In my recent screenplay class, one other student was working on a pretty slick idea that involved zombies. I won’t get into the details other than to say when he got to the details of the zombies getting around, a battle broke out in the class.
True connoisseurs of the brain eating undead grew up watching the Slow zombies trudge across the screen in classics like Night of the Living Dead. The zombies were scary because they were like a force of nature, inexorable and relentless. You could whack, smack, slap, beat, and repeat these things and they were still coming for you. They were like Death itself – you could run, but eventually you would fall.
Newer zombie movies tend to favor Fast zombies. Rigor mortis doesn’t bother this crew. In fact, they’re like rotting ninjas as they come over every obstacle and around every corner. If you didn’t bring your track shoes you’re going to be lunch.
The debate was mostly along generational lines, or which versions you saw first as you were growing up. Slow or Fast, they each have a different story to tell. The moral of it all was to know the rules of your own universe.
I’m a Slow Zombie guy, so I lobbied my case accordingly. I got nervous when the writer said he was going for a mix of Fast and Slow zombies. A mix?! He was a little fuzzy on what was causing his zombies to become zombified, and just liked the idea of two different speeds. We then pushed him to try and define his world better. You need to know your own rules to convey them effectively to the audience. You’ll quickly lose your viewer if your genre changes mid-stream or the impossible happens out of left field. They’ll feel cheated.
So pick your zombie’s top speed to suit your story, then let them do their thing.