Monday, March 06, 2006

What Kind of Dead Man Are You?

Horror abounds with people who have escaped the finality of death. They continue to walk the earth. Some are ghosts and spirits, but just as often, and in films actually more often, they are walking about in their own flesh and blood bodies. They rise from their graves, they cross back from the realms beyond, or they never truly die in the first place. They go by many different names and come from a number of primitive beliefs and mythologies. However they are easily divided into two semantically differing camps. They can be either the Undead which is a narrow grouping. Or they can be the Living Dead which is a broader grouping.

The Undead are those that have circumvented being actually dead. They have many different names, but in effect each is generally the very common vampire. There are exceptions to the blood sucking kind but each shares the trait of never being truly dead until their body is laid to rest in whatever fashion. The Undead in general have the most powers available to them but are otherwise the weaker of the two types of walking dead people.

Then there are the Living Dead who have died but have returned to the "real" world, or the Land of the Living. The most common example of the Living Dead is obviously the zombie a la George A. Romero. They die and then a period later their bodies rise. Being dead they feel no pain, have little or no feelings, and generally are not too intelligent. Going further back we have the original Living Dead example, the Mummy.

Mummies leave their graves to do something important to them. They are much smarter, and sometimes retain mystical powers from their lives, and some other times gain new magic. They are sturdier than the Romero zombies but pretty typical of the necromantic zombies. They will do what they will until satisfied their mission is complete and then they go back to their eternal rest. Still compared to some classic zombies they are weak.

The more powerful "species" of zombie are generally those created by a magician, a necromancer. The necromancer raises dead bodies to do his will. His (or hers of course) zombies feel no pain, have no feelings, and generally stop at nothing in fulfilling their goals. They are often impervious to weapons and can either only be driven away or sometimes burned to ash. However they do not let such a thing stand in their way. On the night of a full moon they will rise again. So where does that leave the zombi of voodoo lore?

Those poor damned souls who are turned into the zombi by an evil voodoo practitioner are a weak subservient form of Undead. They do not die but are instead trapped within their bodies and disconnected from any sort of physical feeling and forced to watch and listen impotently as their body does another's wishes. They are generally not very sturdy and usually end up crippled and stuck forever in a lifeless unmoving body.

Now we come to the truly powerful of dead men, the Living Dead known as Revenants. Revenants are of two types. The first are those who have died and kept to their bodies generally to seek revenge. They sometimes have powers, but mostly are physically powerful. They can be destroyed in any number of ways but the destruction is short lived. Their either reform, or their mangled, and even vaporised parts continue the battle for revenge. The other type of Revenant are returned to the mortal world by a carrier from the spirit realm. Such carriers, called psychopomps, are often birds.

Crows ferry the dead souls too and from the living and dead worlds. However some souls cross the barriers by other means. When this happens it is the sparrow, and usually in vast numbers, that finds the escapee and brings them back to the world they belong in. These psychopomp related Revenants are generally indestructible except through their singular weakness, the carrier/psychopomp. Either way, all Revenants are powerful forces.

While it is true that the Undead are more popular within the genre within the fictions even the most brazen of Undead are cowed utterly by the more powerful Living Dead. After all how can even the undying vampire stand up to the already dead, and completely relentless Zombie, Mummy, or worst of all Revenant. To put it in simple terms, aside from catching the bird the Crow would kick Lestat's ass! Even messing with the bird doesn't guarantee you success. So in conclusion while it may be easiest to get yourself turned undead, just don't get a swelled head or something will bust you for it.

© 2002 Robert G. Male

Mood: languid.
Music: Paschendale by Iron Maiden and Cumbersome by Seven Mary Three.

Iron Maiden: Dance of Death
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Seven Mary Three: American Standard

2 Comments:

At 7:55 PM, Blogger Fuwaba said...

Hoi hoi.

Just curious as to where and why this deep distinction between "Living Dead" and "Undead" came from. In the literature (and of course nasty bloody movies), I've seen both used interchangeably. Heck, every dictionary I've checked (admittedly only three) specifically cites the word "zombie" in the definition of "undead." And then there's the rather fun Australian zombie flick TITLED "Undead." Not that I'm trying to claim that dictionaries and Australian splatter-flick makers are the semantic guardians of horror jargon, but... Seems to me that they're not wrong.

 
At 4:56 PM, Blogger Robert G. Male said...

The distinction comes from looking at just what *is* different between the different types. I find Living Dead a terrible misnomer for starters. Where the term is usually applied is to walking bodies that are not living in any sense, often not even involving themselves in energy conversion aka eating. There has to be a difference between those who are dead and those who cannot die. Romero even goes so far as to never once call his dead by the name zombie (in the first three movies anyway), but instead the word ghoul crops up and that is a matter of them eating people and unanimated flesh. Not to mention the dead are never killed, just prevented motion through whatever degree of preventing muscle control.

 

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