Why don't people in zombie movies say the word "zombie?"


#1

Walker, biter, uglies, zeds, freds, infected, etc.

Why do movies, comics, TV shows, and sometimes even games about zombies refuse to use the word zombie?

Does zombie media not exist in these universes?

I think it’s a weird stylistic choice by almost every zombie thing to not call them zombies, when most of the people in those stories would definitely know what a zombie is.


#2

It’s a pretty well documented phenomenon. (TV Tropes)

It’s really ingrained into the genre. I guess it’s because discovering what the monsters are is part of the terror. If the characters are just like “oh yeah that’s a zombie, the living dead,” you lose a little of that.


#3

Honestly, it’s something I’d like to see other established horror monsters toy with more often.

Like a vampire movie where no one has ever even heard of a vampire.


#4

I’m pretty sure that there have been vampire movies like that. I just can’t remember any specifically.

As for not saying the word “zombie,” I know it’s a genre thing, but all the same, I’d just like to see a movie where someone just gets frustrated that people keep dancing around the z-word and goes on a Nicholas Cage in The Wicker Man-esque rant that culiminates in screaming “Zombies!” repeatedly at the top of his lungs.


#5

#6

I’d just figured it’s because the original Night of the Living Dead never said “zombie” because it more or less invented (or at least canonized) the modern depiction of zombies. Before that movie, a “zombie” was used as a term to describe a hypnotized person, usually some kind of slave

But that also doesn’t entirely explain how the term zombie came to be used, if George Romero himself never called them that originally. I suppose it could have been a term that came up through weaker copycat films and definitively calling them “zombies” means you’re of that lower standard of quality. By calling them “ghouls” or “geeks” or “walkers” you are honoring the standard Romero set forth.


#7

I like it when media does the opposite of this. Wasn’t Zoey in L4D big into zombie movies?


#8

Yeah, I think they describe her as a horror movie buff. It’s also a running joke in the first Left 4 Dead that Francis calls the monsters “vampires” and the rest of the team will argue with him about how they’re zombies.


#9

There are plenty of movies and games where they’re called zombies, but after 28 Days Later came out and called them Infected while also being a popular flick and having a reputation as the smart person’s zombie film, lots of writers jumped on the “they’re NOT zombies they’re _____!” bandwagon.

“Zombie” being used for this type of monster in the first place started with Dawn of the Dead when it was released in parts of Europe with the title Zombi, and received a sequel called Zombi 2 in Italy that came out in the rest of the world as Zombie. Basically that movie and the first two Return of the Living Dead movies, while not super well known today, are where a lot of the “rules” and cliches about how zombies as we know them today came from.


#10

God, between this thread and the graffiti thread I really want to jump back into some L4D2


#11

I feel like, as well as 28 Days Later being a trendsetter for it, there’s something to be said for what @NeoRasa said about it being “the smart person’s zombie film”. ‘Zombie’ feels like an ‘un-serious’ word, in the same way that you’ll rarely see a superhero film use the word ‘superhero’ (except in glib/sarcastic ways). Using something else gives the intellectual out of making a serious film, as opposed to a popcorn Hollywood flick.


#12

The Occam’s Razor explanation in these films/shows (ala The Walking Dead) is that zombie narratives just don’t exist in their world. This allows those narratives to hinge on tropes that would be very familiar to people in a world with a lot of zombie narratives.

  1. Zombies aren’t alive anymore.
  2. Don’t get bitten.
  3. It takes a headshot to ‘kill’ a zombie.
    Etc.

In some ways, this allows for some structural laziness, in re-playing the same beats. But hitting those beats may be a feature for some even if it’s a bug for others, especially if a narrative is playing with expectations.


#13

I believe it’s known as ‘genre blindness’ more broadly. The idea that it’s can be good to ignore the fact that certain in-genre things exist in order to allow the film to exist in its own bubble. It would be distracting in a non-comedic zombie film if someone kept on pointing out that these are zombies like in all those zombie films.


#14

Personally, I think it’s lazy or timid writing.

“Lazy” because acknowledging the existence of zombies would immediately impact the actions of the characters (Shaun of the Dead, btw, handles this well).

“Timid” because it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking “well the audience knows the characters in my zombie story know that zombies already exist, they’re going to spot all the times the characters react irrationally!” without understanding that the audience (mostly) won’t care that much if it isn’t characters running around acting like idiots.