Anything But a Z*****

I’ve always noticed a weird trend in books and movies featuring the undead; no one uses the Z word.

Picture this: the characters encounter one of those things, someone calls it a –gasp– zombie, and said character is reprimanded for doing so. Jeez! That moaning, flesh-eating, only-can-be-killed-with-headshot guy isn’t a zombie! He’s just… sick. He’s just…ahh…

Or, better yet, people just never ever use the word “zombie” as though the concept of a zombie is simply nonexistent in the reality the movie is set in. I understand the need to suspend certain aspects of reality to create a movie, of course, and I don’t mind that at all! But the fact that only zomedies use the Z word is interesting. You notice that, right? I’m sure you do.

What’s wrong with calling a zombie a zombie? I’m honestly not sure. Perhaps removing the concept of Zombie from the characters’ reality contributes to the overwhelming drama and horror of the whole thing. It would make sense since in a zomedy—in which people use the Z word and fully accept the undead for what they are—people don’t take the situation seriously, thus making the whole thing humorous.

So, reduced, when the concept of Zombie is known to the characters’ it creates humor and/or empowers them. If the concept of Zombie is unknown, their reality is more horrifying.

And so, my friend, there is some brains for thought.

Get it?

I’m sure you do.

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About Eloise J. Knapp

Eloise J. Knapp is an author and designer living in the Pacific Northwest.
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6 Responses to Anything But a Z*****

  1. Peter Clines says:

    Y’know, there was a movie years back by a certain “noteworthy” filmmaker called NEAR DARK. It was a vampire movie with about half a dozen bloodsuckers in it that got a lot of praise for never, ever using the word “vampire.”

    It always struck me as kind of fake and affected, though. When you’re dealing with a bunch of near-immortals with superhuman strength who hate sunlight and drink blood… why -wouldn’t- you call them vampires? It’s a common, often-used word. In fact, it’s hard to believe there’s anyone who doesn’t know it. Rewatching the movie a few years back, the characters actually seem kind of dense for not realizing “they’re vampires!”

    Despite the money it brings in, horror’s always been the ghetto of filmmaking, and I’m sure it’s not far off in publishing, either. So I think a lot of “serious” writers and directors try to downplay the horror aspect by not actually using silly terms like “zombie” and giving their film an artsy edge. Because then they’re not doing that crap horror stuff, they’re doing something clever and noteworthy.

    Just my thoughts…

  2. I actually get it if you set your story in a universe where the Zombie mythos isn’t prevalent, that way you can experience Zombies from a point of view that hasn’t been influenced by popular culture. But, if your story is set in our reality, just call them damn Zombies, I just read one book where they were called anything but Zombies, except for in the very beginning. Either go with Zombies or pick a term and stick with it.

  3. montoure says:

    I’ve definitely noticed it, too. You occasionally see it done with vampires and werewolves, too, but not nearly as often. I think the writers/producers think if they change the word, then they’re automatically being more original.

    It’s definitely unrealistic, especially when you consider that when something like that drug-fueled cannibal attack in Miami happened, *everyone’s* first reaction was “OMG zombies!”

  4. Penelope says:

    Nice one El! That’s the one thing about the Walking Dead that bugs me. Three seasons and these folks STILL don’t realize what’s chasing them?!?

  5. Crystal says:

    The last thing anyone who thinks horror is always the ghetto of filmmaking/publishing should be doing is writing or publishing horror. Writers and directors who try to downplay the horror aspect of horror in hopes of giving their film/book an artsy edge so they can stand on some type of pedestal are the main culprits of writing & producing all that crap horror stuff.

    A lot of people rolled their eyes when the ‘next new zombie’ movie or book comes out because its an over saturated genre so it takes a very unique piece to stand out, unfortunately renaming the zombie is not enough because most of the zombie fiction out there is hammering the same nails over and over…and over.

    I love horror fiction, I write horror fiction, I breath and eat all things horror but rarely have I read a zombie story or watched a zombie movie that I really, really liked. I stopped watching TWD early in the 1st season because it’s all same old, same old, to me. But with that being said I almost did back flips when I saw that Isaac Marion’s Warm Bodies was being adapted for film.

  6. Surely the use of the word zombie depends on the universe the story is used? If it is set in our world everyone will know the word. If it is set in a world where this is a completely new phenomenon then they characters would evolve their own terminology.

    If a story can reference the existing canon of zombie horror then it’s more likely to be a comedy playing off the unbelievableness of the situation and exploring what zombie lore applies (like Shaun of the Dead).

    If it’s a horror about the outbreak of the zombie virus then the absences of existing zombie “rules” from the characters experience helps build up peril. We the reader know about bites and head shots but the characters don’t and have to find out the hard way (which can be some the key points the writer want’s us to consider).

    Then there is the twist. Often a writer will take the well know zombie infection and place a small but significant twist on the lore (like 28 days later or Rammbock).

    For me it’s a third wall kind of deal. A character saying “zombie” confirms everything the “reader” knows about zombies. It constrains the story and set expectations at what character should and shouldn’t do. And it makes a reader fell safe with their presumptions.

    Thats my opinion for what it’s worth. 🙂

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