Zombies aren’t just about zombies. They’re about people and how people react to them. People are the main characters in any good zombie fiction, not the witless zombies.
Unlike zombie fiction, vampire fiction is more about the vampires and their personalities than about the people that oppose them. Count Dracula is the most interesting character in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, not Dr. Van Helsing, who is his human antagonist. The fascinating count is an aristocratic charmer who seduces women so that he can sink his fangs into their necks and suck their blood. He is so seductive he can make women swoon simply by staring at them with his transfixing gaze that immobilizes their wills and renders them his slaves, all so that he can suck their blood and go on living till the end of time.
Zombies as characters, on the other hand, are insipid creatures that lumber around eating human flesh and insects as well, as depicted in George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, which set the standard for the modern zombie. Zombies are filthy rotting corpses that have become reanimated and go around feeding primarily on living humans. In contrast to the charming Count Dracula, they are creatures with no personality. They all blend into one amorphous, shambling, stupid, flesh-eating mob.
In zombie fiction, the zombies aren’t the most interesting characters. They simply propel the action and motivate reactions from their human prey. What is most interesting in zombie fiction is how the main human characters battle the zombies and battle each other, as well, in their struggles for survival in a world overrun by mindless repulsive creatures bent on human annihilation.
For example, what is fascinating in Romero’s classic zombie film is how the main characters that are trapped together in a farmhouse battle each other as well as the zombies that besiege them. The tension among the trapped inhabitants is palpable and, combined with the zombie onslaught, generates nerve-racking horror.
In contrast to aristocratic vampires with intriguing personalities who are basically loners, zombies are ghastly creatures without any personalities who congregate in huge mobs. Zombies are symbols of modern democracies where numbers are more impotant than royal bloodlines. It’s a case of the majority rules, as in democracies (from which zombies were bred), versus the aristocracy rules (from which Count Dracula was bred). Zombies are perfect monsters for democracies, where everybody is considered equal. All zombies are equally characterless, mindless, and horrifying. Unique vampires with intriguing personalities, on the other hand, are perfect monsters for Victorian England and its dissolute bloodlines and crumbling aristocracy.
Zombies then are truly products of modern democracies, whereas vampires are products of decaying aristocracies. Now is the age of the zombie. Zombies rule.