Resident Evil is a franchise with something that borders on split-personality disorder. You’ve got the movies on one side, classic games on another, modern survival horror in-between and bombastic action romps for good measure. This is oddly appropriate. The living dead that make up its rogue’s gallery come in all shapes and sizes as well, veering wildly from shambling corpses to the zombie fun-runners who populate movies like World War Z. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard sees another version join their ranks – unstoppable and thoroughly disgusting cannibals. I can’t work out which is scarier.
If you’d asked me a few years ago (particularly when The Walking Dead had just launched on TV) I’d have gone for the traditional undead. Their complete lack of an ‘off-switch’ may be the worst thing about them. Although their rotting flesh makes them classic nightmare-fuel, the fact that they won’t get tired is worse. They’ll keep ambling after their next meal until they get it or they’re put out of their misery. They don’t feel pain either, so nothing short of a killing blow to the head will do. I’d imagine that’s harder to pull off than you’d think, particularly if they have you surrounded and you’re panicking. Which you would be, realistically.
There’s not a shred of morality left in your standard-issue zombie, either. They aren’t fussed about what’s fair and no amount of pleading will stop them.
It doesn’t help that the idea of being eaten alive is so horrific. Having your intestines pulled out like stuffing is an awful thought and things only get worse from there. I had trouble shaking the image of a survivor’s face being munched off during season two of The Walking Dead, for instance. There’s something primal and appalling about seeing a person, fictional or not, become fast food.
However, the upside is that they wouldn’t be much of a long-term threat. Despite having strength in numbers, they’ve also got the processing power of a 90s-era Tamagotchi. Then there’s the small matter of them decomposing over time. Hold out long-enough and I suppose they’ll fall to bits of their own accord.
The cannibal family in Resident Evil 7, though? They’re a very different kind of threat. Alongside monstrous strength and endurance, the Bakers are people like us. They should know better. In principle, anyway; why they don’t takes us into spoiler territory. That cognisance is infinitely more terrifying than hordes of the undead. Someone choosing to commit atrocities shows a disregard for human wellbeing that’s not simply chilling – it’s regrettably plausible. You could reason with them, but they still wouldn’t give a monkey’s. That’s true evil.
They make you suffer for fun, basically. While older models of zombie are pragmatic in their need to eat your brain, these nutcases hurt their victims because it gives them a perverse satisfaction. Your limbs are a rare delicacy, too. Why bother with standard carbs and veg when you can chow down on a person’s fleshy bits? That choice is what makes them frightening.
This brings us to our final strain of zombie, albeit in a round-about way: infected individuals. Smarter than their old-school cousins, they’re like the Bakers in that they remain alive. These unlucky souls were saddled with a disease that turned them feral, a waking nightmare that occurs in The Last of Us or 24 Hours Later. In some stories (namely the former) they’re self-aware yet unable to stop themselves nonetheless. I can’t think of anything worse.
Fast, strong and possessed of an animal cunning that – in Resident Evil at least – lets them concoct plans, these monsters use weaponry against us as well. Battling enemies who rely on their teeth is one thing, but baddies who prefer hatchets and chainsaws? That’s a very unwelcome change. It’s essentially an average zombie with none of the weaknesses.
This is why they’re scarier to me than any of the above. They’ll eat your brains en-masse, but that’s due to them outsmarting us first. It makes me glad they’re works of pure fiction. We’d be properly screwed if not. I don’t enjoy the notion of a super-powered zombie who’d score higher on an IQ test than me.
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