I enjoy a good zombie movie. Although I may have a heart attack if I ever saw even a remotely plausible one. Of course possibility isn’t always needed in the horror genre. Thrillers depend on it, horror simply preys on people’s fears and zombies can be scary. Except . . .
The ability to suspend disbelief is an art. In some things, I just don’t have the knack. Zombies drive me nuts. It’s probably because they’ve broken out of books and movies and everywhere I turn I see ‘the zombie apocalypse.’ Really? If that’s the horror monster that comes true, we should be so lucky.
Now, let’s talk about rules. Every monster scenario has a different set of rules, but zombies so far are more consistent than many. I’m actually not concerned about infection; it’s the zombie itself that makes me giggle. Yes, I mean giggle.
A zombie is a reanimated dead body. They’re pretty consistent about that. The other thing most books/movies are fairly consistent about is that their brain has ceased working except for the most primitive parts – that’s why they’re driven by feeding. In Maslow’s pyramid of needs; food, water, shelter, and warmth are the most basic; and shelter and warmth aren’t necessary. Water is ignored because, admit it, it’s just not scary to have a zombie break into your home to get a glass of water.
The speed a zombie can move at seems to be an interesting variable. The correct answer should be ‘dead slow,’ but Hollywood doesn’t deal with realism. Shall we talk about what makes muscles move on a cellular level and how that just isn’t happening? No. We have to buy into a little bit of magic in the case of zombies. Their blood is coagulated in their circulatory system. Their cells are starved of oxygen, nutrients, and energy, and waste is building up to toxic levels. We’ll ignore decomposition. Nerves transmit electrical impulses how? From a brain that’s dead except for the most basic functions? Okay, we’ll say their instinct to hunt you is a basic function.
How does a zombie hunt its prey? Ignoring there should be no impulses sent from the eyes, the eyes are dead. Zombies don’t blink. This is a small detail rarely addressed and yet fairly common across the genre – dead, milky eyes. If you don’t blink, you’d go blind. Dust particles would scratch your cornea and, nervous system aside, you wouldn’t be able to see your quarry.
Smell? If the blood is coagulated, there’s no point to a zombie breathing. We smell things because we breathe, or because we specifically inhale for the purpose of trying to discover/explore how something smells. Intentionally trying to sniff something requires reasoning – a higher brain function that zombies don’t have.
Of course they moan much of the time which implies they do breathe, even though they don’t need to. Lungs are lubricated inside, except for when you’re dead of course, so in a zombie they’d be shredded. I suppose you don’t need lungs to breathe if you’re not going to use the air, just a diaphragm, which they would still have. They wouldn’t breath through their nose though, or at least not for long. Blowing your nose requires higher brain function, and the delicate cilia of the olfactory receptor neurons are buried in mucus. Mucus collects dust. Before it hardens to concrete over the receptors. First they won’t be able to smell and eventually the nose would fill with enough debris they would be forced to ‘breathe’ through their mouths.
Hearing? That one I’ll buy, but only to a point. Reacting to a sound is basic, identifying the sound isn’t. A zombie might chase a fly that flew too close to its ear until something else caught its attention. If it’s chasing you, be quiet, throw a rock, and you’re golden.
The sense of touch is tricky. If a zombie is touching you – it’s a big fail on your part. Luckily, you might still be okay. Just like with the sense of sound, identification requires higher functioning. If just a sense of touch activated a zombie’s feeding or grabbing reflex it’d be . . . amusing. Even if heat was a factor, on the first hot day they’d be trying to grab and eat everything the sun touched. It has to be able to recognize food even without that critical higher reasoning.
Body heat is sending up big warning flags to me, but it’s one of those things that would be difficult to know for sure. You know, something in the Goldilocks zone? Not too hot, not too cold, soft, shrinks away when touched . . . A zombie doesn’t have any more senses than we do, or I’d say they’re like sharks in that they can sense our minute electrical field. Humans don’t have that built in though, and it’s not like dead bodies are sent back to the shop for an upgrade on features. At the moment, we’ll have to chalk that up to magic too.
So, zombie apocalypse – unless you’re an idiot or seriously unlucky, it should be a snap.