I have a system of three rules which I use to gauge whether or not a zombie movie is good. Books are slightly different animals but these rules can be applied to most entertainment media. Often people are surprised by the fact I am not terribly fond of the Walking Dead, especially the comic book series and these rules might explain why. At the very least as the creator you should have some general idea of how it began, otherwise you are just writing a sequel to someone else’s work.
1. HOW IT STARTED
Not every zombie movie is going to explain how it all began, but there should be at least a hint or clue to how it starts and how it spreads. In WARM BODIES they never did this, but it was explained WHY it didn’t matter. The Walking Dead made some attempts in the show but in the comic series there was never any thought given to it. Now the writer can say “it doesn’t matter” but to me, you are just not smart enough to think of an original way to start your story.
I was talking with someone the other day about these rules and I said to them that the cult of Apple would not give up their toys, even in a zombie apocalypse. They would wear necklaces of dead iPods as tribute to their lost idols. People are fond of things. If the rules are gone and the world falls apart, their obsessions would still control them. Their addictions would still drive them. People would still wear their favorite rock t-shirts for as long as they could find them. In Zombieland, they showed this with Woody’s obsession with finding some remaining Twinkies. Another one of my pet peeves in the Walking Dead; nobody seems to have any memory of the past. All those long hours doing nothing in farms and abandoned building and no one plays cards, or has an old board game? Nobody talks about movies or music anymore? In all those years did Rick ever once talk about an actual case he worked as a cop? We don’t stop being who we are when things go bad and part of who we are is what we had, what we lost, what we’ve done. In THE BATTERY a man finds his ex-girlfriend’s house and smells her underwear. Creepy, but it certainly reinforced the idea of how things have changed and what the characters have lost. It just seems like bad writing or lack of ideas to skip these little steps. Who wants to hear them talk about their favorite beer when you can have someone raped, right? Except with that logic, you soon run out of things to make your characters interesting.
3. CUSTOM ZOMBIES
While there are certain guidelines for zombies, everyone who writes about them should add something to the mythology. NOT dumb zombies who run and headbutt, but at least it is a good try, but I am thinking more like the Skinnies in WARM BODIES. Even though it is a zombie comedy that was a good creative touch.
In the game Left 4 Dead, you have different variations of zombies. If all these three rules are met, you usually end up with an interesting zombie story. Of course, you don’t need to follow these rules to be successful. Find some twist to mark your zombies as yours and people will remember them.
EDIT: A writer buddy suggested that if you need to create new zombies, you aren’t doing it right. He has a point and I want to clarify: Play with all varieties of zombies and make them your own. You don’t have to make your own kinds, but at least make something about them as unique as your story, something that marks them as yours, that shows off your quirks as a writer.