Zombies are so ubiquitous in pop culture these days that other monsters (dead and undead) are frequently mistaken for them. But of course, just because something seems kind of zombie-like doesn’t make it an actual zombies, so all the usual rules about your standard Romero-style undead don’t apply. That being said, a shot through the head is still a pretty good idea if you find yourself face-to-face with any of them.
Probably the most commonly misrepresented member of the undead, which frequently results in labeling Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy as zombie flicks. Not your usual mindless, shambling corpses, though, Deadites are possessed by evil spirits and as such as remarkably intelligent. Not only that, but according to the movies’ mythology, Deadites can never truly be killed. Even their method of possession is a little bit unclear. Suffice it to say, should you wind up in a cabin in the woods inhabited by Deadites, you’re in a lot worse shape than if there were just a few zombies knocking at your door.
Whatever impression you may have from the games, Dead Space’s Necromorphs are much more than just zombies in space. They’re fairly intelligent alien creatures who just happen to be born from the corpses of infected bodies. Most important to know when facing them is that a bite won’t infect a living creature. That being said, the size and strength of Necromorphs still make them formidable opponents, even when compared with your modern strain of fast zombies. Probably the most important thing to know when facing a Necromorph is to ignore the head and go for the limbs instead, though why that works so well we have no idea.
While Richard Matheson’s original novel for I Am Legend featured what are pretty clearly vampires, the film instead has “Darkseekers.” These are creatures who combine pretty much the worst qualities of both vampires and zombies, unable to come out during the daytime yet also prone to travelling in mindless hordes. But Darkseekers aren’t actually undead (since they can be treated), and their disease can transfer through animals. Why some are smarter than others is anyone’s guess—it may be that some of the Darkseekers are also subject to lazy screenwriter’s syndrome.
The monsters in Rec are close enough to zombies to qualify the film for our best zombies movies list. Do you turn into one when bitten? Check. Do they eat flesh? Check. Are they by all appearances mindless creatures of the undead? Check yet again. However, the movies go out of their way (especially the sequels) to say that like the Deadites, these people are just subject to demonic possession. Still, those are some awfully zombie-ish demons.
Pontypool may be the most original zombie movie to come out in the past five years, but that doesn’t mean it has true, undead zombies as its antagonists. The director has actually gone out of his way to say that its virus victims are not zombies. That being said, their brainless desire to chew through human flesh means that there’s not much more of a difference, though at least with conversationalists you don’t need a headshot to inflict damage.
The wights from George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series have a lot in common with zombies, both being undead mindless hordes that seek warm flesh. However, wights are commanded by the White Walkers and as such are only mindless to an extent, and are in a sort of undead thrall. They’re also not susceptible to decapitation, and will just continue fighting without a head until burnt.
There are a lot of undead creatures out there, and many of them are pretty mindless. This includes everything from Mary Shelly’s original monster to the re-animated creatures of, umm, The Re-Animator. But these are always individual monsters, whereas zombie movies have always been about hordes of the mindless undead, not just one or two that have been created in a lab. If it can’t turn you undead, then you’re not dealing with zombies.
Okay, we admit a lot of people aren’t going to like this, but victims of the Rage Virus aren’t re-animated corpses. They don’t eat people’s brains, they’re just really, really pissed off. 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later are both fantastic movies, and certainly the most influential movies in the genre to come out since the original Night of the Living Dead. But they’re just not technically zombies, not even in the original Haitian sense of the term.