Zombies Rule! Vampires Drool!

Vampires bother me.  And not just because some wackjob housewife decided to make it popular that they sparkle. They’ve always been so generic.  While they are the quintessential things that go bump in the night, Vampires vs Zombiesthey also have no real flair.  Even the most unique take on vampire lore can  only go so far.

On the other hand, Zombies make me smile.  Their lurching and moaning seems fun.  No matter what mode creators use to approach zombies—comedy like Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead, serious horror like George Romero, or social commentary like Max Brooks’ World War Z—I never think the action is redundant or overdone.

But why?  What is it about vampires that makes me reluctant to pick up their fiction while zombies draw me to them like Mulder to aliens.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  There are vampire stories I like.  I enjoy 30 Days of Night.  I like Jim Butcher’s take on the various vampire courts in The Dresden Files.  I also fell fully in love with True Blood. But all of the vampire stories I like have one thing in common: vampires are not the primary draw for the narrative.  They are only a device that moves the plot forward.

Even my favorite zombie stories, World War Z and 28 Weeks Later, allow the creatures themselves to be secondary to the narrative instead of the driving force behind it.  The best monster stories, if you ask me, are those where the monstrous characteristics sharply contrast the human element that makes them relevant to us.

As far as the creatures’ utilization goes, though, I have a few ideas why I prefer zombie fiction to vampires:

  • Vampires are overdone.  Sure, Dracula is a fantastic book.  It’s even aVampire pretty decent movie.  The first dozen times you read it.  After that, it loses something. Unfortunately, vampire fiction has barely moved past the Stokerfied conventions, and stories like 30 Days of Night are the exception rather than the rule.
  • Vampires are a metaphor for rape.  Striking as a surprise from the darkness, penetrating their victims,and leaving them an empty husk? Not for me; no thanks.  I don’t want to support even a metaphor for something so aberrant. It makes me honestly wonder about fangbangers and Twilight (among other recently and inexplicably popular series) fans who never look past the surface of stories they expose themselves to.
  • Zombies are visceral. In most vampire lit, the monsters have to be dealt with one at a time.  Very rarely are there more than a handful of vamps at any given time, and most of the time, the vampire hunters have to have a plan to take on their foes.  This makes for a very sporadic story with many action highs and lows.  Zombies, however, constantly bombard the protagonists. Sure, they are no match individually, but en masse, they can destroy a whole world, and when the main characters go on a killing spree, there is more than a single payoff—there are dozens, if not hundreds,of deaths. It appeals to the animal in me more than I would expect.
  • Zombies are scarier.  Vampires are less than frightening for me because they have no real basis in reality.  (“And zombies do?” you ask. Hear me Zombies out.) In my mind, no mythos out there is a feasible way for vampires to actually exist, thereby making even the scariest vampire nothing but a fantasy that cannot have any power over me I don’t allow. Zombies, however, have many real life allegories.  Not so much in the rotting and brain craving category, but in the mindless, unfeeling, animalistic killing of others.  Be it through political, religious, or another kind of brainwashing, the idea of a throng of people willing to kill for no reason is not unprecedented in history, much less our society.  And that scares the living hell out of me. More than any blood sucker who can turn into a bat ever could.

So what about y’all?  Are there any creature features that you just cannot get into?

Comments

  1. Ben Miller

    I really enjoy reading posts like this, Professor. I disagree with the premise and love vampire tales. However, I cannot find a good place to start debating your points, you make a very good arguement. Thank you for this thought provoking post.

  2. It’s like asking whether Buffy is better than Lost. Both vampires and zombies can be done well, or done poorly. Vamps have been done much more often than zombies, though, so we have a tremendous oeuvre of bad vampire stories.

    I think zombies are scarier, because they represent a loss of consciousness, whereas vampires only lose their souls.
    .-= jane´s last blog ..Briar Rose Learns to Read =-.

    • I think it’s interesting to think that some mythos (which pains to me include Twilight among them) include vampires losing their souls as a belief rather than a fact, and I think that can add a bit of needed depth and spirituality to dull tales.

  3. You sir …nail it.
    It is true that most Vampire tales have eroded into a pseudo-sexual meaning instead of the monster they should be is hard to take for me.
    My wife loves it…but myself? Not so much.
    The only other vamps I like are the cultures…i.e: like Vampire the Masquerade where factions and in fighting proves to be more prominent within the story (Blade, True Blood, etc)…otherwise…30 Days of Nights vamps rocked (movie…not so much, comic is awesome).

