Lately, I have been watching a lot of zombie movies. And yes, most of them are terribly bad. Cheesy. Awful, really. For example, last night I watched "Return of the Living Dead, Part 2". Yikes. It was actually one of the better ones, but it was still terrible.
Bad or not, most zombie movies have similar plot devices. Some of these you will also find in horror movies in general, as well as any movie about an outbreak of a virus or other post-apocalyptic movies. I wanted to put together a list of some typical plot devices and things you come to expect from these types of movies/stories so that I can make sure my own story stays true to the genre and yet also is fresh and original.
Here are some of the things I consistently see in zombie/horror/post-apocalyptic movies:
- Hospitals are all fucked up. Of course people who are bitten, injured or sick want to go the hospital. It's normally a place of healing and help. But in most zombie and horror films, the hospital is the last place you want to go. Other sick people have probably gotten there first and are now zombies - and the doctors probably are too.
- The Loved One. At some point, someone is going to have to kill someone they love. Their boyfriend/sister/parent is infected and will turn any minute, and of course, they have insisted that if the time comes, they want to take care of it themselves. Sometimes, this turns into the loved one eating their brains because they didn't kill them when they had the chance.
- Transportation Issues. This can vary greatly depending on the movie. Either they need gas, a better car, motorcycles, or whatever, but there is usually some kind of transportation issue. Possibly the keys to the car are in one of the zombie's pockets? Or once the car got rolling, they got scared and hit a tree? It's always something.
- Sleeper. How many times have you seen a zombie movie where someone in the group is "secretly" infected? One of the tough guys or someone's wife has been bitten or infected, but they don't want to tell anyone just yet. They slowly begin to turn, and although people notice they are different, it gets passed off for fatigue or hunger or shock. Then, of course, they turn into a zombie at the worst possible time, infecting and killing someone else in the group before they are finally put to rest.
- Inciting Incident. Okay, so maybe this should have been first on the list, but I'm thinking of them as I go for the most part. There is usually some inciting even at the very beginning of the movie where a barrel of toxic gas rolls off a truck or a plane crashes in the wilderness or similar. The virus gets out. The first person is bitten or chased. Then, after we see this brief moment of violence, we are pulled back to the normal world where we meet the hero/heroine in their everyday lives.
- The First Kill. There is usually some point where the survivors accidentally figure out how to kill the zombies. Shoot them in the head! Electrocute them! They don't like water! Etc.
- Killing En Masse. Of course, after they realize the best way to kill the damned things, often the hero and their group will come up with some kind of master plan to kill them ALL. They plan to pull them all together in one spot so they can blow them up or electrocute them all or whatever. This is, of course, usually the climax of the movie and it becomes a do or die scenario.
- The Search for Food / Electricity. Many times, the hero and his/her group will have to go out looking for food. The scene in 28 Days Later where they shop in the deserted grocery story comes to mind. (And please don't tell me that's not a zombie movie. Okay, it's RAGE, but still - this movie's infected beings are fucking zombies, so suck it.) The group eventually begins to run out of food or water and this propels them to daring feats in order to get more. This can also show itself as a search for power /electricity.
- Quarantine. Often the hero's group has been quarantined in an area by the military and cannot get out. In Resident Evil, it's more the building itself that has them quarantined. Someone or something wants to contain the virus/plague/infection in an area and survivors be damned. The survivors usually don't find this out or figure out that they are locked in until later in the movie, just when they finally had gotten their hopes up that they were going to find their way to freedom and be saved.
- One Escapes. In most movies, it turns out the quarantine was a good idea. But this band of survivors was so eager to live through the ordeal that they killed all the zombies in a huge explosion or whatever, then found their way out of the quarantine zone and off to safety. At the very end, we see one zombie go free. Or a group of them pouring out of the hero's escape hole? Usually this opens up the possibility of a sequel and leaves the movie-goer with a sense that no matter how hard you try, you cannot stop the zombie apocalypse once it has begun.