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I've noticed this trend that most, if not all, zombies in films tend to limp or walk extremely slowly.

In fact, doesn't this take away from their "scariness" as they aren't fast and don't seem to be agile?

Where did this stem from?

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  • This doesn't relate to any particular SF/F work. I vote to close. Perhaps there's a way to edit this so it's more on-topic? (As was done here.) Jul 25, 2011 at 3:10
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    I don't think that a question has to be about a particular work. Questions about genre tropes are also considered on-topic.
    – apoorv020
    Jul 25, 2011 at 6:25
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    Could it be a metaphor for having ‘One foot in the grave?’
    – user179700
    Jul 30, 2011 at 10:20
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    Two counter-examples: in Resident Evil, the dead (technically not zombies but the dead infected with T virus) can move pretty quick. In Warm Bodies, zombies do not move quick but they are not slow, either, and they can move quick in close quarters (reference: the pharmacy scene 10:45 into the movie)
    – user31563
    Nov 2, 2014 at 5:19

6 Answers 6

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I think the typical zombie walk tries to convey a sense that the zombies are no longer human and that all of their physical forms are no longer fully functional. It seems that the limp goes back even to the very earliest movies and I don't think I can recall too many movies (I Am Legend being an obvious sample of the opposite) where they didn't limp.

It's true that zombies do not move fast or agile. In most zombie culture they seem to be far more deadly in the fact that they never sleep, never stop moving in their pursuit of the living, while the survivors have to sleep, have to stop to eat and rest, which is when the zombies usually catch up and assimilate their victims.

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    I was always of the impression that the novel of I Am Legend (that the was based on) was a Vampire story, not a zombie one, hence the lack of a limp (I admit I have not read the book though)
    – johnc
    Jul 24, 2011 at 22:16
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    +1: For the not eating/sleeping part. The few zombie movies i have seen/books i have read typically deal with a large cluster of zombies, so the fear comes more from inevitability (they may not get you now, but they will get you)
    – apoorv020
    Jul 25, 2011 at 6:33
  • +1: It distinguishes a human from a monster, which is in of itself supposed to cause fear. Yet not that you couldn't outrun a zombie, simply that you'd easily find yourself surrounded by them.
    – Neil
    Jul 25, 2011 at 10:39
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    The zombies in 28 Days Later are rather quick, as are those in the Left 4 Dead games.
    – yatima2975
    Jul 25, 2011 at 11:36
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    I Am Legend is definitely about vampires. The book involves using wooden stakes to kill them. I don't remember any zombie traits in the movie. Jul 25, 2011 at 13:15
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The slow, shuffling gait associated with classic zombies both adds an element of suspense (zombies pursuing a cornered victim give the film-makers plenty of time to squeeze out every drop of drama from the scene, as the monsters slowly close in), and allow a clear identifier to distinguish zombies from the uninfected without a heavy reliance upon expensive special make up effects.

From an in-story perspective, it would be expected that most injuries would be to the legs and feet. Zombies are defined by single-minded pursuit of prey, with complete disregard for pain or injuries, as well as overall poor motor function. Fully healthy humans are capable of stumbling, tripping, and falling even under good circumstances. Zombies would be far more prone to such falls, resulting in a much higher incidence of ankle sprains, broken bones, and lacerations to the feet.

It also seems unlikely that a zombie would be able to tie his shoes, so any person who is not wearing footwear at the time of zombification, or which subsequently lost footwear, would shuffle around in bare feet, and would also not make any effort to avoid stepping in dangerous areas (broken glass, etc.). Since zombies do not posses the normal healthy healing process, they would form no callouses, and any wound on their feet would not close, resulting in more and more flesh being stripped from their feet as they shuffle along.

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  • +1 that extremities like fingers and toes would be the first to rot/wear down Oct 9, 2014 at 11:43
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The classical 'Romero-style' zombie moves slowly, almost reluctantly. It was deliberately created to give them the effect Romero wanted.

Zombies play to the core human fear: the human-looking inhuman thing. They are so like us in appearance, and so different in behavior. Their sad appearance - large, staring eyes, obvious wounds, slow motion, inspires pity and/or revulsion. The way they move was initially intended to seem almost reluctant, as if the people they once had been were trying to resist their body's actions.

The slow motion also mimics many other monsters - notably Michael Myers and Jason Vorheese. Like the zombie horde, these iconic monsters are slow and implacable. They kill without remorse, look human but aren't, and you can seemingly escape them - only to turn the corner AND THERE THEY ARE.

The zombie moves slowly, glacially, maddeningly, implacably. They stalk humans as Death's harbinger, and they're all the scarier for not needing to move quickly to destroy you.

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I've always imagined it being due to their muscles and such having decomposed some. I can't come up with any examples but the tv series The Walking Dead, if you take a look, "fresh" (maybe new is a better world, lol) zombies without any major damages but a bite or such don't limp, they're just quite clumsy.

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Other than the scary effect, I think their slowness can give the other characters a chance to escape. If they are fast, what's their difference with other humanoid monster?

Usually zombies are in big troops and their number is plenty. They are single-minded and don't care for wounds, they could not be underestimate. Even for characters with guns, they require unlimited supply of bullet in order to defeat the whole troops. Because the zombies are slow, the best way to due with them is to run. However, as the scene may not be in an open area, their escape route could be blocked or unavailable. It is troublesome to due with a hell lots of zombies in a medium-size room like locker room/changing room. Imagine that they were FAST as normal people. Think about Half life 2 episode 1.

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I think that zombies are always using full human strength which in turn, deteriorates the tendons and since they're always running after you (in modern instances) that their tendons would be reduced to practically nothing.This in turn with what everyone else says that a zombie`s muscles are basically rotting away.

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