to at some point.

Fast zombies is merely the terror of being attacked by an angry mob of people. Making it a rabies-like infection or whatever is just a convenient excuse to avoid all of the uncomfortable causes and aftermath that go along with a mob of people turning violent.

Yeah, if people want a scary movie about angry mobs they can just do one about the Pogroms, the American riots or set it in Rwanda or Congo.
28 days later (and Romeros own The Crazies) tap into that, but forego the uncomfortable business of why people turn into angry mobs and instead replaces it with a ‘rage’ virus or stuff like that.

Zombies are a different fear. You can survive forever against zombies if you keep your wits about you… but there’s always the risk of something unpredictable happening, the people around you turning mean, the people around you doing something stupid or you being human for a second and doing something else than being vigilant about the zombies.
One bite is all it takes and people rarely die because they’re overcome by the zombies but because something happens to them and they find themselves cornered or overwhelmed.

There’s more to it than that though, Hanzii. I know I’ve brought this up in other zombie threads (I am nothing if not dependable) but in the Romero movies at least, there was no transmission of zombie-ness by bite. In those old classics, all you had to do was die. All corpses revived to hunt the living shortly after death, regardless of whether they were bitten or not (I guess if they died by decapitation or some other brain trauma then they wouldn’t rise). So there’s an additional hopelessness there that isn’t present in 28 Days Later or even the remake of Dawn of the Dead, as much as I like both flicks. Just holing yourself up in a secure spot was not necessarily protection from the living dead.

Except that the whole point of 28 Days Later was that all of that is inside us. Like the scientist says at the start, the virus is an inhibitor. And when Jim goes feral at the end, you see that it’s in him too.

That is indeed a great article, and I love that Pegg is articulate and passionate about zombies. All people should be. It’s the only way we’re going to survive the zombie apocalypse. Plus, I had no idea Romero directed a Resident Evil trailer. Maybe you can learn something from celebrities after all!

However, Pegg is short-sighted on two very important points.

  1. As unbong says, zombies aren’t static creations. What began as a metaphor for death, up through Haitian culture and into Romero’s movies, doesn’t have to be only a metaphor for death, and it certainly doesn’t have to be slow. AIDS and Ebola, for instance, have a place in our nightmares about death since Romero’s movies. They’re fast and sudden. Zombies are also a perfect outlet for our nightmares about death by enraged mob, which is what 28 Days Later and the latest Resident Evils are doing. Aren’t those nightmares a product of post-Romero incidents like the beating of Reginald Denny and the crowds swarming the downed Blackhawk in Somalia? What better outlet for this than zombies?

Death doesn’t always politely shuffle up and take its time rotting. So just as vampires can learn to drive around the Southwest in RVs and even live among us, so too can zombies learn to run.

  1. Pegg has missed the underlying point of Dead Set, which is a shame, since it’s a wonderfully subversive point. The metaphor here isn’t death, it’s the slavering fanatical idiocy of television and television viewers. They’re stupid, they’re enthusiastic, they’re hysterical, and they’re contagious. That’s the entire point of the miniseries, and the final scene drives it home perfectly. It’s one of the best bows on a zombie package I’ve ever seen.

But even the first episode makes it clear in the juxtaposition – and especially collision – of the gathered crowd of Big Brother fans and zombies. They end up indistinguishable and grotesquely assimilated into each other. The point absolutely would not have worked with slow zombies.

So while I have a lot of respect for Pegg’s point, I think he’s too attached to it to appreciate what he was watching. :(


You’re right.
And that actually works even better than the infection by bite, which has been added. If you die, you become one of them, no mater how you die.
And you will die.

Good point.

Inhibitor? I don’t get you.

Perhaps the ‘rage’ is inside the people and the virus bares it or have it consume people, but it’s still not as scary as what real world mobs have been capable off through history. But having an outside reason for the mob-behaviour softens that or at less steps around nasty issues.

But I’m not saying these running mob type films can’t be scary… they just don’t work as zombie movies.
And I must say that apart from the shock of the child attack in the beginning, nothing in the Dawn remake scared me whereas just listening to the samples used in Gorillaz M1A1 brings a sense of dread even though it’s been ages since I saw that film.