    Great post…Thanks
    .-= Openedge1´s last blog ..What is a "Knee Jerk Reaction"? =-.

    • I actually very much enjoyed the 30 Days of Night movie. While it wasn’t the best, it certainly beat out most run-of-the-mill vamp stories. Which is why I fell so hard for True Blood. An interesting premise can go far with me.

    • Yeah, you know me and my love of anything post-apocalyptic. Vampires can’t destroy society. Zombies can. There’s something to be said about mindless throngs and the power they wield…

  4. I’m not sure I agree with some of your points like the rape thing and sexual stuff. Yeah, maybe it’s got something to do with the blood drinking aspect but I honestly think it’s got more to do with the original Dracula novel and how he was portrayed in that and the strange love story it involved. I think people have just latched onto that idea and used it since then without changing it.

    If you want to see vampires being scary, check out I Am Legend… the book, not the *spit* film that is 🙂

    Oddly enough though, I think the reason I Am Legend is so good is because it has the same element that most zombie books and films have – isolation. That’s the truly scary thing about zombies, not the creatures themselves. If you did what vampires stories did and took a single or handful of zombies and placed them in a action/romance whatever setting, it would be just as crap as vampires 🙂

    Finally, gotta say, you should read the Walking Dead graphics novels if you don’t already 🙂

    Nice post 🙂
    .-= We Fly Spitfires´s last blog ..Mega Patches And Slow Downloads =-.

    • I haven’t read those. I might have to add them to my Amazon wish list.

      And as far as I Am Legend goes, I think you’re right. The book was fantastic because it relied on the zombie mainstays I love–survival and isolation. I did like the movie, though. But I’m a Will Smith fanboy. I have Big Willy Style on CD in my car to this day.

  5. I’ve written about zombies a few times. In short, I’m decidedly not a fan of the visceral gore and “violence porn”, but I do find some interesting storytelling potential in the underlying themes of mindless mob action and Sun Tsu-ish use of the enemy’s resources. (A common theme of necromancy, anyway; kill your foes then reanimate their corpses to use in your army for further conquest.) I’ll also agree with Robert, in that post-apocalyptic stories have a certain morbid fascination for me.

    For example, I love using enemy resources in the MechWarrior universe. Headshotting an enemy mech and slotting in one of your pilots, turning the enemy’s strengths against them is very “necromantic” *mechanically*, but the theme and trappings are very different. I find I like the strategic applications of “zombie” mechanics in game design *far* more than the theme of the beasts. The gore and violence inherent in the “proper” zombie theme just puts me off, no matter how much I may like the mechanics.

    The underlying “losing your mind” aspect of zombies is also scary and interesting. I value my cognitive processes a great deal, and one of the scariest personal threats I’ve considered isn’t loss of life or limb, it’s loss of my mind. So it’s not so much the zombies themselves that I fear (just another dumb monster to shoot with guns or hit with a bat, whatever), it’s what *being* a zombie represents… and if those shambling hordes have the ability to *infect* me, well, *that’s* scary. (And one reason why the Warcraft 3 Undead “disease” was far more interesting to me than the trope-laden Romero zombie tradition.)
    .-= Tesh´s last blog ..Allod of Pictures =-.

    • Yeah, the spread of zombies is far more terrifying than vamps to me. I wouldn’t mind being a vampire. Immortality and superpowers if I give up being in the sun and drink some blood? I’m okay with that. Zombies on the other hand are subhumans, and the thought of being turned into one of those and losing everything I am is terrifying. It’s the same reason the Saw movies are frightening. Not because they are gory and violent, but because of the inherent choices by proxy the narrative places on the viewer.

  6. I like most monster stories… As far as the “generics” are concearned, werewolves/wolfmen have always been my favorite. Especially such tales as the original Lon Cheney “The Wolf Man.” The hapless individual, sometimes completely innocent, caught up in a curse. Like your concept of “real” zombies, there are also “real” wolf men in the sense we can lose control of our tempers, become “monsters” unexpectedly. It’s a concept that most people can relate to.

    Recently I have also become enamored with the “true” side of fairy tales. While in modern times we think of fairies and elves as friendly magical beings, the fact is that in many cultures they are monsters of the worst kind. Feyfolk taking children to be slaves, even sexually. Sneaking into the human world and corrupting monarchies and governments. Sure you may not ever find a real fairy per se, but this is also contrived in real human concept, in that it shows the human capacity for adaption or modification of other cultures. Turning monsters in to magic.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love vampires. But in the grand scheme of things, they are quite dull (exception to things like True Blood) to what we have as far as horror fiction goes. A vampire story is more often than not, an easy way out for a writer. It’s lazy.

