Zombie films have been popular for a long time, and probably aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. The theme of apocalypse is likewise popular; zombie films take that theme to an all new playing field when it is suggested that it won’t be natural events that destroy the world but humans themselves. Still, the zombie film isn’t free of its own list of endless clich©s that seem to pop up in almost every film of the genre. The question is whether these are clich©s that make the films, or consistent themes and plot developments that will eventually bore their ever-devoted fans. Here’s a look at ten of the top clich©s that will gnaw at your brain the next time you watch your favorite zombie flicks.
In just about every zombie movie under the sun, the ragtag group of survivors inevitably decides the place they just have to go is an abandoned warehouse. Sure there are no doors, the windows are broken, it’s dark and shadowy, and there are only about a billion places a zombie could come shambling out of at any minute — why wouldn’t you hide in there?! In more modern films, the warehouse has been replaced by subway stations, abandoned grocery stores, and other large areas with lots of shadows for zombies to hide in.
Hide in the Closet/Attic/Other Inescapable Room
Nothing says, “Oh, yeah, this guy’s going down” like the moron who decides that the best place to hide during a zombie attack is his closet, the attic, the basement, or some other closed in room. And you can bet there’s one of these people in every single zombie movie. In “28 Days Later”, not only does a survivor hide in the bathroom — she hides behind a mirror. Of course, there’s always the chance that somehow, inexplicably, the character who chooses the worst hiding spot in all of creation still survives.
“Let’s split up”
A group of four or more people is always going to split up in a zombie movie. It just has to happen. Maybe half of the foursome decides it’s better to run and hide while the other half thinks it would be fun to go to an amusement park. Maybe three survivors get together harmoniously but there’s that one guy who thinks the other three are morons and decides to strike out on his or her own. Perhaps the four survivors pull into a gas station and while one fills up the tank, another runs to the bathroom, the third looks for food in the dark and spooky abandoned shop, and the fourth just wanders off as if he or she’s forgotten there are zombies prowling everywhere. At least one of the four will be infected before they regroup, and the other three will stand in shock and disbelief as they watch his or her transformation take place. There will also be a debate about whether or not the newly infected former ally should be killed.
Nobody’s ever seen a zombie movie
Have you ever noticed that nobody in a zombie movie ever seems to have seen a zombie movie? You can tell because while you’ve been sitting in front of your television screaming, “Shoot it in the head! The head!!” for the past fifty minutes, it’ll be hours before someone realizes the only way to kill a zombie is to, in fact, shoot it in the head. This realization will then have to be explained for five minutes. Despite this knowledge, at least half the characters will continue a bloody assault of sword slicing and belly shots, and only after having completely mutilated the already half-decayed body of a zombie will they begrudgingly smash, shoot, or slice the brain.
“Oh nooo, my boyfriend got bit!”
Whether it’s someone’s boyfriend, father, or long-time ally in the fight against the undead, there will always be a woman who gets to wail for the cameras for about twenty minutes because the main man in her life was infected and shot in front of her. Sure, sometimes a guy will watch helplessly as his wife or child or lover or best friend becomes a zombie, but at least he can usually keep his senses and kill the zombie before it is too late. If it’s a woman, you can bet someone else will have to do the honors. She’ll weep over the slowly transforming body and caress the soon-to-be-zombie’s head, or stand in the background screaming and wailing as someone else has to fight her former beloved to the death. Then, for the next fifteen to twenty minutes she’ll sit in a stupor. There’s also a good chance that she will, eventually, give up on life and decide it would be better to be infected, to join her beloved in un-death.
“No, no, I’m not infected, it’s just a scratch.”
Zombie movies often start with some character coming into the hospital with a “strange bite.” Or perhaps the protagonist’s best friend saunters into his apartment with the “bizarre” story of how “Some weirdo tried to bite me!” This person is always, always, infected; furthermore, despite the fact that it takes all of two seconds for anyone else to make the transition from alive to zombie, this character will take anywhere from five minutes to two-thirds of the film to make the switch. There’s also always the character who knows she was bitten and denies it, or makes someone promise not to tell anyone. This character may also stand right in front of the protagonist with a gaping, oozing bite mark on his arm and claim, “But I’m okay, seriously, I don’t even feel like a zombie!” Half the time the protagonist'”or someone with a bit more stomach'”will, without mercy, mow that character down with a bat, ax, or maybe even his or her bare hands. The other half of the time, however, the rest of the characters will inexplicably buy the story and move on, or try to save the character even though they’ve watched about a gazillion news reports in which the anchor has said, “There is no known cure,” or , “The CDC has been disbanded,” or some other nice way of saying, “Yeah, your friend’s a goner, dude.”
Dude — You can’t outrun a ZOMBIE?!
Particularly in early zombie movies, zombies would stand outside a home banging on the door and windows as a group of survivors tried desperately to hold them off. More recently, zombies shamble down the road at about a centimeter every two minutes while survivors watch from a safe zone and argue about how to escape. No one seemed to figure out that at the speed the zombie was moving, the survivors could have casually strolled out to their car and driven away. They probably could have walked to safety. Yet somehow, the zombie or zombies always catch up and infect at least one person. In more modern films, directors have tried to buck this tradition by making their zombies capable of moving like marathon runners.
An Infected Yet Lovable Animal
Perhaps the zombie outbreak started with lab experiments on poor, innocent monkeys. Maybe an entire apartment complex was infected by someone’s “rabid” dog. The main character may have to sit and watch his beloved pet become a zombie in his arms. No matter what animal, or for what reason, at some point in a zombie movie there’s going to be a cute, cuddly animal that both suffers needlessly and causes insurmountable amounts of damage.
Yay, it’s the Militia we’re going to fear in five minutes!
Finally, you think as your favorite band of zombie fighters crests a horizon to discover a fortified sanctuary, salvation has arrived. Only, it’s not salvation, not exactly. It’s a former general, or a bunch of Army foot soldiers in camouflage pants, rifles, and face masks, or maybe a former neighborhood watch group equipped with guns and grenades. Bottom line is, it’s a militia, and you can never, ever, trust them in a zombie movie. The heroes will be saved and safe for all of five minutes before the leader of the militia starts spouting his plans to recolonize the earth, or one of his followers starts whispering, “No, why did you come here? Get out! Get out now!” Or maybe the former military troop is just too cocky for their own good and winds up getting taken out. In any case, when the heroes of a zombie movie run into the militia, it is never going to end well.
We’re saved — Or are we?
Another thing that’s true for almost every zombie movie: the heroes are never actually saved. In “Zombieland” they ride off happily together as the world burns. In “28 Days Later” they wave their hands gleefully at a rescue helicopter, but are never actually picked up; “28 Weeks Later” shows us just how “rescued” they were. Even in “I Am Legend”, when a cure to the zombie-like Cripin Virus was discovered, we never see the cure put into effect. Fans are left with hope, but not a lot of help, in many zombie films. In others, like 2004’s remake of “Dawn of the Dead”, fans are left with less-than-hope when it is hinted that there is no hope for a cure, no escaping the zombie hoard, and no safe place to hide.
Just because zombie films are home to tons of cliches doesn’t mean they will fail to captivate audiences any time soon. There will always be new ways to renew the zombie theme in cinema, even if every film plays out the same cliches we’ve already seen a million times. What the future holds for zombie films is hard to say, but what fans of the genre will surely unite to say is: Keep them coming!