We're more than a decade into the era of fast-moving zombies being the norm, and yet their employment in World War Z is still viewed as untraditional. Maybe it's because the sluggish variety ruled the genre for so much longer. Or maybe it's because many of the new breed have been explained as something else, rather than being labeled the Z word. For instance, the double shot of speedy undead in 2002, 28 Days Later and Resident Evil, saw creatures infected with contageous diseases called "Rage" and "T-virus," respectively. Of course, outside of the original voodoo-based films, zombism has long been considered a plague of some kind, so even when the term isn't used, a zombie is a zombie.
Rather than seeing one form as better than the other, I like to consider them both applicable to whatever the story calls for. It makes sense for the (not labeled as such) zombies of George Romero's classic Night of the Living Dead to be slow moving, because it's a small, stationary story of people trying to survive inside a farm house while the creatures try to get in. They don't need to run anywhere, they're already right outside the location. They're also just reanimated, soulless, brain-dead corpses not caused by some crazy virus. When a cop in the film answers a reporter asking if they're slow, he logically says, "Yeah. They're dead."
Slow zombies are even more appropriate in Romero's follow-up, the original Dawn of the Dead, because they're satirically representative of mindless consumers wandering around a shopping mall. And that provides not only social humor but it's also funny to watch the living characters able to run by the zombies with ease at different points. I can't imagine a zombie comedy with fast zombies. Maybe it's been done, but again look at Shaun of the Dead, which finds multiple levels of laughs in the creatures' being slothlike, especially when they're initially mistaken for drunks, subservient drudges and other dull, mindless and bored human beings.
Yet if slow zombies are often funny, they're very rarely scary anymore. It's regularly pointed out that they can be outrun. And I've never believed that they can sneak up on you, unless you're really unaware of your surroundings and also deaf. The surprise out-of-nowhere attack in the movies with slow zombies only works if there are shadows and other places for them to hide. But still, they tend to be grunting and moaning all the time. The thing for characters to be concerned about in these films is becoming surrounded. Or having a zombie grab you through a window or wall, because even when they've been slow they've typically at least been strong.
Fast zombies are far more threatening and therefore scarier now, and it's unlikely we can ever go back to the alternative. Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead remake may not have any of the goofy charm of the original but it sure is a lot more thrilling. And they work for their purpose in hordes in World War Z, which takes the genre to its most epic, action-blockbuster extreme. However, the film also has a couple instances in which it gets to slow its zombies to a standstill for other logical reasons. It's a movie that finds the best in both varieties.
Personally, I prefer comedy to horror so I favor slow zombies.
Which are better, fast zombies or slow zombies?
Here are some responses received so far via Twitter: