Zombiography for GURPS Zombies
There's lots of zombie fiction out there. Zombies are so visual that we'll begin with films, which outnumber other sources, and use a more honest title than "Bibliography."
Zombie cinema tends to put the freak-out or the gross-out ahead of the story – which is fine, because zombies are meant to be startling and disgusting. But a consequence of this is that good sources often aren't what most people would deem good films. This list is offered as a guide to movies to hunt down and tear open for tasty campaign ideas, and pussy-foots around the question of whether they're fine viewing!
28 Days Later (Danny Boyle, 2002). Among the best of the "infected zombies" genre – ordinary folks survive in a biohazard apocalypse. Sequel 28 Weeks Later (Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, 2007) shows that even an apocalypse has long-term campaign possibilities.
Braindead (Peter Jackson, 1992). Also known as Dead Alive, this campy film adds the disease-like transmissible curse to the mix – and the lawnmower to the armory.
Cast a Deadly Spell (Martin Campbell, 1991). Not a zombie flick, but one of the rare non-RPG sources where zombies are a background element, used as cheap labor, and not especially freaky to the setting's denizens. (VHS)
Corpse Bride (Tim Burton, 2005). You can argue about whether Emily is a zombie, but the original Jewish folktale was about a dead woman reanimated by theurgy, her will bound by holy law.
Crazies, The (George A. Romero, 1973). A military plane carrying a weapon of mass zombification crashes and poisons a town's water supply, turning the locals into psycho killers and leading to a disturbing quarantine. Breck Eisner's 2010 remake is superior as a zombie movie, as it evokes ideas and imagery from an extra 35 years of zombie fiction, while Romero saves zombie tropes for his walking dead.
Dawn of the Dead (George A. Romero, 1978). Survival-horror classic pits survivors in a shopping mall against the undead – some the first infectious zombies in cinema, in fact – as well as a violent gang. Two SWAT-officer protagonists are classic PCs.
Dawn of the Dead (Zack Snyder, 2004). This remake's plot differs radically from the original. Portrays survival (and betrayal) among ordinary folks, illustrates why living in a gun shop won't guarantee survival, and shows how to rig anti-zombie vehicles.
Day of the Dead (George A. Romero, 1985). More Romero survival horror, this time depicting military survivalists in a fortress . . . and survivor-vs.-survivor desperation. Famously introduces a "tame" zombie, Bub, who learns (or remembers). Day of the Dead 2: Contagium (Ana Clavell and James Glenn Dudelson, 2005) isn't a sequel, and appears here only to warn of its awfulness.
Dellamorte Dellamore (Michele Soavi, 1994). Also called Cemetery Man, this story treats killing undead zombies as a casual, low-key job, and illustrates the complications of living-undead relationships. The entire situation is a commentary on existence.
Diary of the Dead (George A. Romero, 2007). So-so Romero flick shows that even people who "know" about zombies – film students making a horror movie – might freak out in an outbreak. Make the students gamers for an amusing take on screaming victims.
Død Snø (Tommy Wirkola, 2009). Nazi zombies – driven by hate, vengeance, or pure evil – show that zombie survival horror doesn't need an apocalypse or contagion, just serious isolation, like the Norwegian wilderness. Often found under the title Dead Snow.
Doom (Andrzej Bartkowiak, 2005). Researchers unwisely restore ancient alien bio-tech, creating zombies. The point-of-view characters, definitely PC material, are tools of a sinister corporation, carrying out death sentences on the "infected." Also: chainsaw!
Evil Dead, The (Sam Raimi, 1981). This and sequels Evil Dead II (1987) and Army of Darkness (1992) are utter camp, most famous for introducing the chainsaw as a zombie-killing weapon. Still, they nicely illustrate demonic possession as a zombie origin.
Fido (Andrew Currie, 2006). Smart film puts two twists on classic undead zombies: First, the apocalypse came and humanity won. Second, the zombies aren't monsters but servants and slave labor – the work of Atomic Age science, not the occult.
Flight of the Living Dead (Scott Thomas, 2007). Despite low production values, this film is fun because it builds survival-horror tension by putting contagious zombies on a plane. One of countless flicks where "super-soldier program" is code for "zombies."
Horde, La (Yannick Dahan and Benjamin Rocher, 2009). Dark, unrelenting humans-vs.-zombies violence, where survivors confined in a building want to kill each other as much as the zombies. Features gruesome hand-to-hand combat against zombies. Also known as The Horde.
I Am Legend (Francis Lawrence, 2007). Tale of a biological zombie apocalypse is interesting because it centers on a quest for a cure. A loose remake of The Omega Man (Boris Sagal, 1971), which is worth a look but which doesn't have mindless zombies.
Juan de los Muertos (Alejandro Brugués, 2011). When zombies strike Cuba, ordinary folks become fearless zombie-killers, not screaming victims. Mixes humor, scares, and social criticism (both communism and capitalism get stung). Also called Juan of the Dead.
