In recent times, moviegoers have come to realize there are no absolutes when dealing with the horror genre. Ghosts can eat food (Pirates of the Caribbean), werewolves can change at will (Underworld), and vampires can sparkle when exposed to sunlight (Twilight). However, all bets are off when we talk about zombies. Zombies live in a world of absolutes.
As a primer to my Monday Mayhem series, let’s examine The Three Commandments of the undead. Established by director George A. Romero in the 1968 movie Night of the Living Dead and solidified in his 1978 film Dawn of the Dead, these three laws are what make the zombie genre unique. Without them, zombies wouldn’t exist in their present form.
I—The Dead Have Come Back to Life
A zombie isn’t a zombie unless it comes back from the dead. Much like vampires, zombies were once dead. Hence the name: undead. Through a biochemical change, voodoo or some other form of reanimation, the dead rises. This is the crux of zombiehood. Without it, zombies simply are not zombies.
What about a virus? In modern storytelling, a virus is the usual suspect in the blame-game for many undead creations. Typically, the virus runs through a population, changing them to become zombies. In strict technical terms, these creatures may not qualify as true zombies if the victims do not initially die. However, I argue if a virus has an element of death associate with it (biological or intellectual), then of course the resultant creature is none other than a zombie.
The key here is to note a physical transformation from death to life.
II—The Undead Crave Human Flesh
Every biological species requires sustenance to maintain health. Zombies do not. Zombies eat because it’s in their nature to hunger after human meat. It’s a compulsion. They cannot turn off the desire to slay a human and feed off the body. They just can’t. They are like the sharks of the underworld. They yearn, hunt, kill and eat. That’s it. They don’t stop. From one body to another, they’ll consume a whole town without regard. They are never satiated.
III—The Undead Will Die with a Blow to the Brain
The only thing that will stop a zombie is the destruction of its brain. A hunter of the undead can use various methods to attain this result. The most common is a bullet to the head. A knife through the temple will also do a fine job of ridding the earth of the vermin species. As would any of these other methods: An ice pick through the eye socket, multiple blows from a baseball bat, a sharp stick through its mouth thereby severing its spinal cord, a screwdriver to the back of the skull, a meat cleaver aimed directly at the frontal lobe, etc. The possibilities are endless. The purpose is to render the creature dead by inflicting the maximum amount of trauma to its brain. Once complete, the zombie will no longer pose a threat to any other humans.
Have you ever heard of The Three Commandments? What are your thoughts about zombiehood?
29 thoughts on “The Three Commandments”
Thanks for the shout out!
Reblogged this on Grizz-Tion and commented:
The commandments of the Zombie hoards
Sorry, just saw this… I’m very grateful for your reblog! Thank you!
Love this informative post on zombies, well done sir.
My biggest fear with them, and the thing that sometimes haunts my nights is their never stop attitude. There’s always a million of the blasted things, and they just keep coming. The scene from the remake of Dawn where the survivors are standings on the roof of the mall and looking out over a sea of hungry dead heads. The sheer enormity of the situation is what gets me.
Again, great post and I thank you for writing it.
Now this is a good article about zombies. You know what? I can live with sparkling vampires or shapeshifting at will. But I do have a major problem with Warm bodies and zombies being likable and emotional. That is just too much. I mean whats next Ridley Scott’s aliens as pets? Leatherface falling in love? Or maybe Pinhead (Hellraiser) taking a broken heart girl to a prom dance??? Some things just don’t work.
I think your second law holds the most resonance for me (eating human flesh). Yikes! It’s even scarier when they go straight for your brains!
I would also scorch a zombie’s corpse in flames after beating its (lack) of brains out. I’d do it just to feel doubly safe. That would be my personal fourth commandment.
Good idea for a post.
Better dead than red? Better dead than undead.
oh man, you opened a can of worms posting this one lol. I discuss this subject almost daily. I don’t have time to write in length what I want to say, but I was planning on posting something about it soon. your opinion will be wanted on the multiple topics I’ll be bringing up lol. great post!
In all honesty I’d simplify it even further. One rule. The reason why zombies thrive is because humans fail. Whether through infighting, stupidity or overconfidence survivors doom themselves.
Preaching to the choir 😀
Thanks for visiting my blog. I like your blog too.
Nice posting here Jack. I think your three commandments help separate out what I would consider true zombies (as seen in Dawn of the Dead, World War Z etc) and what I refer to as ‘Infected’ (most familiar from 28 Days Later). They have many of the same elements as each other but differ in two keys ways.
Infected can be killed in the same way as any other human (since they’re normal people infected with a disease of some kind that’s making them act like a zombie) while, as you say, to kill zombies you have to destroy the brain. The second is that while infected may attack, kill and even consume humans, the consumption of human flesh is not necessarily what drives their existence.
Maybe I’m thinking too deeply on this, but this is how I think when writing my short stories (which cover both) and when talking about ‘For Those In Peril On The Sea’, I always say that the creatures in it are zombie-like infected rather than zombies, just to keep myself and other zombie purists happy!
