In the zombie genre, there are a few common reasons that people are turned into the walking dead. In early zombie movies like I Walked with a Zombie and White Zombie, it’s voodoo magic. Voodoo is also where the word zombie originates from; zombie is a reanimated corpse. In George Romero’s landmark film, Night of the Living Dead, there is no definitive reason given for the dead to rise from their graves, although there are hints that it was radiation from a falling satellite, but it is never confirmed. From there, filmmakers and authors have started the zombie apocalypse with contagious viruses, pollution and radiation, alien parasites, meteorites, and biological weapons, just to name a few. Then there are a handful of outbreaks started by things that, frankly, makes us a little terrified to delve into the minds of their creators.
10. Ladies’ Night by Jack Ketchum
Cause: Toxic Waste That Only Affects Females
In Jack Ketchum’s Ladies’ Night, a tanker truck from a company called “Ladies Inc.” gets into an accident in New York City and spills a chemical that smells like cherry lollipops. Soon afterward, females of all ages near the accident start acting strange. First, they become hypersexual and then they start attacking non-infected people, including their own families, in some truly gruesome ways. While toxic waste and pollution has been known to spark zombie outbreaks in other zombie stories, what makes Ladies’ Night so original is that only females are impacted. Males are forced to fight and kill their mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, and girlfriends because the women will tear them apart with their teeth if they can.
Originally the book was considered too graphic to be published when it was written in the early 1980s, which is saying something because Ketchum is known for his hardcore horror style of writing. A pared down version, where almost half the novel was edited out, was published in 1997.
9. Attack of the Herbals
Cause: Nazi Tea
In the small Scottish village of Lobster Cove, a businessman is planning to destroy a nature preserve to build a giant supermarket, much to the dismay of the villagers. One day, a mysterious crate turns up on the shore and two locals, Jackson and Russell, come across the crate, which has tea inside. The two guys decide that they can sell the tea to help stop the construction of the supermarket, because what’s more lucrative than selling tea bags that washed up on the beach?
They quickly realize that this isn’t some Earl Gray or Orange Pekoe tea they are dealing with. It’s actually a drug created by the Nazis that turns the drinkers into zombies. With many of the villagers infected, Jackson and Russell, along with the town drunk who is confined to a wheelchair, take on the zombies and try to stop the evil businessman.
8. The Book of Zombie
Zombie epidemics, like real epidemics, are indiscriminate and can affect anyone. However, with The Book of Zombie only one group of people is targeted: Mormons. As the Mormons attack, the survivors find out that they are tough to kill. For example, in many other zombie stories, you simply destroy the brain of the zombie. Not with the Mormons. Instead, they are killed using things that are prohibited within the Mormon faith, like caffeine, for instance.
As to why the Mormons turn into zombies, well, that is an interesting twist. Let’s just say it was a secret experiment by a very well-known religion with deep pockets. But you will have to watch the movie to find out who would do something like that.
Cause: Skin Graft
There have been a few movies where zombism has been caused by medical malpractice or from strange medical experiments, but nothing is quite like David Cronenberg‘s Rabid. A woman named Rose (played by porn star Marilyn Chambers) was in a motorcycle accident that leads to her getting a skin graft. But for some reason, her new skin develops a stinger under her armpit. The stinger feeds on other people’s blood and turns them into rabid zombies that are all highly contagious. The infection spreads quickly across Montreal, making it ground zero for the zombie apocalypse.
Like almost any other Cronenberg film, this movie mixes a lot of sex and violence. In Rabid, a lot of the infection comes during sexual moments and the stinger is very phallic looking, making this one of the most sexual zombie movies ever made. And if there is a more sexualized zombie movie, it would need to be really strange to be odder than Rabid.
6. The Signal
Cause: Transmissions Through Televisions, Radios, and Telephones
How close are you to a television, a radio, or a telephone? Chances are, for at least part of your day you’re within earshot of a radio and TV, and of course, many people have their phone with them all the time. What if a virus was transmitted through one of those? In The Signal, a static transmission is being broadcast through those mediums and causes people to act incredibly violent. The “zombies” in this film can still talk and interact with one another, the static simply alters the brain chemistry to make them homicidal.