Land of the Dead (George A. Romero, 2005). A mediocre film with lots to harvest: undead which evolve and learn, a dedicated anti-zombie vehicle (Dead Reckoning), an impressive post-apocalyptic fortress, and social decay to rival the zombie plague.
Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (Jorge Grau, 1974). This film focuses on hippies more than zombies, but includes walking dead who receive their wake-up call from an experiment with acoustic radiation.
Night of the Living Dead (George A. Romero, 1968). The genesis of cinematic zombies that congregate in hordes, eat flesh, are vulnerable to headshots, and have a pseudoscientific explanation (as opposed to the supernatural ones of earlier films).
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (Gore Verbinski, 2003). The pirate crew might not look like zombies, but that's an illusion. Despite their wit, they're rotting, supernatural undead bound by a curse that dictates their actions.
Plague of the Zombies, The (John Gilling, 1966). While there is a plague and there are zombies, the first doesn't cause the second – that calls for Vodou. This Hammer classic is an example of pre-Romero cinema with traditional zombies, not apocalyptic ghouls.
Plan 9 from Outer Space (Edward D. Wood Jr., 1959). "Unspeakable Horrors From Outer Space Paralyze The Living And Resurrect The Dead!" The aliens' plot appears to involve conquering the world with an army of ultra-tech undead zombies.
Planet Terror (Robert Rodriguez, 2007). In this genre send-up, a bio-weapon (or is it a super-soldier experiment?) creates flesh-eating zombies (or are they mutants?), and a PC-like group of unlikely heroes must save the day with extreme violence.
Pontypool (Bruce McDonald, 2008). Survival horror at a radio station features the first cinematic zombie plague that's memetic in nature. While not 100% serious, this story is clever, definitely has its creepy moments, and offers fresh fodder for gaming.
Prince of Darkness (John Carpenter, 1987). Not a zombie movie as such, but a rarity among horror flicks for featuring several zombie types: street people mind-controlled by satanic energies, dead bodies possessed by The Devil, and a corpse animated by an insect swarm.
[Rec] (Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza, 2007). Survival horror set in a quarantined building, where contagion – perhaps biohazard, maybe transmissible curse – zombifies people, including children (rarely seen as zombies). Followed by two sequels, and remade as Quarantine (John Erick Dowdle, 2008).
Resident Evil (Paul W.S. Anderson, 2002). Fans of "traditional" zombie flicks love to disagree, but RE and sequels RE: Apocalypse (Alexander Witt, 2004), RE: Extinction (Russell Mulcahy, 2007), RE: Afterlife (Anderson, 2010), and RE: Retribution (Anderson, 2012) cover all the bases: bio-tech zombies (living and undead), zombie animals, an evil corporation, fearless zombie-killers, hordes, contagion, and utter apocalypse. They offer an up-to-date genre summary for zombie gaming, especially for long-running apocalypse campaigns.
Return of the Living Dead, The (Dan O'Bannon, 1985). Campy, but also the origin of toxic-waste zombies (these ones undead) and that timeless utterance, "Brains!" Spawned at least four sequels of uneven quality.
Revenants, Les (Robin Campillo, 2004). Are they zombies? They're supposed to be dead and they seem to have a mindless side, but they're not that different from us. Watch it for ideas for "friendly" or "tame" zombies. Also known as They Came Back.
Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright, 2004). Despite being deliberately goofy, this film offers tributes to many of the genre's greats, as well as stinging social criticism. One of the rare flicks that ends with humanity beating the zombie apocalypse and "taming" the zombies.
Shock Waves (Ken Wiederhorn, 1977). Nazi zombies again, these ones super-soldiers made by weird science. Not a great film (despite having Peter Cushing), but worthy for its use of non-flesh-eating undead that are as scary underwater as on land.
Silent Rage (Michael Miller, 1982). Chuck Norris meets his match in an undead killer reanimated by an ill-advised experiment. Rarely identified as a zombie movie because it lacks hordes and flesh-eating, but worth a look for fans of weird-science zombies.
Undead or Alive (Glasgow Phillips, 2007). This cowboys-and-Indians-with-zombies flick is dorky, but inspirational for those interested in TL5 zombie stories or old Apache curses.
Universal Soldier (Roland Emmerich, 1992). They're black-ops science experiments rather than "classic" zombies, but the UniSols are definitely reanimated, hunting down people, and (mostly) in thrall to their masters.
Versus (Ryûhei Kitamura, 2000). The zombies here come from the cursed (or at least supernatural) Forest of Resurrection that brings back the dead . . . which just happens to be where the Yakuza have been dumping murder victims. Ridiculous violence ensues.
White Zombie (Victor Halperin, 1932). This is the first zombie movie, and draws on Vodou beliefs. There are no ghouls, hordes, or plagues here, just enslaved victims.
