A couple posts back, I started writing a meditation on zombies. I am little perturbed about the state of zombies in our world nowadays actually. What happened to the slow lumbering zombies? Why is it all of a sudden cool to have fast moving zombies that can run you down? Don't get me wrong, I think fast moving zombies can work, but why doesn't anyone want the slow zombies anymore? Did Zack Snyder ruin that like he's ruined 300 and The Watchmen? Don't get me wrong, I liked his remake of Dawn of the Dead (and Watchmen was okay, but 300 was pretty mediocre), but between that and 28 Days Later, fast zombies (or infected zombies) have become all the rage. Aren't people scared by the slow moving zombies anymore?
My girlfriend said she thought the fast zombies would be scarier because they produce more jump scares. Well, in my opinion, jump scares can be used fairly well, but after a while, they just make a crutch for bad horror to "scare" audiences, when all it really does is surprise them. You get the same effect when the lights turn on and a group of people yell surprise. The majority of jump scares are not that scary, just abrupt. They make up for a movie's lack of true tension by creating brief glimpses of it. Fast zombies create the possibility for the zombie to pop up suddenly and scare you, but they aren't truly horrifying in most cases. Dawn of the Dead had some great scenes and it was fun, but it was really more of an action movie than a horror movie, it just happened to have zombies in it. It's also worth pointing out that the characters were better developed than the average action movie, but that's neither here nor there. The thing is, most of the scares in the Dawn remake came from jump scares. It worked though because it got tension from the characters, not the zombies.
That's also why 28 Days Later worked: it produced a lot of tension. Go back and watch that movie: it doesn't have that many jump scares, but Danny Boyle could have easily put many in there. Instead you have (one of my favorite scenes in recent movie history) the scene where Jim enters the church and is greeted by a lot of infected, including an infected priest. It's wonderfully executed and tense, yet not a jump scare to be found. In the end of the movie, there's also a scene where young Hannah is suspended behind a mirror while an infected looks at his reflection in the very same mirror. It's spooky because the danger is so imminent (and quite well shot by Mr. Boyle). 28 Days Later, with its infected zombies, stands out as a wonderful zombie movie and would easily go in my top 10 zombie movies of all time.
But 28 Days Later is a rarity like that. Slower zombies will always be scarier to me because of the tension they create. They are ever present. You can easily walk around them and get away from them, but every time you look behind you, they are still there. They don't stop. And if you stop moving, even for a night, they have suddenly come out of the woodwork to surround you. They moan, they stumble, and they drive people insane. The slow zombies can lull you into a false sense of security because they are so slow. And then when you let your guard down for second, they will get you. Even slow zombies produce jump scares. They stalk in the shadows and remain silent and motionless until you get right up next to them. There's no scream or rumble before they attack, they just bite your neck.
You may say to yourself that slow zombies aren't nearly as scary because if you were in that situation, you would totally get away from them. The fast zombies are what would get you because you couldn't out run them. And that's exactly why when the slow zombies truly come, you'll be totally screwed. At least the fast zombies will give you a screech or just come running at you. The slow moving zombies are the things that are right there when you turn a corner. You take off in a sprint and come around a building to be caught by the slow-as-molasses zombie lumbering towards you.
Slow moving zombies represent the ever present death in our lives. They can be used as an allegory for many things (and have been by Romero). Fast moving zombies are cool, but they are ultimately there for show, not for introspection. Slow moving zombies will always be scarier to me because they can represent things besides just the walking dead. For me, it's all about the approach and the slower, the better.