Slow zombies or fast? Know your rules.

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.

About Jeff Moriarty

A dabbler in many arts, from Ignite Phoenix to Improv, and from Information Security to Screenwriting. Jeff loves creating new things, and tries his hand at many forms of writing from screenplays to prose. He pontificates on his personal blog, and helps authors get their works online.


  1. A mix? Fast and slow zombies in the same movie? Oh, that just won’t do. That’s one of those choices that affects the tone of your movie. But you have to make it and you were right to encourage him to pin it down. Seems to me that’s a big part of the discipline of screenwriting. Make the choices, define your universe, and then really stick to it.

  2. I honestly can’t see any reason not to include a mix of fast- and slow-zombies. I agree, of course, that a writer should define his universe and stick to it. But why not define the universe as having a variety of zombies with a variety of speeds and abilities?
    One great resource I’m using, writing a zombie story, is Max Brooks’ “Zombie Survival Guide”. Paraphrasing, he says consistently that ‘a zombie’s trait’s are determined by who they were in life’, i.e.: a cross-country runner, zombified and in pursuit of prey, would be faster than an undead body builder. On the other hand, the body builder would be stronger and harder to bring down.

    In summary, mix speeds is O.K., read the Survival Guide, zombie traits match living people. Hope you find the opinion helpful!