The Signal is told in three different sections, all called transmissions, and one character, Mya appears through all the transmissions. Mya has been cheating on her husband with a man named Ben, and when the transmission starts, Mya realizes she wants to be with Ben and sets out to find him, while trying to avoid the transmission and the hordes of violent zombies.
5. Dead Alive
Cause: Bite from a Rat-Monkey
There are a few zombie outbreaks that are caused by a bite from an animal, most notably 28 Days Later, but an outbreak caused by a mythological creature is something rather unique. In Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive, or Braindead as it is sometimes called, zombism is caused by the bite from a Rat-Monkey. You may be wondering what a Rat-Monkey is. Well, it was born when tree monkeys on Skull Island (home of King Kong) were raped by plague carrying rats, thus producing the Rat-Monkey.
Dead Alive is about Lionel Cosgrove, who lives with his domineering mother. She becomes patient-zero after being bitten by the Rat-Monkey. Even after being bitten, Lionel continues to try to care for her, but things quickly get out of hand and his mother starts infecting other people.
The film is a weird mixture of Psycho and Evil Dead, so be warned, this movie is insanely gory, even by zombie movie standards.
4. Messiah of Evil
Cause: The Blood Moon
1973’s Messiah of Evil is one of the most artsy and original zombie movies out there. A young woman, Arletty, is looking for her estranged father in the town of Point Dune, California. While conducting her search, she discovers that the town is possessed by an evil entity during the occurrence of a “blood moon.” When this moon rises over the town, the residents develop an unusual hunger for anything and everything, including other dead zombies. Then, the next day everything returns to normal.
Arletty also learns that the upcoming blood moon is special because it is the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the “Dark Stranger,” who was a survivor of the Donner Party. While none of that seems to make sense, it is the movie’s actual plotline. Like we said in the opening, this movie is really artsy.
Cause: An Invisible Portal to “The Other Side”
Versus is a genre-bending zombie film from Japan and it is one of the strangest zombie stories ever told in any medium. According to the film’s lore, on Earth, there are 666 invisible portals that link our world to the “other side”. The 444th gateway is known as “The Forest of Resurrection” and it’s found in Japan. As you can probably guess from its name, when someone dies in that forest they are resurrected as zombies.
The convoluted story follows a character only identified as “Prisoner KSC2-303” and another character simply known as “the Girl.” They’re fleeing from the Yakuza through the forest, which causes problems because any time they kill a Yakuza member, he is brought back to life as a zombie; creating non-ending waves of Yakuza zombies that chase after them. If all of this sounds weird, we should just point out that this is just the premise and things only get weirder from there.
2. Cell by Stephen King
Cause: A Pulse via Cell Phones
In Stephen King’s Cell, everyone in the world’s cell phone goes off at the same time. When the person answers it, a pulse disrupts the brain. At first, everyone becomes mindless savages and they look to murder and hurt anyone they can. After the first few hours of anarchy, Clay, one of the few survivors who didn’t answer the call, bands together with some other survivors and they set off to find Clay’s son, trying to avoid the “phoners” who have formed into flocks that seem to be controlled by one mind, and other survivors who are just as vicious as the infected.
Cell may sound like one of the more outrageous premises for a zombie story, but there is some science that backs up that something like this could theoretically happen. So just be careful when you answer your next call from an unknown number.
A film adaptation of the novel, starring John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson, is set to premiere at the Glasgow Film Festival’s Fightfest next month.
Cause: The English Language
This Canadian movie takes place in the small town of Pontypool, Ontario. Pontypool follows Grant Mazzy, a former shock jock who has been marooned to the small town’s radio station on the night shift. During the night, as a blizzard rages, there are reports of riots, which a very odd occurrence in a small town in the middle of the night during a blizzard.
After a short time, the three employees at the radio station learn that outside there may be a zombie epidemic going on and Pontypool is put under quarantine. They also learn that the zombie virus is spread through the English language. Once a word is said and it registers in a person’s mind they become infected. Also, only certain words infect certain people. For instance, a child is changed because of the word “mommy” and another person succumbs to the word “simple.” So the virus is highly infectious, but it is not passed on from zombies to humans. Instead, just saying a word could cause someone to turn homicidal. It’s a pretty interesting take on the zombie genre, though the second half isn’t nearly as interesting as the first, which does a terrific job setting up an unusual take on a familiar premise.