The comic book The Walking Dead is an excellent zombie tale, that really captures how everything but the zombies are the real dangers that just slowly kills off members of the group of survivors.

More than “enraged mob” fears, my pet nonsense overthought theory has long been that it’s no coincidence that 28 Days Later succeeded so well coming out as it did the year after 9/11*. Forget mobs: bright sunny beautiful days, life is good, tra la la, and then BAM, zombie tearing your face off! Everyone reeling and losing their minds.

This is also why it was one of the best marketing decisions ever to put the opening setpiece segment of Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead out as a freebie, because that made the above even more literal. Tra la la, beautiful suburbia, BAM, zombie child! Everything’s in flames! Holy fuck, let’s go to the mall!

Stretching further–there’s give in this, it can take it!–that aspect of Fast Zombie popularity burns out fairly quickly too, as people adjust. The tail end leads to dregs like the direct-to-video Day of the Dead “remake”, which I bring up mostly to say I think that everyone responsible for making it should be ashamed of themselves. I don’t want them shot or anything, but maybe hard labor somewhere and a lifetime of penance?

In short: terrible remake. Terrible, terrible, terrible. Good lord. I may have lost my train of thought.

*Interpretational offer may not be valid outside the US. All honorary doctorates final.

I would like to see The Dead Set. Is it BBC only?

In that the virus is inhibiting the systems that normally keep that animal rage in check. When the soldiers decide they’re going to rape the shit out of Jim’s friends, he gets so angry that he becomes indistinguishable from the zombies. Given the right circumstances it would come out in everyone else too, but the rest of the time their brains keep it under control. They’re civilized. What the virus does is remove that civility allowing people’s animal natures to take control.

I’ve always thought the scariest thing about zombies wasn’t just death but the ultimate destruction of the self. Unlike becoming a vampire, as a zombie you are husk within a horde of former humanity with nothing but a mindless hunger. Looking on the risen corpse is looking on death without an after life and facing the masses is ultimately an exercise in futility. Eventually, we will all fall.

Good point.
If a vampire and werewold gets you, you just die. Or perhaps you become one of them (if the vampire so chooses or the werewolf doesn’t kill you). Being a vampire or werewolf won’t do your immortal soul any good… but it’s still kinda cool.
Becoming a zombie just sucks.

Bob, I see what you mean by inhibitor. I might even like 28 days later more now.
But it’s not a zombie movie.

What is particularly shocking is that Pegg failed to get it after admitting to liking Charlie Brooker.

For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, Brooker (who used to write for PCZone and always tries to put in good words about games) used to run a website mocking television.

Since then, he has been part of a series called ‘Screen Wipe’ in which he mocks the endless idiocy of much of television, berates fans and reviews shows positively and negatively. He also does little parody bits on the inner working of television (with much use of the word idiot). This also appears as a column in the Guardian entitled Screen Burn. He knows television and he loathes Big Brother and crowds.

He’s also funny, in a juvenile, ranting way.

Dead Set isn’t BBC (although Screen Wipe is), it’s a Channel 4 production.

Personally, I could take or leave zombies. They don’t excite me, but I did rather enjoy Resident Evil 4.

Addendum: They broadcast all five episodes as one long episode recently. I expect that’s the form it will take on export.

Also, Tom may not be completely correct on this. Relevant interview.

How the writer feels:

Which, I suppose, knocks Simon Pegg for six.

No, you can’t. Unless you’re armed and you have survival training, you’ll end up dead pretty fast. And since you’re European, I doubt you have a gun. Z Day is not looking bright for you, my friend!

But more importantly, even were you to survive for a few weeks, what then? How well do you honestly think you’d cope with friends and family moaning for a taste of your delicious flesh? A week? Two? When faced with the reality of being totally alone in a hostile environment, the mind can only last so long.

And eventually you’ll have to deal with the lack of a renewable supply of food – even survival experts can die trying to live off the land.

but there’s always the risk of something unpredictable happening, the people around you turning mean, the people around you doing something stupid or you being human for a second and doing something else than being vigilant about the zombies.
One bite is all it takes and people rarely die because they’re overcome by the zombies but because something happens to them and they find themselves cornered or overwhelmed.

Think about it. If nobody dies to zombies… then where did all the zombies come from?