Why are Zombies frightening?

My friend, Eric, just sent me an email asking me why I think Zombies are frightening. I can’t help but put on my Philosophy Beanie and take on the question. So, here is why I feel Zombies are scary.

  1. They look horrible. Human beings are both repulsed and attracted to grotesque human beings, as well as other people who have been injured. We have trouble looking away or ignoring things like that. (Been in gridlock traffic when there’s rubbernecking at the scene of an accident?) That tendency also comes with a certain amount of identification with the grotesque or the wounded human. “What if that were me?” That is a fear-generating thought.
  2. Zombies are implacable. You can’t reason with them, or expect mercy. They’re going to kill you if they can. This is the same sort of sensation we get from wild animals and the Terminator. The enemy does not see you as something it can identify with, and it is not open to negotiation. It places a value on you that is uncomfortable: food. It is both degrading and objectifying. Add to that, Zombie and wild animals come in packs, or large numbers. More fear for you!
  3. The only resort to dealing with a Zombie is to kill it. Regardless of how horrible they look, they used to be people. Your moral compass is disturbed by having to kill something it reads as being “people”. That seriously messes with your worldview. Another fear-generator.
  4. The projection of “I’m next” into the situation. They’re going to get you, and you’re going to lose everything you are—consciousness, morality, and humanity—when they bite you, or eat you. You are going to die, but (paradoxically) live on to perpetrate awful things. This is a nasty parody of resurrection. You don’t go to heaven, or paradise. You become an evil, implacable, merciless, killing machine. To most people, this is disturbing. (As an aside, this is why my zombies are conscious. I think it is scarier that they simply don’t care that you’re another human being. You’re food, until you’re one of them… then you might be competition. A horde of sociopaths.)

So, there we go. My theory about why Zombies are scary.


  1. Eric S

    Thank you my friend. It is a good explanation but I still just don’t feel them. I have seen a LOT of stories and watched a few Walking Deads but it just doesn’t resonate with me at all.

  2. Amanda Fanger

    So yeah… I think it’s funny (ironic maybe?) that this is the post I see when I come here after my writing session tonight. I’ve never written anything about or close to zombies before in my life, and my plot in my current manuscript suddenly twisted on me tonight so that I now have something like zombies in my story although I had no intentions of adding such an element. Anyway, I thought of you, James, when I wrote that and had to come tell you. I thought you’d be proud of me 😉 lol

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