I was also going to mention something about killing true zombies using fire to destroy the brain since I’ve just put up a posting on that on my blog (http://wp.me/p2PdIc-bX), but I see you’ve been commenting on that while I’ve been commenting here (again!). Off to read your comment now…
As gorewithsoul mentioned there’s a fourth commandment too. But the world is full of blasphemers who have to break it all the time.
i’ve always wondered what the creation of zombies was. for a long time it was thought that it was something to do with elements in the tail of a comet that passed close to earth. or radiation that emitted from a fallen satelite.
i have two zombie stories that i’m in the midst of creating. one of them is a novel in which it is a virus that actually turns it’s host into itself, hence the “horde” mentality of my zombies. They consume flesh because it sustains the virus, it’s what the virus needs to keep it’s host going.
the second is a comic that i’m working on, in which its a parasitic alien that is found by ISS scientists from an asteroid core that causes zombification. it is carried to earth by the evacuation. This alien actually lives and thrives off the brains of human beings. the process of absorbing our brains decays our bodies so they must find a new host before that happens.
Great post Jack, I always look forward to reading your articles. But, I will offer another theory to consider. Most human diseases are eventually linked to some virus, okay stick with me here. We have good bacteria that live in our guts in a symbiotic way. Without these little buggers, we get very sick. So what if the virus that infects a zombie is also symbiotic? The brain,the only organ they can survive in? By forcing the human to hunt for other humans, the virus guarantees fuel to the needed organ. Going so far as to keep the body moving even after the person is dead, most likely from harmful bacteria from eating human flesh and guts. This is what I’m basing my short story on. What do you think?
Interesting idea, Gilbert. Check out creutzfeld-jakob disease, which is kinda the human version of mad cow disease–that may give you a good start on it. It’s not symbiotic, though.
Hi Sally 1137, I just saw your reply. Thank you I was thinking about that disease, kind of scary, 🙂
@gilbertspeaks, I like the premise to your story, very original. As I explained to @gorewithsoul, I’m of the belief the zombie brain doesn’t need human flesh to survive. I think the undead are glorified eating machines much like sharks. They hunt, kill, and eat (rinse and repeat)!
Thanks also for dropping by every week. You always have something interesting to bring to the table!
Hi Jack, sometimes my e-mail doesn’t pick up replies after I’ve posted. I love to visit your site. You’re a very good writer and have the best topics:)
Great article, Jack! I have never heard of the three commandments. George A. Romero is one of my favorites but he seems to expand on his zombies and make them evolve as the years go one, just as gorewithsoul mentioned.
However, as for vampires and werewolves, that is not always the case in real life. Hollywood has saturated the public with myths since the beginning of movie time and have told the truth about us. I assure you that we do not sparkle in the sun light and anyone of us can be taken with a bullet, any type of bullet, whether it be a silver bullet or a regular bullet, just like a human can. Although I cannot speak for zombies because I have yet to meet one in person 😀
But, that is for another time.
Great article! As a massive fan of zombies it pains me to see films like Warm Bodies trying to pull a twilight on the sub-genre. Let’s hope programmes like The Walking Dead remain popular and that Mr Romero lives forever and can continue to make films!
I agree-great article! It bothers me as well to see other horror genres take after Twilight. (Seeing “Pride and Prejudice” books with Twilight-esque covers also did.) They’re basically just twisting the popular concept into a romance. The zombies in Warm Bodies were not, to me, real zombies at all. Zombies don’t think!
So long live Mr. Romero and long live TWD!
We’ll be in a lot of trouble if zombies begin to sparkle in the sunlight!
Hey Jack I’m quite new in the blog world so I’m glad I found another blog with the same center of interest as mine haha! First article I read is about zombies so I think I’ll follow you posts 🙂
It’s a good thing those zombies have those rules, otherwise they would’nt be zombies anymore and we would run the chance to face bad bad movies…
@gorewithsoul, you can always find zombies that will eat animals (as in the recent comics of The Walking Dead) but they will always feel the need to eat human… Beacause that’s the only meat that can help their brain work (this is my own explanation though ^^)
Hope you will like my next article about Zombies Anonymous, even if it will take me some time to translate it in English 🙂
Great post, haven’t seen anyone post something like this, very informative and very interesting!
Sadly, not always true.
George Romero himself had zombies eating horses in his last movie. You could always ignore that movie though. And I pose a question to you regarding brain damage to a zombie. Do their bodies decompose and if so, will a decomposed brain stop a zombie?
And even though some things aren’t absolute others are. Vampires always craved blood. Werewolves still need a silver bullet and ghosts are still ghosts (this one was stupid I know). And we have to remember that there was a time zombies couldn’t run.
I wouldn’t take my opinion seriously, but I don’t think zombie brains rot. I think the undead have a compulsion to feed and that feeding doesn’t do anything to either nourish their bodies or satisfy their appetite. I think, however, their epidermis does rot at a slow pace. This would account for injuries that never heal.
All in all, it’s all fun and games before someone loses an eye. Then it’s a sport.