Given the legions of zombies shambling through popular culture who follow Romero’s brain-dead, flesh-hungry prototype to the letter, a lucid zombie—one who is self-aware and able to articulate her predicament—might seem a contradiction in terms. There are a few examples, however, which buck the trend, introducing depth and pathos to the stereotypical moaning ghoul. Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride is one—cracking maggot jokes, she strives to overcome her premature death by snaring a living husband. In some respects, Jack in An American Werewolf in London is another. Following his violent death at the hands of a werewolf, he keeps returning to best friend David in progressive stages of decomposition, but with the same voice and rueful personality. If we stretch the definition of ‘zombie,’ then Frankenstein’s monster could conceivably be an early lucid example.
I came across one of the cleverest explorations of the lucid zombie theme while reviewing series three of the BBC’s excellent Being Human—the supernatural drama about werewolves, a vampire and ghost sharing a house. In the third episode, “Type 4,” the main characters find themselves saddled with an unwelcome guest. Sasha (Alexandra Roach), an inspired creation on the part of writer Jamie Mathieson, is an obnoxiously loud zombie WAG who initially refuses to accept the rather obvious matter of her own mortality. Two weeks dead, she flirts aggressively with the show’s male characters.
The episode moves through stages of horror—when Sasha follows protagonist Annie (Lenora Crichlow) home from a club and bangs on the windows in a drunken rage; hilarity—implicit in the idea of two werewolves, a ghost and a vampire being freaked out by a zombie; grotesqueness—as when Annie helps Sasha prepare for a girls’ night out with generous quantities of spak filler and fragrance; and eventual pathos, as Sasha succumbs to the reality of her condition.
A lucid zombie is rarely a happy figure. Being Human‘s great strength, as the name suggests, lies in its ability to emphasise the humanity in its monstrous characters, and to make us empathise with them. Sasha might have a grating personality and be somewhat on the nose, but by the end of the episode we feel her pain.