Zombie Diaries, The (Michael Bartlett and Kevin Gates, 2006). Poor entertainment, but a serviceable point-of-view piece showing a zombie apocalypse unfolding through the eyes of ordinary folks.
Zombie Strippers! (Jay Lee, 2008). Funnier and less lewd than it sounds, this movie offers yet another secret government super-soldier project and a unique take on zombies as characters (they aren't half as bad as most of the non-zombies).
Zombieland (Ruben Fleischer, 2009). Tongue-in-cheek look at a zombie apocalypse, best watched for the humor, the ordinary guy-turned-born-zombie-killer, and a nice set of rules for surviving against zombies.
After movies, video games offer the strongest zombie visuals. Some would argue stronger, since you're actually in the scene.
Dead Island (Techland, 2011). First-person RPG set in an island resort overrun by zombies. The hardened-survivor PCs seem to be immune to the plague. Major focuses are melee combat and salvage (supplies for friendly NPCs, weapons for PCs).
Dead Space (Electronic Arts, 2008). Zombies in space – namely, bizarrely mutated "Necromorphs" twisted from corpses by an alien virus in order to propagate itself. The game and its sequels focus on finding and upgrading gear, and of course fighting.
Diablo (Blizzard, 1996). While all fantasy hack-and-slash games have zombies, this game has quite a few sorts, and sequels Diablo II (2000) and Diablo III (2012) just go nuts with variety. If you're short on ideas for fantasy zombies, play for a few hours.
Doom (id Software, 1993). This first-person shooter and its sequels include possessed humans, only called "zombies" as of Doom 3 (2004). The futuristic veneer doesn't make these weird-science creatures, though – they're explicitly supernatural, involving demons from Hell. The similar Quake (id Software, 1996) also throws occult zombies into a sci-fi setting, these ones undead who toss guts.
Fallout (Interplay, 1997). In this post-apocalyptic RPG, the PC battles living people transformed into savage "ghouls" by radiation, though sequels clarify that not all ghouls are mindless. Zombies did not cause the apocalypse here, and the Fallout series is even more useful as a source of post-apocalypse inspiration than as a font of zombie ideas.
Half-Life (Valve, 1998). Not a zombie game per se, but this shooter and its sequels famously include the "headcrab": a monster that latches onto its victim's head and turns him into a mutated zombie. Half-Life 2 (2004) makes it clear that these are bio-weapons.
Killing Floor (Tripwire, 2009). A shooter about battling bio-tech zombies (called "specimens") that have overrun London, no thanks to a sinister corporation's handiwork. Good stuff if you're looking for weird new zombies.
Left 4 Dead (Valve, 2008). This shooter and its 2009 sequel pit four survivors against endless "infected" (zombies). Some infected are mutants with special powers, while the survivors aren't merely immune, but carriers. In head-to-head mode ("Versus"), you can play the zombies!
Plants vs. Zombies (PopCap, 2009). An example of cute, mainstream zombies: Take on wave after wave of zombies using mutant plants as weapons. Not a useful inspiration for plots, but a surprisingly fun source of zombie ideas.
Resident Evil (Capcom, 1996). This survival-horror game pits the player against bio-tech nightmares that include flesh-eating zombies and zombie dogs. The sequels add yet more zombies, and two CGI movies – RE: Degeneration (2008) and RE: Damnation (2012) – are part of the same continuity. The eponymous live-action production and its sequels are only loosely related.
Return to Castle Wolfenstein (Gray Matter/Nerve/id Software, 2001). This shooter has occult undead zombies, Nazi weird-science zombies, and everything in between. It all blurs together, but it's great inspiration for TL6-7 fearless zombie-killers in WWII.
Comics are visual, too, and often explore with ease what live-action movies and video-game budgets cannot – including some fairly impressive levels of gore.
Kirkman, Robert et al. Marvel Zombies (Marvel, 2005-present). One of the few treatments of zombies in the supers genre (or vice versa), presenting superheroes turned into zombies by a virus that can spread between universes. Though afflicted by a hunger for flesh and a drive to spread zombies, the zombie supers aren't mere mindless monsters.
Kirkman, Robert. The Walking Dead (Image, 2003-present). An ongoing account of ordinary people living through a zombie apocalypse and into the post-apocalypse. A go-to source for long-term apocalypse campaigns. The related TV series, initially closer to "inspired by," is moving toward "based on."
Books on zombies make fine complementary sources to visual media – although it's important to understand that those published since the 1990s are essentially a response to the cinematic zombie craze.
Austen, Jane and Grahame-Smith, Seth. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Quirk, 2009). The author can't bring himself to read it, but it gets in on the strength of its title. It might just be of value to gamers running Regency-era (TL5) zombie campaigns.