    If you want amazing takes on monsters, I suggest picking up a World of Darkness sourcebook. Not only do they have great adaptations of vampires and werewolves, but also golems (Frankenstein monsters) and feyfolk (faires, elves, etc . . .). Right now my favorite is their concept on spirits, or possessive entities called Geists.
    .-= John A.´s last blog ..Pride and Prejudice and Comics =-.

    • I’d always heard that about faeries, but I’ve never read anything in-depth about it, honestly. Any good stuff that gives some insight into the actual origins of how faeries came to be so feared?

      • Nosferatu

        Faeries before Victorian era (where we get the cute, sprite-like faeries) were seen as elementals. They were very powerful creatures whom you didn’t cross. Look at Oberon and Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. They have influence over everyone in the show.

        Faeries in lore would sometimes spirit people away to serve as their servants. They would also leave their fairy offspring (a changeling) in exchange of a human child. I believe even up into the early 20th century, there are reports of people in some more remote parts of England and Europe having killed a child thinking that it was a changeling.

  7. Nosferatu

    I’m going to have to disagree with you about about the whole vampire/zombie idea. I love good vampire books and lore. The stuff that you can truly respect. And you have to take the idea of the vampire back to the mindset of when the idea originated. It was an illogical response to the idea of bodies rotting in the earth…their blotted forms and flushed appearance became the basis for the myth, and the fact that people also associated them with plagues and diseases of the time.

    In my mind, a vampire also doesn’t go bump in the night in my head. Vampires tend to be more eloquent beings living among the humans but not being part of them. They also represent all the bad aspects of humanity just exemplified. If you take Dracula for instance, he has all the desires and drives of any man; however, his drives take a more perilous front seat than many men because he has the power to go forward and nothing that can hold him back (save garlic, holy relics, stake through the heart). A reading of him could be paralleled to any tyrranical dictator that has been or will be.

    While vampires can symbolize rape, they also represent the dawn of plague and darkness upon the land. During the course of human history, a lot of the time that plagues and turmoil of that nature arose, one could find it giving rise to the mythos of the vampire because they were considered the bringers of death. In the older ideal of the vampire, the vampire was a more personal creature going back to slowly take away their family, friends, and town folk to the darkness that is their death. For me, they represent the death that they inevitably cause because no matter how careful a vampire is in fiction or the movies they will eventually take a life. However, I do agree that they are also a perfect metaphor for rape because they do “penetrate” their victims and take their innocence away.

    While I will admit that you are right about the vampire stories written from the “human” perspective, I will have to say that you need to read some vampire lit from the perspective of the vampire. Anne Rice does a brilliant job of this. She writes from the idea that the vampire is just a human who happens to have immortality, other special powers, and has to live off blood. Her vampires are just exceptionally flawed humans. They are set in their ways and have trouble changing with the times just like many of our older generation. They have loves, can’t stand to be around each other for extended periods of time, hate who created them, and eventually come back to this dark parent at some point with love leading the way.

    I think that vampires are scarier too. We each have our own personal “vampires” that we deal with on a daily basis. They are anything that steals a bit of our spirit, of our soul, of our life blood. Religious cults also equate to religion because they have to “baptise” the new comers to their order with their own blood (anybody reminded of Christianity…everything is covered by Jesus’s blood). They also remind me of the cold, calculated evil of any dictator or religious fanatic that has sprung up in the last several hundred years like Vlad Dracul who is still celebrated as a hero in Transylvania, although we look on him as a mass murderer and altogether unsavory individual.

    I don’t know. Vampires hold a fascination for me that no zombie ever could. I think it’s because they hold their individuality after “death” and still have to choose their own path or be left in the dust (no pun intended). They have infinite possibilities. I hate that the drivel that comes out of the mainstream has reduced this creature to a sparkling, love-sick wuss instead of the scary mofos they are…

    • I think that’s precisely why they don’t scare me as much. They hold their individuality after death, and because of that, simply become superhuman and live forever. While I can see what you’re talking about regarding Anne Rice, I have a hard time seeing that as a true flaw in their existence. Zombies aren’t self-aware, and to me, that kind of mindless violence is far more frightening than an elegant bloodsucker, like I mentioned earlier.

      I do love actual vampire lore, though, as in their historical contexts. I will give them that: their origin is a lot more interesting than the voodoo zombies from Haiti and Africa, if you ask me.