Betancourt, John and Preiss, Byron (editors). The Ultimate Zombie (Dell, 1993). A collection of 23 short stories covering just about every sort of zombie. Helpful when you can't decide what kinds of zombies you want!
Brooks, Max. World War Z (Crown, 2006). A faux history of the zombie apocalypse, told from the point of view of several survivors. Brooks' zombies are undead, infected flesh-eaters in the Romero mode.
Brooks, Max. Zombie Survival Guide, The (Three Rivers, 2003). A how-to guide to surviving a zombie apocalypse – though one biased toward dealing with the flesh-eating undead.
Caine, Rachel. Working Stiff (Roc, 2011), Two Weeks' Notice (2012), and Terminated (2013). The narrator is an ex-military funeral director who becomes a bio-tech zombie; imagine RoboCop by way of the Umbrella Corporation. Her daily nanite injections provide handy mechanisms for blackmail, mind control, heightened strength, and rot repair/prevention.
Davis, Wade. The Serpent and the Rainbow (Simon & Schuster, 1985). Controversial "true story" about Vodou zombies argues for zombification caused by potent drugs. May prove useful to GMs interested in Vodou slaves or face-eating psychos.
King, Stephen. Pet Sematary (Doubleday, 1983). It all starts with zombie pets, though it certainly doesn't stop there. The GM might ask players who want such pets to read this story.
Kirkman, Robert and Bonansinga, Jay. Rise of the Governor (Thomas Dunne, 2011), The Road to Woodbury (2012), The Fall of the Governor, Part One (2013), and The Fall of the Governor, Part Two (2014). These four The Walking Dead novels fill in some backstory for the comic-book series and TV series (above).
Lovecraft, H.P. "Herbert West – Reanimator" (1922). This short story may be the first attempt to reconcile zombies with mad science (a serum) instead of the occult, though it owes a debt to Frankenstein. Look for it in The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories (Penguin, 1999).
Matheson, Richard. I Am Legend (Fawcett, 1954). This tale of vampires, not zombies, has a legitimate claim as the origin of apocalyptic fiction involving humans transformed into both infected monsters and reanimated dead by a pandemic (borne by mosquitoes).
McDonald, Ian. Necroville (Bantam Spectra, 1994). The earliest story to use nanotech as a reanimating influence. These scientifically resurrected dead become de facto zombie slaves, and come to resent it. Also known as Terminal Café.
McGuire, Seanan (as Mira Grant). Feed (Orbit, 2010), Deadline (2011), and Blackout (2012). Medical cures lead to a viral apocalypse involving zombified people and animals alike. Notable for characters who are aware of zombie fiction – a rarity in zombie stories. (One of the electronic-only novellas, "San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats," is a particular standout in that respect.)
Ringo, John and Weber, David. March Upcountry (Baen, 2001) and sequels. Tutorial implants are great – they allow you to learn new things and remember everything. They can even do things for you. And they can make you a zombie if they're hacked. The first two books are now available in an omnibus.
Shepard, Lucius. Green Eyes (Ace, 1984). Vodou meets pseudoscience in the form of a zombie point-of-view character. A must-read for those who want to allow zombie PCs.
Last but not least we have other zombie-themed hobby games.
Breitenstein, Todd. Zombies!!! (Journeyman Press, 2001). This tile-based strategy game simulates the classic zombie movie well – right down to shuffling zombies and betrayal among survivors. A dozen sequels add more locations, zombies, events, and items.
Jackson, Steve. Zombie Dice (Steve Jackson Games, 2010). A quick, fun game where you pretend to be a zombie and roll special dice to see whether you eat brains or die. The dice make a great prop or accessory for any zombie game!
Knizia, Reiner. Reiner Knizia's Mmm . . . Brains! (Twilight Creations, 2006). Another dice game about collecting brains, notable for its tiny red and white plastic brain tokens.
Link, Barry. GURPS Horror: Zombietown, U.S.A. (Steve Jackson Games, 1988). Small-town zombie adventure. Stats in this GURPS Classic item would need conversion to GURPS Fourth Edition, but the story works as written.
Punch, Sean. GURPS Undead (Steve Jackson Games, 1998). The author's earlier work is "all undead, including zombies," as contrasted with "all zombies, including undead ones."
Soles, Jason and Vega, Nicole. Unhallowed Metropolis (Eos Press, 2007). A post-zombie-apocalypse game set in a quasi-Victorian future. Of interest to those who want steampunk zombies in a world that replaces TL6+ with TL(5+n) mad science.
Sweeney, Patrick. Transhuman Space: Orbital Decay (Steve Jackson Games, 2002). Ultra-tech zombies in spaaace! Written for GURPS Third Edition, but easily converted.
Vasilakos, George. All Flesh Must Be Eaten (Eden Studios, 1999). The first dedicated zombie RPG. Later supplements cover almost every kind of zombie.